Unilever is making its makeup debut with the acquisition of Hourglass Cosmetics.
Hourglass is best known for its complexion products, including its Ambient Lighting products, primer and formulations that marry active ingredients and makeup. The brand is sold in high-end distribution channels like Net-a-porter, Sephora, Space NK and Harrod’s, and industry sources said Hourglass has about $70 million in net sales and is growing in the double-digits. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but industry sources estimated the company sold for between $250 million and $300 million. Industry sources indicated back in March that the brand hired Ohana to conduct a sale process.
“One thing this brand has versus other brands is its commitment to premium formulation and packaging — it stands apart,” said Vasiliki Petrou, executive vice president of Unilever Prestige. “It just feels so luxury.”
Unilever is making a move into makeup less than a year after it did the same in hair care with the acquisition of Living Proof, which closed in February. Several financial sources said Unilever is on the hunt for more beauty acquisitions, and is considering deals for sizable skin, hair and makeup companies. (Separately, Unilever also invests in smaller companies, like luxury, natural skin-care brand True Botanicals, through Unilever Ventures).
Asked about future makeup acquisitions, Petrou said, “we need to walk before we run.”
Hourglass will join the prestige beauty portfolio, which also includes Murad, Ren, Dermalogica, Kate Somerville and Living Proof. Industry sources said Unilever may be looking to bulk up in personal care and beauty to fend off takeover attempts like Heinz’s $143 billion offer in February.
But Petrou said the Hourglass deal is in line with Unilever Prestige’s strategy. “We have been working on prestige for the last three years, and in the last two years have been very much focused on getting a top color cosmetics brand,” she said.
“This acquisition marks an important step for the prestige division to widen our product offerings into prestige color cosmetics,” said Petrou. “Hourglass is leading the cosmetics development with superior ingredients, outstanding packaging and transformative innovation. The hero franchises such as Veil Mineral Primer, Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick and Ambient Lighting Palette have been pioneering innovations and established a loyal following in social media. The brand fits perfectly with the Unilever Prestige mission and ethos. I look forward to working with Carisa [Janes, founder] and Hourglass team to accelerate the brand success.”
The company’s Ambient Lighting Palette is a “must-buy” for Chinese tourists visiting the U.K. or U.S., Petrou said — “they call it the ‘Marble Palette,’” she noted (the powders mimic the veins in marble). That interest indicates one potential expansion point, though Petrou noted that Hourglass has a serious no-animal-testing policy that will remain in place, and that more expansion-type planning will happen after the deal closes. “We may look at cross-border opportunities to satisfy that demand where it exists,” she said.
“As the first color brand in Unilever’s prestige portfolio, we are excited about this partnership as Hourglass continues to challenges the status quo with high performance luxury cosmetics,” said Janes, who founded Hourglass in 2004 and serves as chief executive officer. “Unilever’s commitment to innovation and social responsibility is aspirational, and perfectly aligned with our vision for the future of Hourglass.”
Janes will stay on board with the brand, according to Petrou. “The founders are the heart, the DNA, the soul of the brand,” Petrou said. “Carisa is staying and is very committed to growing the brand together.”
Hourglass is just one of many color cosmetics brands to be snapped up lately. L’Oréal has bought IT Cosmetics, NYX and Urban Decay, Estée Lauder acquired Too Faced and Becca Cosmetics, and Shiseido purchased Laura Mercier. The deals have been sparked by growth in the makeup category, but financial sources indicated that beauty M&A activity is diversifying into skin and hair as well.