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Agencies Behind Boom of Celebrity Beauty Brands

“We've seen that there's a market for [celebrity-owned beauty brands] and that our talent desires it and deserves it,” said Courtney McHugh, a vice president and the head of brand management for United Talent Agency’s Ventures division.

It’s undoubtedly the age of the celebrity beauty brand.

While film stars, music artists and supermodels have been the face of countless beauty campaigns throughout the years — whether it’s licenses, endorsement deals or joint ventures — never has the marketplace seen such an influx of celebrity-backed beauty brands. Hollywood agencies, working closely with their high-profile clients, have been playing a part.

“It’s the way of the future,” said Allison Statter, chief executive officer of Blended Strategy Group, of celebrities owning their brands. Her creative marketing and branding agency, founded with Sherry Jhawar, is behind Gwen Stefani’s GXVE beauty (a partnership with Nikki Eslami’s New Theory Ventures) and counts celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin as a client.

Statter, who has a background in talent management working for her father, music pioneer Irving Azoff, asks why would established, credible stars endorse a brand when they can have their own as equity owner, particularly given celebrities now have direct access to their fans via social media? She’s been bridging the worlds of celebrities and brands for nearly two decades (on beauty deals for the likes of Mariah Carey and Jewel). Today, while leveraging social media as a marketing vehicle, Statter has been working with celebrity-backed brands, including Jennifer Lopez’s JLo Beauty and Jennifer Meyer’s expansion into beauty, to diversity their influencer strategy.

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“Content is king now, and the more you make noise in a saturated arena, the more successful you’ll be, especially if your product is top notch,” said Statter.

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Allison Statter
Allison Statter of Blended Strategy Group. Courtesy Photo

At United Talent Agency, there’s a team dedicated to brand management as part of Ventures, a division created in 2014 that builds and invests in companies. The agency has helped develop Priyanka Chopra’s Anomaly, Lisa Rinna’s Rinna Beauty and Issa Rae’s Sienna Naturals. (There’s a men’s care line and textured hair brand in the works.)

The success of Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, which went public last year, Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetic and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop has had an impact on the industry, said Courtney McHugh, a vice president and the head of brand management for UTA’s Ventures: “I think the shift has come not at one pivotal moment but from watching a lot of these female founders be successful…Those women, I think, really started to show that it’s possible to have a voice at the table and to have an equity stake.”

It was in 2015 that Alba first unveiled Honest Beauty, expanding from baby and household goods into skin and personal care as part of The Honest Company (started in 2012 in partnership with entrepreneurs Christopher Gavigan, Brian Lee and Sean Kane). Three months later that same year, Jenner launched her uber-popular Kylie Cosmetics lip kits with its manufacturer, Seed Beauty. And about a month later, in January 2016, Paltrow’s Goop (started in 2008 as a lifestyle newsletter) debuted her first branded product collection with Juice Beauty, founded by Karen Behnke. Then came Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, making a splash in 2017 in partnership with beauty brand creator and incubator Kendo Holdings, a division of luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. (It’s worth noting, there have been others; it was back in 1994 that supermodel Iman started Iman Cosmetics, later aligning with Proctor & Gamble in 2004 as part of a licensing agreement.)

“We’ve seen that there’s a market for [celebrity-owned beauty brands] and that our talent desires it and deserves it,” said McHugh. “And it’s quite frankly a more powerful model than an endorsement right now. They have ownership and a true voice, and we’re providing that opportunity for them.”

Courtney McHugh
Courtney McHugh of United Talent Agency. Courtesy Photo

At times, it’s been talent that has approached the agency to pitch a beauty venture. Other times, it’s UTA that has identified an opportunity, “and then go to talent and say, ‘Hey, we know this is important to you. You’ve mentioned to us that you really want to be a business owner. I think we should explore this space.’”

It can take “six months and up to three years,” for a brand to launch, she said. UTA helps build an internal team for each brand, raise capital and supports the talent throughout the venture.

Michael Yanover, head of business development at Creative Artists Agency, has been involved in the creation of Lady Gaga’s Haus Labs since its inception. With a background in building and investing in businesses, he grew interested in beauty start-ups following the launch of Charlotte Tilbury (CAA was an early investor).

“I learned a lot about beauty through that experience [with Charlotte Tilbury] in 2014…how there were interesting startups that were created in the beauty business and being sold to some of the bigger guys, and most importantly, I saw that someone who is an influencer, like Charlotte Tilbury, was having a major impact on the trajectory of beauty,” said Yanover.

In 2016, he approached CAA agent Christian Carino “with the idea of creating a new business” and met with Lady Gaga. He didn’t know what the structure would be, but that it’d be great to create a business with Gaga in beauty, he said. “And I knew that she was not interested in doing endorsements and licenses, that she wanted to do something different…I’m much more interested in the client who is interested in being an equity owner and being an operator of a new business.”

Backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners, the brand was launched in 2019 with Ben Jones as CEO (formerly of The Honest Company).

Michael Yanover, Business Development Head at CAA, Los Angeles, Calif. 10.8.15
Michael Yanover of Creative Artists Agency. Courtesy/Max S. Gerber

“The world of beauty is going to get harder in that you have to keep differentiating,” said Yanover (CAA is also involved in Winnie Harlow’s Cay Skin). “To have your own start-up in the future, you, as a celebrity, really have to have a vision as well. Not just the tenacity to be an entrepreneur, not just the reach to get lots of people interested in the brand, but you really have to have a vision about a unique brand.”