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Marc Jacobs is venturing into beauty territory where few designers have prospered and he’s doing it with his trademark wit and sharply defined aesthetic.
This story first appeared in the June 14, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Instead of playing it safe, Jacobs has teamed up with Sephora Originals to launch an ambitious color cosmetics collection called Marc Jacobs Beauty. It is a strong statement and a brave move in a makeup category that has traditionally been hazardous for major designers, who have launched color collections and failed.
But from all indications, Jacobs appears to be poised to deliver a winner, which could garner North American retail sales of about $15 million from August through December 2013, according to estimates by industry sources. The number for the second full year in North America is estimated at $20 million at retail. Sephora declined to comment.
Jacobs has designed everything from couture to Coke cans, infusing each with a sense of elegance and whimsy. He brings the same design sensibility to his new beauty collection, which will debut on Aug. 9 exclusively at Sephora, sephora.com and select Marc Jacobs stores. The introduction of Jacobs’ collection will mark the first time Sephora has launched a brand simultaneously in all freestanding Sephora stores across the U.S. and Canada. It is also the brand’s largest proprietary brand launch in terms of units — and its first global launch, with plans to stretch across Europe and ultimately reach China.
“I’m surprised by how delighted I am with the results,” the designer said during an extensive interview with WWD earlier this month. “Now I want to see what the customer thinks. That’s the ultimate.”
Jacobs originally let the cosmetics collection news leak in an April 2012 interview with WWD, before he’d even had his first creative meeting with the retailer — and he makes no apologies for it. “Hey, ya know, I say what I say and I just talk freely — I’m not a good puppet,” he said.
Jacobs grows animated when he discusses his entry into color cosmetics, noting that he sees it as a perfect complement to fashion. “I like the idea of transforming oneself, making and modeling yourself to what you feel like being, whether that’s once a day, three times a day, seven times a week, whatever it is. I like the transformative qualities of fashion and fashion to me is not just clothing, it’s handbags, it’s shoes, it’s clothes, it’s hair, it’s makeup, it’s fragrance, it’s the whole ritual of making those choices, of enjoying the ritual, of making the choices that will tell the world who you want to be that day.”
Simply put, he notes, “I think everybody is the star in their own movie. And so you dress the part, depending on how you feel or what the part is that day. I mean my shrink probably knows who I really am, but most people know me as how I present myself.”
The 122-stockkeeping-unit line is broken down into four broad categories: Smart Complexion, Blacquer (Jacobs’ personal favorite), Hi-Per Color and Boy Tested, Girl Approved. “I asked them to do the blackest black,” he said of the origins of Blacquer. “I also love lacquer and the shine of lacquer as a finish.” Smart Complexion includes foundations, concealer and powder; Blacquer offers a precision pen eyeliner, lash lifter and gel crayon; Hi-Per Color contains lip products, blush, eye shadow, bronzer and nail lacquer, and Boy Tested, Girl Approved offers a lip balm, brow tamer and concealer. Genius Gel Super-Charged Foundation is a $48 antiaging formula offering 16 shades and introducing buoyancy gel technology; it is buildable from natural to full coverage. Remedy Concealer Pen, $39, is available in nine sku’s — seven shades, a universal brightener and a universal corrector — and features Jacobs’ proprietary Anti-Aging Remedy Complex, as well as a palladium tip to cool and smooth skin upon contact. Magic Marc’er Precision Pen Eyeliner, $30, is a waterproof deep black shade inspired by a lacquer table in Jacobs’ living room.
And Jacobs isn’t just limiting his offerings to the ladies. Three products are unisex: Lip Lock Moisture Balm, $24; Brow Tamer Grooming Gel, $24, and Remedy Concealer Pen, $39, which is available in a universal brightening shade called Bright Idea and a complexion corrector called Stand Corrected.
Jacobs’ wit extends to the names of the products, which include Shameless, a $30 blush inspired by Jacobs’ tattoo; Lovemarc, a $30 gel lipstick available in 16 shades named for Jacobs’ favorite movies, and Style Eye-Con, strongly pigmented eye shadows that are available in compacts of three shades for $42 and seven for $59. (Don’t look for a nude palette, though. “It would be too natural,” said Jacobs with a shudder.)
