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Online’s New Cult Beauty Products

Pat McGrath's Skin Fetish and Kylie Jenner's lip line show power of social media.

Social media is breeding cult beauty products, with Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish the latest to “break the Internet.”

Pat McGrath Labs’ Skin Fetish hit the makeup artist’s web site,, on April 26, and not only did both shades sell out, but the site crashed. The three-piece set retails for $72 and includes a brush, a pigment pot and two-sided highlighter and balm duo. Products come in nude or gold and are designed to help wearers get the glowing, highlighted look that McGrath has created for editorials and fashion shows throughout her long career.

“Even after a site crash, we sold out in 90 minutes,” McGrath told WWD, adding that for this launch, the company produced four times as many units as previous introductions, including Gold 001, a microfine gold pigment, and Phantom 002, a kit of highly saturated eye gels, blushes and pigments.

Skin Fetish originally debuted on the Valentino runway in February, but the makeup artist said the highlighting system was 25 years in the making.

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“After the fall 2016 shows, though, I started teasing inspiration — videos, archives, my muses — to get my fans guessing what’s next from the labs,” she explained, calling the brand an “innovation concept and platform” where digital strategy is derived from what she’s inspired by at the moment.

Luckily, e-commerce allows brands to do this quickly and without the red tape associated with a more traditional product launch. Plus, web launches create a way for consumers to get their hands on products the second they become available and, coupled with innovative digital marketing plays and social media promotion, are helping create the next generation of cult products.

For customers who were unable to get their hands on the limited pre-launch, a wider release for Skin Fetish hits today when the product goes on sale at select Sephora stores and on

McGrath was able to generate interest around her line that would never have been possible before the rise of social media. While well-known within the fashion world, she isn’t a household name the way Kylie Jenner or Rihanna are, for example, who have both seen runaway success online with the debut of Kylie Lip Kits and a collaboration with MAC Cosmetics, respectively.

“Because my products are coming straight from the labs and it’s such a special formula, these quantities are all that could be made at this time. The freedom we have…where we don’t have to follow any specific marketing or sales time frame allows us to create and release of-the-moment products, things that I’m obsessed with right now,” McGrath said.

But if not for social media and a carefully orchestrated digital strategy, the product likely wouldn’t have created the early buzz it did. Also, releasing an item in limited quantities has proven key in creating more demand. Everyone wants what they can’t have.

Just look at Jenner.

In November, the reality star’s Kylie Lip Kits sold out within moments at Her initial range of three shades, Dolce K, True Brown K, Candy K — a nude, a dark brown and a light pink, respectively — caused the site to go down within an hour of going live. In the six months since, the brand has seen more than 15 additional launches including mattes, metals and glosses.

A spokeswoman for Jenner confirmed that every product introduction has sold out of all product in under 10 minutes, with each launch seeing traffic on the site greater than 100,000 visitors at any given time.

Ruba Abu-Nimah, Shiseido’s global creative director who previously spent a decade as creative director at Bobbi Brown, said traditional creative and traditional media should be worried.

“The traditional way in which traditional marketers think people shop is no longer valid. It’s relevant to an aging consumer, and if you want to keep them, that’s fine,” Abu-Nimah said.

But if you want to speak to Millennials — who don’t shop in department stores or read magazines, Abu-Nimah continued — brands have to talk to this consumer where they are: online.

“If marketers in beauty departments are still thinking along the lines of ‘Let’s do a two-page spread and [corresponding] marketing material in-stores,’ they are mistaken,” she added.

Today, it’s paramount that brands think digital and social first — and then think about the more traditional and “tried-and-true” methods of advertising.

“The beauty industry has been completely turned around on its head,” Abu-Nimah said.

One of the first brands to use digital to build an exclusive online product launch was MAC Cosmetics.

In 2013, MAC’s RiRi Woo, an online exclusive lipstick created in partnership with Rihanna, reportedly sold 35,000 units online in three hours at Named as MAC’s first creative partners, Rihanna took her favorite shade, Ruby Woo, and remixed it. This became the first of a four-collection series designed by the singer, RiRi Hearts MAC.

The brand, which called Rihanna the most influential celebrity on social media at the time, had her reveal major visual assets to launch the collaboration on her own social channels — Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — followed by MAC doing the same. The debut of RiRi Woo on the singer’s channels reached more than 73 million followers on Facebook and 30 million on Twitter. According to MAC, RiRi Woo is still one of the most searched keywords on the brand’s site.