“We’re the f–king weird kids at Sephora right now,” said Paramore’s Hayley Williams on Saturday morning at Sephoria — the multinational chain’s second annual beauty festival — at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in downtown Los Angeles. “It reminds me of being a teenager and kind of gives me that underdog feeling, which is great fuel for business I find.”
Williams and longtime hairstylist Brian O’Connor, who’s created some of her memorable hair color looks, are behind Good Dye Young, the semipermanent, vegan and cruelty-free hair color line found at Sally Beauty and, natch, Sephora. The brand is expanding into hair care, she said. The company has released a hair primer, scalp treatment and conditioner and plans to have more products out by the end of the year.
“It’s very different, and actually, I was talking about it this morning and kind of complaining about it, to be very, very transparent with you,” she shared of being immersed in the beauty industry. “It’s just the beginning for us in this world, and there are days where I feel so uncomfortable, because the norm in beauty is to look very sexy…that’s what’s been the most trendy, the last five to 10 years — and I love that. I mean, we are always psyched on different forms of beauty, but what we do as a company, there are days when I’m like, we’re the weird kids.”
She and her bandmates recently posted an open letter to fans on Instagram sharing that they’re on a break. After Williams had admitted that she didn’t know what was next for Paramore, fans had been left wondering about the future of the band: “We’re just kind of back home in Nashville, all working on various different projects. Brian and I are so busy all the time with Good Dye Young. It’s actually been a great reprieve, but the band is not over by any means. The band is alive and well, we’re just not on tour right now.”
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Williams and O’Connor soon made their way to their activation to host a meet-and-greet, where fans took turns waiting for selfies with the two. Tarryn Hall, 20, was attending Sephoria solely to meet Williams, she said.
“I found out about this event two days ago and got a GA ticket just to meet them,” said Hall, who was visiting L.A. from Australia. “I’m not that into beauty…I’ve been a fan of Paramore for 10 years and now that they have a hair-dye company, I really wanted to try it out.”
The weekend was filled with see-now-buy-now products. As soon as guests entered the venue, they were given empty Sephora shopping bags, and by the time they left, those bags were filled to the brim with samples and full-size items that were made available exclusively for the weekend or had yet to be released to the public.
“It’s like adult Halloween,” said Ashley Johnson, a 36-year-old nurse who flew out from New Jersey to attend Sephoria. “I want it all. I want it now, like that Fenty holiday set. I know it isn’t out in stores yet. I want all the stuff.”
Indeed, the holidays seemed to come early; Fenty Beauty by Rihanna made its $42 mini gloss set available, while Too Faced sold a gingerbread-scented kit featuring a lipstick and bronzer for $39 and Beautyblender featured gift ornaments concealed with a mystery-shade sponge and cleanser for $20.
“If you’re getting $900 back worth of products, plus the gift card, it’s worth it,” added Johnson of the VIP gift bag she was looking forward to receiving at the exit.
Each day was divided into two sessions, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. As a VIP ticketholder, a $350 price tag per session, Johnson was also given a $20 gift card, had access to a VIP lounge and enjoyed perks like entering the venue an hour earlier. In comparison, general admission cost $80 a session and came with a swag bag worth $250.
The event also brought out some influencers, including Lunar Beauty founder Manny MUA.
“It’s not traditional holiday, but it’s more spooky,” he shared of his own upcoming launch, which wasn’t featured at the event but would be released “in a month or two.” He has more than 4 million Instagram followers and close to 5 million YouTube subscribers.
The beauty influencer used to work at a Sephora shop inside a J.C. Penney in San Diego, he shared: “It’s crazy. It’s literally so weird and hard to even describe. How did I go from working at Sephora to now having a brand in Sephora six years later? This is such a full circle moment for me.”
With its high ceilings and wide, open main spaces, the Shine — a historic monument built in 1925 — served as a fitting setting for Sephora’s “House of Beauty.” While there was elbow room, many attendees complained of the heat inside. Outside the doors, it was in the 90 degrees in L.A., and inside, the AC simply wasn’t quite high enough to accommodate the 6,000 attendees. But some, like Johnson, found contentment in the lines being relatively short and moving quickly.
“I haven’t spent more than three or four minutes waiting,” she said. “It makes all the difference.”
Another VIP attendee, who drove up from Orange County and didn’t want to be named, shared that she expected more from Sephora. “I thought it would be bigger, like more rooms and things to do,” she said. “I’m disappointed in that regard.”
Everything about this year’s Sephoria — which began to celebrate the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned chain’s 20th anniversary in the U.S. — is bigger, shared Sephora’s chief merchandising officer Artemis Patrick. Last year it was held at The Majestic Downtown, a smaller venue. There was more space to accommodate more elaborate activations and additional brands, with more than 60 labels present, from Youth to the People to Huda Beauty. (Sephora charges a fee to those invited to participate; the larger the activation, the higher the price.)
“We have 35 more brands represented,” Patrick said. “We also increased our services. We have nine this year.”
Most of the action took place within two stories; the downstairs hosted the brand activations, while the upstairs held master classes by the likes of celebrity makeup artist Patrick Ta and skin-care guru Dr. Barbara Sturm, who shared their respective expertise (Sturm said she would be releasing an upgraded version of her cult product, the hyaluronic serum), as well as hair, makeup and skin services, which included one-on-one experiences like private skin-care consultations with Dr. Dennis Gross.
“By answering their questions, I’m learning what the concerns are,” said Gross, of his interest in attending. He also shared that he is working on developing his own ingredients. “Yes, I want to help them, but I want to keep the finger on the pulse.”
Michael Shaun Corby, global creative director of Living Proof, had similar sentiments: “It’s important to look into people’s eyes and ask them what they like and what they don’t like….I think it’s important for people to see us and to know that we’re still as committed to them and Sephora as we’ve ever been.”
On Sephora’s end, chief marketing officer of Sephora Americas Deborah Yeh said: “Sephora’s brand aspiration is to think about itself as the world’s most loved beauty community.…From a business standpoint, it’s a great learning laboratory for our business. We have opportunity to debut new products, see how consumers are reacting, have the ability to watch our clients as they flow through the space, what they are engaging in, and we have an opportunity to see what they share with their friends and connections.”
Sephora, which recently launched a credit card program for North America, monitored attendee interaction and collected data through RFID and the Sephoria app, the brand said. Earlier this year, the retailer welcomed Jean-André Rougeot as its new chief executive officer.
“I have been lucky enough to know him for now my entire career at Sephora, almost 14 years since he was the ceo of Benefit, one of our lovely brands,” Patrick said of Rougeot. “One of the biggest attributes of him and his leadership is he really loves to get to know the brands…he has such a deep respect and passion for our brands and brand founders…that is so important for us, because our entire DNA has been based on our relationships with our brands.”
Next, Sephoria plans to continue to expand to other cities on a smaller scale, Yeh said. The initiative was recently started in San Francisco with Fenty Beauty’s global makeup artist Hector Espinal and in Houston, where Vicky Tsai of Tatcha hosted a masterclass.
“It’s totally the same and yet a little bit different,” Tsai said of her role with the brand since it was acquired for reportedly close to $500 million by Unilever. “They leave you 100 percent independent, like 100 percent. And the only thing that’s changed is that I have resources now for the things that I really care about.”