Not only is there a building surge of startups by young entrepreneurs, but a handful of major companies, searching for fresh ponds of innovation and newfound relevance, hope to find growth by tapping into the consumer’s reawakened appetite for novelty by incubating their own hatchling brands. For example, L’Oréal acquired Baxter of California, a small men’s personal-care brand, last year, and more recently entered the world of YouTube creating from scratch Michelle Phan’s EM makeup brand—doing all this in addition to acquiring Urban Decay, an original indie dating back to 1996. Meanwhile, Unilever has developed Iluminage, a brand of personal-care topical and laser devices, and Sephora has produced an ambitious color cosmetics brand by Marc Jacobs, as well as a raft of other projects.
People relate to brand inventors, and the authenticity of their product stories can hit a nerve. As one ace marketer puts it, “Where does the authority come from? It’s a search for a connection.”
A recent flurry of new makeup artistry and nail brands—such as Troy Surratt, Charlotte Tilbury and Ciaté—accelerated an already gathering trend, mostly consisting of skin care and artisanal niche fragrance entries. Fragrance developer and marketer Ann Gottlieb notes that the profusion of small artisanal scents has prompted the major manufacturers to up their game in product creation, apparently to tap into the audience that made Tom Ford and Jo Malone mainstream players. “Creativity is back in a much greater way,” she observes.
Generally, the new indie resurgence, the most notable since the heyday of the late Nineties, is being driven by demand from recession-weary consumers.
“People want whimsy,” says Marla Malcolm Beck, cofounder and chief executive officer of Bluemercury Inc. “It’s not like everyone wants to buy black clothes because they last forever. They don’t want to accessorize. They are looking for some excitement. There was too many years of boring necessity.”
Citing winners like Daniel Kaner’s Oribe hair-care range and Sara Happ’s lip glosses, Beck points out, “If there is a great product on a store floor, it is selling out.”
Barneys New York has done a strong business with Troy Surratt and its Mila Moursi spas. Bettina O’Neill, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics and fragrances, observes, “the consumers are less loyal. They are loyal to themselves; they are loyal to what they like. They may be loyal to certain treatment [items] and foundation, but they are more experimental with color. In color, you get bored and you need something to excite you.”
Retailers say there is no shortage of new ideas to stimulate consumer interest. “The level of brands coming in has become prolific,” says Misha Anderson, chief executive officer of Woodley & Bunny, which has salon-apothecaries in Brooklyn and West Hollywood. “The majority has been skin care,” she adds, noting that there has been a movement lately of beauty brands originating out of Brooklyn. Apparently operating out of the belief that “if you mix it, they will buy,” many entrepreneurs bank on word of mouth and the power of the Web. “The majority of brands have no idea what is coming down the road,” Anderson observes. So she is lending a hand in brand-building by showcasing artisanal brands with special dedicated sections in her stores displaying 20 to 25 labels.
A showcase is needed more than ever, according to Vennette Ho, a managing director of Financo Inc. “[The indies] can’t rely on the retailers to give them a presence anymore,” she says. “The indie brands have to own their customer and own at least part of their channel to make an impact.”
One new brand that certainly is looking down the road is Ardency Inn, a color cosmetics line with a downtown hipster position heavy on music. It won a WWD Beauty Inc Newcomer of the Year award in December. While acknowledging that securing financing is always an issue, the partners—Gilles Kortzagadarian and Stéphane Siboni—have bigger worries. “Brand awareness is the main challenge,” says Kortzagadarian, “getting the brand known with minimal investment. You have to be smart about how you spend your money.”
One strategy that the founders are contemplating is to find alternative distribution that will not impact their home-base business in Sephora—perhaps a national fashion specialty store.
Money should become less of a problem. “The good news for small brands is that investor interest in beauty is growing, because, relative to other consumer-product categories, you have growth, high margins and it’s consumable. It has favorable dynamics, versus other categories,” says Kelly McPhilliamy, a managing director of Wells Fargo. “That’s positive for young brands,” she says, adding that “we are seeing a lot of startups.”
Beauty offers low barriers to entry; small startups have been known for innovation and Ulta and Sephora are still investing in small players, McPhilliamy says. “The brands that are focused on niche areas that others are not targeting at all or are not targeting effectively and the ones that are selling in channels where they can make the financial model work are the ones experiencing the greatest success.”
Bluemercury’s Beck, who only last year called for more niche brands—particularly in makeup and hair care—now says the spigots are wide open, both in product development and investment. “The development this year is unbelievable,” she says. “We are actively looking at tons of indie brands. The question for us is what to choose.” The rate of brand development is matched by the eagerness of private-equity funds to join the party, she notes. “You are going to see a million acquisitions this spring. This is the first time in a long time where private equity is dipping in in a big way. If private equity is buying brands, what that means is it will provide incentives for new brands to start out, and that provides an incentive for [investment] angels.”
But in the view of brand creator and former retailer Robin Coe-Hutshing, the pump doesn’t need much priming: “We do seem to be going into a more fertile period.”
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye