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What to Watch: Italian Instagram Beauty Brands Gain Traction

From micro to macro, these are the four Instagram labels on the rise in a market that is starting to seek alternatives to established names.

MILAN — Every brand wants to be Glossier, but that’s no easy task, especially in a country like Italy.

The Bel Paese is historically rooted in beauty — artistic, architectural and environmental — and is home to leading color cosmetic suppliers, which manufacture more than 60 percent of the makeup products distributed by international beauty brands in Europe and over half of the makeup distributed worldwide, according to Cosmetica Italia’s data.

Yet this heritage and know-how has rarely resulted in local blockbuster labels, even less in powerhouses or conglomerates that could compete with L’Oréal and the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. Backed by a strong supply chain culminating in a few, individual cases — think Kiko Milano — the Italian beauty industry is made of small- to medium-sized brands making good products but lacking the expertise and boldness to create distinctive brand awareness.

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But with the booming appeal of the niche category, customers’ ambition in scouting unique brands to boast of to their peers and with social media platforms making communication strategies accessible and less expensive compared to traditional channels, entrepreneurial moves are starting to prosper in Italy.

Founded in December, Espressoh is one of the Instagram beauty labels that have been popping up recently. The name is a pun on coffee, the key ingredient of its cruelty-free formulations, and on its easy-to-use and fast approach to beauty routines. “Conversely to other brands, which are promoting almost professional techniques and products basically for makeup artists, Espressoh steps back and offers a range of essential items every woman has in her beauty case and knows how to use,” explained founder Chiara Cascella.

With prices ranging from 19 euros to 23 euros, the line comprises a concealer, a mascara and matte lipsticks in different shades that quickly attracted a target of women aged 22 to 35 with their caffeinated textures and aromas.

The brand’s essential pink packaging and Instagram feed, counting 10,000 followers, further marked the appeal of the label, which is available at Annex Rinascente and the Lizard concept store in Milan, at S120 units in London as well as on its own e-commerce site, which ships worldwide.

Espressoh products.
Espressoh products. Courtesy Photo

Established in 2017 by Gianluca Ottolina, Zago Cosmetics is also on the rise as it offers natural under-makeup products that help improve skin health. It additionally boasts a short supply chain as each stage of product development — from the selection of raw materials and the creation of formulas to packaging — is carried within an area of 15 kilometers around Milan to keep quality control up and costs competitive.

Retailing from 10 to 38 euros and coming in colorful packaging with catchy names, products include the Freshy Beat Pot Hydrator and Primer stick and the Gen Z-targeted Hangover line.

In its first year the brand totaled 1.2 million euros in sales while in 2019 “we doubled this figure in the first six months,” said Ottolina, who aims to build an Italian label that could compete with the likes of Tula and Milk Makeup. Zago is available in around 100 doors in Italy and online, while it will make its debut in the U.S. this fall via the subscription box service FabFitFun.

Zago's Freshy Beat Pot stick.
Items from Zago Cosmetics. Courtesy Photo

In sync with the global beauty movement, Italian influencers are also leveraging their popularity to launch cosmetic lines and eventually turn followers into customers.

One of the most prominent cases is Cristina Fogazzi, known as Estetista Cinica — or Cynical Esthetician, in English. As owner of the Bellavera beauty salon in Milan, Fogazzi created a blog to share her experience and answer questions of local beauty aficionados, ranging from depilation to anti-cellulite tips. Her bubbly personality and “girl-next-door” attitude quickly gained her 422,000 Instagram followers, convincing her to capitalize on her influence launching the VeraLab brand. When monthly revenues rose from 150,000 euros in 2017 to 1 million euros in January this year, Fogazzi expanded the distribution of her assortment from the dedicated e-shop to physical stores in Italy, including Rinascente’s Milanese and Roman units.

VeraLab's Bad Ass anti-cellulite kit.
VeraLab’s Bad Ass anticellulite kit. Courtesy Photo

Vegan label Nabla Cosmetics, which counts 625,000 followers on Instagram, is also rooted in the popularity of its art director, Daniele Lorusso, best known in the digital world under the moniker of MrDanielmakeup. Lorusso’s relentless makeup tutorial activity and his connections with prominent local social media personalities for whom he creates beauty looks, attracted a following of 414,000 people on Instagram and 382,218 subscribers on YouTube, which was the platform he used to launch Nabla in 2013. Winking to American color cosmetic brands, the label’s key assets are highly pigmented textures developed for a wide array of colorful eye shadow palettes and lip products.

Nabla's Cutie Palette.
Nabla’s Cutie Palette. Courtesy Photo