The female inmates on Netflix prison drama “Orange is the New Black” might be famous for their make-unders, at least by Hollywood beauty standards, but there’s one product that has always been on set: Kat Von D Beauty’s Tattoo Liner. Not only does it give the show’s character Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales her signature cat eye with tear drop, it created an opportunity for the star that portrays her, Jackie Cruz.
On April 19, the Latina actress, musician and influencer will become the face of Kat Von D Beauty’s new, vegan, cruelty-free, volumizing Go Big or Go Home mascara. It’s the first foray into the cosmetics biz for Cruz, who has built an Instagram following 1.5 million strong with behind-the-scenes posts from “OITNB” (including in-jail DIY makeup tutorials with costar Diane Guerrero that went viral), Hollywood red carpet glam shots and downtown L.A. deli stories.
The Dominican-American talent has also emerged as a voice for inclusion in Hollywood, appearing in the documentary “This Changes Everything” about gender disparity, rallying fans on social media and through her music. Her self-produced album “Hija de Chavez” drops next month, with songs in Spanish and English about women who have inspired her, including her grandma Melba, from whom she gets the uber-long, natural lashes that helped her land the campaign.
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“Our positioning for the brand has always been around fearless females, self-empowerment and self-expression, and we looked at Jackie checking off all the boxes we’ve always represented in terms of being authentic and a bit of a rebel,” said Kelly Coller, vice president of global marketing for Kat Von D Beauty. “And obviously we have Latina heritage as a brand,” she added, referring to the founder, tattoo artist and TV personality, an Argentinian born in Mexico.
It’s the long-awaited new mascara for the brand, now in its 11th year with distribution in 36 countries, and will be selling for $23 through Kat Von D Beauty’s web channels, as well as at Sephora online and in stores. “It has an amazing formula powered by plant-based fats, and the wand itself has a fluff brush inspired by a round hairbrush so you walk away with extreme volume lashes,” Coller added of the product, which comes in one shade: black.
In between wrapping production on the final season of “OITNB,” filming romantic comedy “A Nice Girl Like You” with Lucy Hale and Mindy Cohn, and putting the finishing touches on her album, Cruz sat down with WWD to chat about the business of influencing.
WWD: How did this partnership come about?
Jackie Cruz: Season two was when we started using Kat Von D Tattoo Liner, and I was like, ‘One day, I’m going to get a campaign with them.’ So Kat Von D Beauty was always in my head. Then, I started following them and one of our makeup artists went to one of their events. I said ‘tell them about me.’ And she did. I thought I was just going to be an ambassador for Instagram. This was not what I was expecting.
WWD: Why does the brand appeal to you?
J.C.: I can’t even believe I’m sitting here right now because beauty for me was really having a certain skin color. I grew up in the Dominican Republic. All I saw on TV was something that didn’t look like me, and it already felt impossible. But I connected with Kat Von D. I was like wow, she made it, she’s independent, that’s what I want. I love that beauty for her is all women. I had a terrible car accident when I was 17, it left me with nothing, no hair, my face was paralyzed. I was in a coma and had to have brain surgery, and learn to walk again. So to have a beauty campaign 10 years later is insane to me. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.
WWD: Speaking of Instagram, when did you realize you could be an influencer?
J.C.: When the numbers started going up. After season one, we were shopping at Nordstrom, and people were recognizing us. We were working our whole life for this moment, and it was because of Instagram. We went from 4,000 to 200,000 to 400,000 to 500,000 [followers] in 10 days.
WWD: Was there one post more than others that made the difference?
J.C.: Any Flaca-related post. Even when I go out, people assume I’m just like her. But now they are starting to like me for me, that’s why I cut my hair off, I want to be different than my character.
WWD: What was the origin of the Flaca makeup tutorial videos that went viral?
J.C.: “OITNB” takes a bit of your life, and I love makeup, and would always fool around on set. They took a bit of that and put it on the show, and people fell in love with it. Now I have this thing I was making fun of on a prison show, I get to really do that.
WWD: Art imitates life, then life imitates art.
J.C.: Exactly. It feels weird, but my character and I have a lot in common…When you go into a prison, you have to be someone else. She used her liner to be someone else.
WWD: Originally, you gained followers because of your character. But eventually, you found your own voice on social media, and actually became an activist. How?
J.C.: I met Carmen Perez, co-chair of the Women’s March, and heard her speak about [racial inequality in the justice system], her work for The Gathering For Justice, and it resonated. I started to work as one of Carmen’s artists for the Justice League. There are a lot of women in prison who shouldn’t be, and I have been there firsthand. I started talking about that more. And when President Trump entered the White House, well, I thought “the president is a reality star, if his opinion is important, mine certainly is.” I started talking about what I believe in, and all the terrible things happening in the world. It’s not for me, it’s for people who feel represented by me.
WWD: How do you manage your social media accounts?
J.C.: I do it myself. Sometimes, I go live. I even created a song, “Do you wanna go live?” I interact with fans, call people from Italy or Israel and they are like, ‘What the hell?’ A good time for me is 6 p.m., but I do it whenever I feel like it. It’s very organic.
WWD: What do you do when you see hateful things?
J.C.: Once or twice I clapped back, but usually I ignore it because they just want attention. I delete or block them; I just don’t want the negative energy.
WWD: Do you feel the positivity outweighs the negativity?
J.C.: Absolutely. People are finding the real me, which is great.
WWD: Did any manager or agent ever tell you to be less outspoken?
J.C.: I was called thirsty once. I said don’t confuse my ambition for thirst. I said, actually I’m ambitious and I worked really hard to get to where I am today. A director was saying he was going to put me in a film, and recently he said, ‘Well, things are different now.’ I told him I wasn’t going to be with him for the movie. If I don’t make it for my talent, it’s not meant for me. I survived a terrible thing, I have come through so much, I’ve been robbed…even at gunpoint. I’m just excited to share my story.
WWD: Do you feel you have created a community?
J.C.: One hundred percent. I want to be the one who opens a seat for others; that’s what Kat Von D is doing for me, giving me a seat at the table. She is Latina, too. There is enough room for all of us. I’m not going to say you use this mascara to look like me. But your dreams can come true — look what she created and I created and now we’re working together and growing together.