Flesh foundation sticks

Call it the Fenty-fication of Revlon.

As its core brands struggle to remain relevant in an uber-competitive mass makeup landscape, Revlon is looking up-market for a much-needed boost. In late June, the company will launch Flesh, a prestige-priced makeup brand developed by industry veteran Linda Wells, exclusively at Ulta Beauty.

Flesh is comprised of makeup products designed to complement a diverse range of skin tones — from 40 shades of foundation to highlighters, lipsticks and blushes. It is set to launch on ulta.com on June 24 and will roll out to 510 Ulta Beauty doors on July 8. Wells, who joined Revlon as chief creative officer in February 2017, eschewed Revlon’s corporate infrastructure and used her personal Rolodex of industry contacts to develop the line.

Revlon and Ulta would not discuss financials, but industry sources estimate based on the sku count and rollout that if successful, Flesh could pull in $40 million to $50 million in retail sales in its first year on-shelf.

“Our partnership with Ulta marks another strategic milestone in our efforts to transform our business,” said newly appointed Revlon Inc. chief executive officer Debbie Perelman. “Revlon is focusing on dynamic new partnerships and channels, both in e-commerce and brick-and-mortar, to connect our consumers with our innovative new products.”

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A range of 12 products — from foundation sticks to highlighters, lipsticks, blushes and eye shadow palettes — were created with a wide range of skin tones in mind. The foundation stick comes in 40 shades — the same amount Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched with last year. Pricing ranges from $18 for a lipstick to $38 for an eyeshadow palette.

Revlon Inc. is the latest major beauty company to incubate its own brand. L’Oréal introduced Seed Phytonutrients in April, and Unilever launched ApotheCare Essentials and Love Beauty and Planet in January — all three brands were developed in-house by small teams operating start-up style. Procter & Gamble announced at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit that it is beginning to incubate as well. At the same time as major players are incubating brands, they are still buying — L’Oréal acquired Pulp Riot last week; Procter & Gamble acquired Snowberry in February, and Unilever announced late last year it would acquire Sundial Brands. Revlon recently inked a deal for the AllSaints fragrance license.

The flurry of incubation activity is due to two things, experts say — the pool of sizable beauty brands available for acquisition is lessening, and big companies are eager to experiment in moving faster and with more flexibility.

For Revlon, Flesh is an opportunity to introduce a new and relevant concept into the market while its core brands are struggling, even amidst turnaround efforts. According to Nielsen data tracking the last 20 weeks ending May 19, Almay sales were down 17.8 percent from the year prior, and Revlon sales were down 5.9 percent. Elizabeth Arden posted a gain.

“We’re in a post-Fenty world now, where talking about inclusivity is a commitment — it’s not just acceptable, it’s desired,” said Jefferies analyst Stephanie Wissink. “Revlon has [also] recognized their core brands in the domestic market are struggling in an intensely competitive environment, so [by] coming to market with something fresh, new and designed for today’s market instead of reverse-engineering an existing brand, they are inserting themselves into the conversation in a novel and innovative way.”

Wells conceived of Flesh last summer and presented it to Revlon executives, who were keen to do something “fast-track, prestige, independent of Revlon and exclusive with Ulta.” She developed Flesh by working “entirely with outside people,” including a makeup artist, creative director Ruba Abu-Nimah and independent suppliers — the entire process, from conception to presenting the line to Ulta took about five months. Inspiration for the brand had been percolating for some time, Wells told WWD, tracing back to her 24 years spent at the helm of Allure as its founding editor in chief.

“It’s really focused on the idea of flesh being all flesh colors — we’re redefining the notion of what flesh color really is and having it be inclusive on every level,” Wells said. “Now, 40 foundations has almost become the industry standard, but it’s really broadening that conversation and proposition out to other products as well.”

As an editor, one thing that always struck Wells “not in any way accurate” was the idea that a nude lipstick meant just one shade of beige. “Flesh was this idea of, ‘How do you create different shades of nudes for different skin colors?’ Because there’s that idea that there’s this one color that will work on every color of skin, but that seems like kind of a fantasy —  a unicorn. So rather than trying to make one thing for everybody, I wanted to make something work for everyone that was different and appropriate for their skin,” Wells said. “What’s going to be a nude lipstick for me is going to be very different than our model Ajak, who we used on the display in Ulta — she’s from Sudan.”

Wells wanted to ensure that products such as highlighters, blush and lipstick also consisted of shade options that would flatter a diverse range of skin tones. Within Flesh, there are 14 shades of highlighter, 30 lipsticks and eight shades of blush. There is also an eye shadow palette with a range of shades, a universal eye and cheek gloss and universal primer. Wells designed the line around neutral tones and strategic pops of color — she noted that foundation is not the only product that often lacks diversity.

“It’s pigments, too; a vibrant color on pale skin is different than a vibrant color on dark skin,” Wells said.

Flesh is not the first time Revlon has pioneered a brand in the nude makeup space — in the Eighties, Andrea Robinson, then-president of Ultima II, tapped emerging makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin to codevelop The Nakeds, a line of makeup based in neutral tones. Now, the concept of nude makeup is a staple in the market — Urban Decay has co-opted the term with its blockbuster Naked palettes.

Wells is quick to point out that Flesh is an entirely different concept than The Nakeds.

“It was a totally different time,” she said. “There was a trend in nude colors as a look, and there was a moment where browns became a lip color and lip liner [became a thing],” Wells said. “[Flesh] is more about giving women makeup they can use, and making sure it’s not confusing. There’s no holographic mermaid gels — it’s very true to skin.”

Mermaid makeup is not the only thing Wells avoided in developing the line — she threw out the notion of a traditional marketing budget as well. “We deliberately kept the marketing budget low, because I think it means you can be more agile and creative,” said Wells, who described the marketing for Flesh as “all digital and all video-first.” “We’re doing things in a raw way, where we’re getting friends to shoot pictures and videos of models, and some actresses, singers, artists and dancers — no one you’ve ever heard of.”

Wells wrote the copy for the gondolas going into Ulta stores — Flesh has been allotted two bays and six feet of space. “It sounds like someone is talking to you as opposed to selling products,” she said.

It was Wells’ touch that drew Tara Simon, Ulta’s senior vice president of merchandising for prestige beauty, to the line. “The brand itself is very fresh and really timely with being inclusive and diverse,” she said of Flesh. “She’s created vibrant pops of color and the terminology is smart and cool — it really doesn’t have an age, and it’s very inclusive.”

Simon noted that a typical Ulta launch consists of a brand going into 300 doors — Flesh will be in 575 doors by the end of 2018. Launching the brand exclusively is part of the retailer’s larger strategy to attract customers with exclusive brands and products. “It’s meaningful to our guest,” Simon said.

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