“And to me ‘shameless’ is just an aspiration,” said Jacobs. “Whether it’s wearing a lace dress with a pair of boxer shorts or whether it’s taking off my clothes for a magazine or whether it’s admitting to my flaws or having a hair transplant, I’m not ashamed of what I do. I haven’t done anything wrong. And I’d prefer to be honest because I sleep better at night.”
Jacobs also stresses that all of his projects are a collaborative effort. “Everything I do, whether it’s for Marc Jacobs or with my team at Marc Jacobs or with my team at Vuitton, is a collaborative effort. In the end, I have to be the one to edit and to make the final decisions, but it’s not something I can do alone. I need to do that with, like, the trust and the creative input of other people — I am able to kind of find what it is I really like through the dialogues and the suggestions and what other people bring. It’s the collaboration of patternmakers, sewers, it’s the mills that work with us on the fabrics. I don’t know everything there is to know about weaving fabric or about fibers or how to create something, but I can describe something and I can get it.”
That’s true of Marc Jacobs Beauty, he added. “We spent a lot of time developing materials and choosing the colors. We work with the technicians at the mills to achieve a certain effect, so we did the same thing with Sephora. The color palette tells a story and that story is based on a spirit. I chose different types of characters, such as an ingénue.”
Light, blendable shades helped Jacobs avoid the dreaded caked-on old-lady effect. “I don’t like natural, that’s a little lazy. But I think there is just a kind of honesty and an ease and an irreverence with this.”
“Putting this together and working on this with the team from Sephora was very much like putting a [fashion] collection together with my design team,” said Jacobs. “It was exactly the same approach. I mean, I didn’t go to them with a specific idea and I couldn’t define for them what Marc Jacobs Beauty should be no more than I could define a collection the first day we meet about fabric or define what the shoe will be on the first meeting we have about shoes. It’s an evolutionary process. And Robert [Duffy, Jacobs’ business partner] always teases me and he says if you put a white piece of paper in front of my face, I will hold my head in frustration and say, like, ‘I don’t know.’ But if you put a red line on a white sheet of paper I’ll say ‘I don’t think it should be a red line. I think maybe it should be a blue circle.’ It was sort of a push-and-pull thing, and reduced and sort of distilled what we felt it should be.”
Jacobs chose the makeup colors the same way he selects fabrics for his ready-to-wear collection, he said. “I start looking at different colors and different things and taking the color off of one thing and putting it on something else. There is a kind of ‘I love that, I hate that.’ Or, I don’t really like that but I do love it when it’s combined with this or next to that.”
He also road-tested the collection on his famous pals — including director Sofia Coppola, artist Rachel Feinstein and musician Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth — as well as himself. “I escorted Sofia Coppola to the Met Ball and Diane Kendal [who consulted on the line] did her makeup using all Marc Jacobs Beauty,” he said. Coppola has also appeared in national advertising for the fragrance lineup Jacobs does with Coty Prestige. “And I’ve been using the Brow Tamer,” Jacobs said, adding that he has gotten to like the process of taking care of himself.
Between color and fragrances, “I think color is easier,” said Jacobs. “Fragrance is even more like, sort of ephemeral in a way. But [color] is closer to the process of making a collection. Formulas are like fabrics, fibers, each fiber, whether silk or cashmere or whatever, they have natural properties. They have a certain look, they give you a certain feeling.” And he doesn’t think skin care is in his future. “I think skin care is superimportant, but it feels more of a scientific process so I don’t know that I could get the same pleasure or have the same passion as something that was aesthetic,” he said. “I might have a great time doing the packaging for a skin-care line, but I don’t think I could really sit through four-hour meetings about formula.” He is, by his own admission, “seduced by the visual,” with concepts and colors always moving through “the Tumblr page in my head.”
But for all his aesthetic sense, the last thing Jacobs wants is for those using his line to adhere to any strict definition of beauty — including his.
“I believe in individuality, and what I think comes across as most stylish and modern is a kind of irreverence and a sort of self-confidence,” said Jacobs. “I don’t find beauty in perfection, meaning Photoshop and airbrush. That doesn’t appeal to me. I like a gap between the teeth, I like mascara that does run a little bit or makeup that’s smudged. I like a bit of imperfection — I find it just more interesting.”
