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How social media stars like Addison Rae gave the cosmetics industry a makeover. By Vanessa Grigoriadis. A little over a year ago, Addison Rae Easterling rode down the boulevards of Beverly Hills in an Uber to meet with Marcelo Camberos, the chief executive officer of Ipsy, the largest beauty subscription service in the United States. Now, in a new venture called Madeby Collective, the company hoped to manufacture and develop entirely new lines of makeup on its own. What Ipsy needed was a face to help them sell it.

Easterling, 20, professionally known by only her first two names, seemed like an ideal candidate. In , she was a college freshman dejected over not making the Louisiana State University pep squad and had been filming videos of herself doing slithery hip-hop dances that call to mind Max Headroom as a belly dancer. In a surreal turn of events appropriate for our times, cheerleader-ish girls dancing just this way to rap music was the height of entertainment during the pandemic, whether enjoyed genuinely or for laughs.

Rae estimated that she had about three million followers on TikTok when she met Camberos, but within a year she amassed 73 million — a population larger than that of the United Kingdom. Now Rae found herself in a strange and modern predicament: She had become very famous and needed to get paid for it. So Rae followed a new path, recently forged by many social media stars and A-list celebrities two quantities that seem as if they will eventually merge like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and others who come to mind when you imagine a mistress of the universe beaming her wants and desires at Earth like lasers.

She wanted to start her own beauty brand. She turned them over in her palms, considered their colors. Afterward, Rae agreed not to the usual sponsored-content deal of posting thrilled accolades about the products on her social media feeds, nor the s perfume deals in which celebrities branded fragrances with their own names, but rather to putting out her first makeup and skin-care line with Madeby Collective as a co-founder.

But when we spoke, she offered a different meaning. Though revenues dipped during quarantine, over all, global consumers have close to doubled their spending in the past 15 years, as prices of products have risen and beauty has entered a phase of total pop-culture domination, on par with hip-hop and gaming.

Fenty pushed the concept of creating foundations that actually matched the color of your skin. TikTok, rapidly becoming a dominant force in media, was equally fertile ground. As beauty has become a pop phenomenon, a radical change in the perception of the cosmetics business has also taken place.

But in our new virtual society, the same beauty industry that was once maligned has been embraced as a universal good. Beauty companies are lauded for providing us with tools of self-expression and celebrating the human desire to adorn the face using something other than the tricks of social media filters, lighting, Facetune. And many individuals and companies within the industry have capitalized on this impression. Though I am the type of person who spends as much time trying to avoid myself in the mirror as I do looking in it, I should admit that before hopping on a video call with Rae this fall, I spent quite a bit of time prepping my own face.

We seem to be among the first people in history to be both in the midst of a global pandemic and also obliged to project an attractive image of ourselves to the outside world. On the day of our call, smoke from nearby fires in Los Angeles, where Rae lives, was obscuring the blue sky. She wiggled a little in her seat, just enough for me to spy a neatly made bed behind her decorated with a pillow that read Team Addison.

Despite the cumbersome technology, her deep brown, saucer-size eyes seemed to draw me right into her soul, a prerequisite for success when trying to make it in the transactional world of beauty, where such intimacy is the currency of the day. Her gold hoop earrings bounced a little as she gestured with her hands.

Did Rae always imagine this? But then factories began spitting out tubes of lipstick en masse, and the availability of portrait photography became widespread, which inspired some to change their appearance. Some beauty brands that began in the s are still around in some form, often under the names adopted by their eccentric founders.

Helena Rubinstein was born Chaja Rubinstein in Poland in ; after refusing an arranged marriage, she emigrated to Australia and began selling a cream that she claimed had been formulated from herbs in the Carpathian Mountains. For about a hundred years, some of the companies started by these founders earned many millions. Legacy brands are doing well globally, especially in China, where people are now addicted to American beauty brands.

But this entrenched structure of large corporations is now far from the only way to create beauty products. And those who have worked in big beauty for decades are trying their hand at independence. As the business becomes atomized and we spend more time at home scrolling skin-care on Instagram, the role of retail has a murkier future.

Brands have traditionally drawn business from customers browsing in actual stores. The bulk of sales, pre-Covid, was still coming from retail. But in , according to the NPD Group, prestige beauty brands declined 19 percent, while direct retailers of consumer cosmetics fell only 4 percent. The beneficiaries, he said, were e-commerce companies, big-box retailers and Amazon.

A skin care routine seemed to be a genuine act of empowerment, a radical way of reclaiming the right to take time for yourself. In many ways, the business today resembles the original beauty business of a century ago, when showy salespeople with innovations — or at least what they claimed were innovations — dominated. Lee, of Allure, told me that she regarded the current proliferation of entrepreneurs as a bubble.

The primary innovations, now, are less technological than cultural. And many of these changes are far overdue. The beauty industry has long exhibited devotion in its advertisements to what was once seen as the blond, blue-eyed American ideal, with the occasional woman of color thrown in Eva Longoria. Fracturing this hegemony required someone extraordinary from outside the system to exert pressure on gatekeepers, and by that I mean Rihanna. And if you were Black? Conglomerates did not make a line expressly for Black women until , when CoverGirl introduced Queen, with Queen Latifah.

This year, she became the first makeup artist to be appointed a dame of the British Empire. We are being fed different images in advertisements than we were only a few years ago: We see some plus-size models, trans models and a supermodel with vitiligo, Winnie Harlow.

Ipsy has even incorporated this change into its nomenclature; after I interviewed Rae, it acquired another company and formed a larger entity, BFA Industries, short for Beauty for All. Powerful voices, too, are trying to maintain momentum toward more diversity. They, too, speak the language of wellness and seem to share the same elevated morals or the elevated morals we project on them. The relationship a celebrity can have with a fan is far more elaborate than the one between a brand and a customer, even though, at its core, those relationships are the same.

Though Rae dreamed of becoming a beauty mogul when she was younger, it was hard to imagine how this was going to happen. Mother and daughter lived in towns including Lafayette, La. Rae made sure to build her unvarnished cheer into her beauty line, collaborating on piquant names for her products, like Cheek Money for bronzer, Lip Quip for lip gloss and Lash Snack for mascara.

And I have the craziest ideas so randomly. So it consists very much of me randomly having an outburst of an idea and then the team making it come to life, which is really, really cool. The first time she flew with her mother to Los Angeles, when she was 16, long before she became a famous TikToker — before TikTok even existed — the first thing they did at the car-rental agency was rush to the bathroom to put on makeup lip liner, for Rae, was key in case they saw anyone famous or anyone famous saw them or they were somehow otherwise discovered to be the stars that they were fated to be.

Manufacturers like Seed, in Oxnard, Calif. They declined to be interviewed. These manufacturers, according to Raina Penchansky, head of the influencer marketing company Digital Brand Architects, are playing an increasingly important role in the new beauty ecosystem, particularly where influencers are concerned. And when it sells, we get an exit.

Networking has been a key part of the business for at least a decade. Phan pioneered the YouTube beauty tutorial — a blockbuster feat. A calm Floridian, she made dreamy videos about the importance of using your ring finger to apply under-eye concealer, sometimes with cameos from her cat, or shared her beauty rules in a soft voice over spalike piano music, like the fact that you must fill in eyebrows with a color three shades lighter than your hair color.

Instagram face is not one that exists among humanity. It may not even exist among Kardashians. From age 12, she began developing a talent for applying her own makeup with a steady hand and good sense of color. She had her favorite influencers, including the glamorous male makeup figure James Charles and the trans woman Nikkie de Jager.

