Controversy comes to the house that Estée built.
The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. is using not one, but two digital influencers to launch its splashy, new repurposed brand, Flirt Cosmetics, Monday evening.
Donald Robertson — or “Drawbertson,” as he’s known on Instagram by his 179,000 followers — is creative director of the company, and Amber Rose is the face of it. Together, they will reveal Flirt Flashes, the first product to debut under the Flirt Cosmetics brand, a stand-alone company that is not affiliated with Estée Lauder.
According to the brand, the mission is to “bridge the gap between beauty and the massive entity that is social media,” and thanks to Rose’s 12.1 million Instagram followers and a direct-to-consumer e-commerce model, this could become a reality.
This marks the first time the beauty giant will introduce a brand born online with e-commerce as its only sales channel with two influencers at the helm.
The brand held a launch event at The Box on the Lower East Side Monday night, where John Demsey, executive group president at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Robertson and Rose got on the stage usually reserved for burlesque performances to introduce the concept to guests.
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Demsey called Flirt Cosmetics an online brand created for a “new generation” that’s powered by social media. After reading a cover story on Rose, he immediately had Robertson link up with her on social media — the artist’s forte. (He introduced friends Ashley Hicks and Katalina de Solis on Instagram last year; they got engaged after two weeks and he officiated the wedding).
The rest was “social media history,” according to Demsey.
“When he [Robertson] approached me with the idea I was like, I’m tatted, bald headed, I talk about sex like really raunchy — but I’m very sex positive — but I just speak my mind. Are you sure you want me for your brand? I’m not sure. I have SlutWalk and s–t,” Rose said with a laugh, quickly adding: “It’s the perfect match. I am their modern-day woman. My 12 million Instagram followers get it.”
Roberston pointed out that the brand will roll out a series of “hit products” versus a “big dump” of SKUs, or stockkeeping units, all at once. The intention is to get a hero product out there and have people reviewing and using it before unveiling the next item, he explained.
He likened Flirt Flashes to a “staple gun for the eyelashes but without the staples and the gun.” But the handheld device actually looks like a Wite-Out dispenser that lets the wearer control how many and where they want to apply their lash buds, which each contain three little clusters of lashes.
“It’s for people who aren’t super hardcore makeup, but who want to be able to apply these things….It’s hard to come up with new stuff; you are jaded people. What are we going to do, come up with an eye palette and wow you?” Robertson said.
He added: “I’m sure if you don’t have eyelashes, Amber has a million uses for this for you.”
Estée Lauder doesn’t seem to be irked by the fact that much of Rose’s celebrity has been criticized for being of the unsavory variety. She’s made headlines for exchanging insults and obscenities with ex-boyfriend Kanye west via Twitter and was embroiled in a long-standing feud with West’s current wife, Kim Kardashian (the two have since buried the hatchet).
She’s also been vocal about “slut shaming,” and hosted her own SlutWalk in October — the event sold out by drawing several thousand attendees — to raise awareness for sexual violence, victim blaming and gender inequality.
But above all else, she’s a digital influencer with millions of Instagram followers, which appears to trump any fight with West or Kardashian.
Robertson himself is a beauty veteran. He was one of the original creatives at MAC Cosmetics and the creative director at Estée Lauder before he became creative director at large at The Estée Lauder Cos. He’s garnered a cult following for his fashion illustrations — splashy and often rife with lips, his signature.
This marks his return to the cosmetics space in a big way and the first time that he will serve as creative director of a brand. While samples couldn’t be obtained before launch, brand executives stated that products are “doused in signature illustrations” by Robertson.
Billed by Flirt as a line that embraces “smudging, smearing and reinventing with no rules,” the brand’s “rule-breaking” persona seems like a bit of backlash to the perfectly contoured faces, penciled in brows and expertly lined pouts that could be found all over Instagram and YouTube.
The brand has one product to start, Flirt Flashes which retails for $28 and will go on sale Sept. 15 at Flirtcosmetics.com. The false lash applicator, which has a patent-pending technology and design, dispenses false “lash buds” that are customizable by the user. The applicator holds a maximum of 40 lash buds, giving a wearer the choice to apply a bud or two on the outer corners of their eyes to several buds across their entire lid for a more dramatic effect. According to Flirt, it’s also a smart beauty product, and customers can connect with their smartphones to watch tutorials and video content. Rose didn’t have a hand in product development.
The project has reportedly been years in the making.
An industry source said the brand was originally conceived as an offshoot of MAC in 2013 to give a “cool little sister” to the brand that was approaching 30 years in business, but eventually evolved into a similar concept. Nicola Formichetti was said to be in talks about serving as the creative lead of MAC’s diffusion line, similar to Estée Edit, according to another individual close to the company. But the project fizzled. The project took a new course, and building a brand on social media became the focus.
The rise of the digital influencer was likely key in this.
“The new celebrities are the social influencers, and quite honestly some make more money than the people who get Emmy Awards….If you can deliver an audience and prove that someone can buy your product, you can get paid. As long as that works it will continue to blossom,” Demsey told WWD last month.
Demsey’s mandate is to retarget much of the company’s efforts to hit a younger demographic, with Flirt Cosmetics being the latest example. Flirt has had a former life, first as a masstige play at Kohl’s, then with a stint at Bergdorf Goodman. The brand clarified that the former Flirt! had an exclamation point at the end and that Flirt Cosmetics is an entirely different brand.
While similar in its youthful spirit to the Estée Edit by Estée Lauder, the Millennial focused line introduced by Estée Lauder in March, Flirt Cosmetics is its own separate entity. While the two share a parent company in the Estée Lauder Cos., Flirt Cosmetics remains independent with its own creative leadership.
In fall 2014, Estée Lauder named then-19-year-old Kendall Jenner as the face of the brand. It was a numbers game: The storied brand wanted to touch a younger consumer and Jenner had around 16 million fans.