Neither does he attempt to impose a point of view on the customer. “They’re not buying the concept, hopefully, they’re buying what they like.”
The products will be merchandised on custom-made, double-wide gondolas placed near each store’s Beauty Studio — the dedicated product demonstration area, noted Michael McGeever, senior vice president of Sephora Originals, who calls Marc Jacobs Beauty “a game-changer.”
Not only will the black-lacquered gondolas feature Jacobs’ logo and products, but also a black-and-white shot of the designer and a recorded messaging system built-in. Sephora also plans a tease of the collection the weekend of July 19, when top Sephora shoppers will see five of the stockkeeping units. In another first for the retailer, Marc Jacobs Beauty will roll out on the same day to all freestanding Sephora doors in the U.S. and Canada, roughly 330 stores, with seven or eight getting an expanded presentation, said McGeever. That includes the retailer’s first U.S. store in SoHo, where Jacobs will appear to promote the project on Sept. 5. As well, the collection will be tested in 50 of Sephora’s J.C. Penney outposts. “We’ll see,” McGeever said of the J.C. Penney efforts. “This is a high price point for that consumer.”
The collection will be rolled out globally, another first for the retailer. Marc Jacobs Beauty will launch in France, Italy and Spain in spring 2014, with a graduated rollout plan for most of the remainder of Europe over calendar year 2014. In early 2015, Sephora intends to bring the line to China.
McGeever noted that a holiday color collection is planned, as are additional core collection offerings beginning in spring 2014.
National advertising is also planned for September and October fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, said McGeever. It was shot by David Sims. Social media, a dedicated Web site — marcjacobsbeauty.com — window displays and what McGeever cryptically calls “disruptive ideas.”
McGeever said he strongly believes that Jacobs’ collection will have legs for years to come. “The closer you get to the creator and the authenticity that makes them tick, the more I think the magic comes alive,” he said. “Marc is so incredibly engaged. I get e-mails from him almost weekly, like ‘Hey, I’ve had an idea, what do you think about this for a name of an item’ or ‘Here’s the sketch I was doodling on the airplane on the way to Paris. Could this be a product?’ You can’t bottle that stuff. You can’t replace it with anything else. I feel very strongly that this is going to be an embodiment of his brand that is going to have staying power.”
McGeever added, “We’ve had the benefit for the last 10 years of selling Marc Jacobs fragrances in our stores. Our clients love his fragrances, they love his fashion, they tell us he’s one of the designers they would most like to see do color cosmetics — and then you combine that with the fact that he has just turned this into an incredible labor of love where there really were no boundaries.”
Jacobs, in turn, appreciated the free rein Sephora gave him to create. “They said we have the luxury of starting from scratch — there was no Marc Jacobs Beauty before, so it’s a blank canvas,” he said. “They didn’t say ‘You can’t do a unisex product’ or ‘We’re not gonna do color’ or ‘We’re not gonna do skin.’ There has not been any ‘No.’ It’s a lot of ‘Anything is possible.’”
Jacobs recently dabbled on the big screen with “Disconnect,” a drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world, which was directed by Henry Alex Rubin and stars Jason Bateman and Hope Davis. “I may be a Luddite, but I like to write notes and I still like the look of ink and choosing my stationery,” he said. Jacobs describes his role as “an Internet porn baron.” The film was released April 12.
“I actually got good reviews for the 35 seconds I’m actually on screen,” Jacobs quips. But he’s not anxious to replicate the experience.
“[That was the] first and last time I will be acting in a movie,” said Jacobs. “I am a fashion designer. I never dreamt of being an actor. I did it because I thought it was fun to have [the] experience once, but fun isn’t the word I’d use to describe it. It was very, very long, very tedious. Out in Yonkers, in the freezing cold, the coldest three days of 2011. [I was] freezing cold with heating pads strapped to my body everywhere because we were outside from 4 in the afternoon until 9 in the morning filming, repeating the same lines over and over and over again. So also it’s not the kind of tedious that I enjoy.”