You keep watching as they become more and more popular. Having developed fan bases in the millions, some influencers exerted extraordinary power by positioning themselves as beauty critics. A social media star like Rae, hoping to make it in the beauty business, would normally have had to spend an inordinate amount of time deferring to them sending gift bags, upbeat D. So to promote Item, Rae generated TikTok videos of herself looking cute in a new lip gloss while sashaying around to a rap song — basically what she was doing before she had her own lip gloss to sell.

In one photo for Item, she bit on a tube of makeup while winking, and in a video, she faux-slept in a bed with a made up face, then pretended to wake up and immediately spray her face with setting mist, a liquid spray with water and alcohol that stops makeup from wearing off. This was curious, because YouTube makeup tutorials have become central to beauty culture.

Jessica Alba, the actor turned head of the Honest Company, the organic baby-and-beauty-product behemoth and one of many newer beauty stars who is Latina , recently made a video in which she walked the viewer through her day-to-night beauty routine, capped with a smoky eye.

For Alba, a skin-care routine seemed to be a genuine act of empowerment, a radical way of reclaiming the right to take time for yourself. And her ideology about cosmetics, if you could identify such a thing, was in line with this look. And more and more, she was wearing heavy makeup and possibly using filters in nearly all her videos. Every era has its aesthetic ifiers — the tiny rosebud lips of Clara Bow in the s, the gaptoothed look of Lauren Hutton in the s, the hooded eyes and straight brows of Cheryl Tiegs in the late s.

Kylie was ours. A year ago, Rae went on a YouTube mukbang a type of video popularized in Korea featuring people eating food but now typically referring to videos in which social media stars eat, talk and promote. There is no evidence that Kylie took the hint; instead, Rae became tight with Kourtney Kardashian, the sister who tends to get less screen time. The women apparently hit it off. Kourtney, 41, and Rae, 20, have spent time being videotaped for the internet. Still, Kylie was the one that many beauty entrepreneurs aspired to be.

She has a wildly popular brand. According to Forbes , Kris Jenner had shown a Forbes reporter tax returns that the magazine came to believe may have been doctored. Forbes said Kylie was not, in fact, a billionaire. Kylie and Kris Jenner have denied falsifying any tax returns. Coty says that it will vigorously defend the lawsuit, which it considers meritless. Kylie declined to comment. But it was her face that was the extraordinary part of her — the tiny tapered chin, the skin that appeared to be several shades darker than her natural color, the oversize lips she first received lip fillers at I am not claiming these women have had these procedures, though I will admit to visiting social media s suggesting this is the case.

These may be characteristics of different ethnicities, but they are rarely seen together in one real face. Instagram face — an averaging of many possible inputs — is not one that exists among humanity. So while the range of skin tones celebrated by the beauty industry and the news media has expanded considerably, under the democratizing forces of social media, something unusual has also happened: The constant global ant of Instagram — a two-sided marketplace of faces and eyeballs — has landed on this surprisingly homogeneous set of beauty standards.

Little about Kylie seemed to be real, and yet, when Rae was growing up, many people wanted to look like her. On closer examination, our definition of beauty has not expanded as much as we may imagine, Widdows says. She believes that we define beauty today in four ways: smoothness lack of pores, blemishes or body hair , thinness with some curves , firmness and youth.

Generally, our beauty influencers and advertisements shift only one of these — for example, a plus-size influencer will meet the ideal in all ways other than weight. Widdows thinks that these images are not challenging overall beauty norms but rather embedding them. Her concealer included Carica papaya extract, and the Lip Quip had camellia japonica seed oil. These oils and extracts likely add little to nothing, he said, like a vast majority of press-release-friendly ingredients in other beauty products CBD, noni fruit.

But people perk up when they read them on a label. Romanowski has the weary air of someone who has spent his life in a fun house pointing out the warps. He said that innovation has largely stalled, partly because many companies no longer test products on animals.

I asked him what the difference was between the stick of lipstick that is inside a tube of Chanel and the one inside a tube of CoverGirl.

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