luxury houses beauty brands

Beauty brands growing out of fashion houses isn’t a new thing. Coco Chanel introduced fragrance (a little perfume called No. 5) to her brand in 1921; Parfums Christian Dior was founded in 1947, just a year after the fashion brand was launched; and Hubert de Givenchy created Les Parfums Givenchy in 1957. Over the years, fashion houses have ventured into beauty with varying degrees of success – for every bold and daring Tom Ford, there’s a brand churning out a mediocre designer perfume semi-annually. In the last two years though, some of the world’s most directional and well-loved fashion-first luxury companies have been making bold moves into beauty.

For decades, Gucci has made perfumes and in 2014 – during the Frida Giannini era – even launched a makeup line in collaboration with the legendary Pat McGrath that quietly faded away after Giannini’s departure. Fast forward to September 2019: the Italian maison introduced Gucci Beauty by Alessandro Michele with three collections of lipstick inspired by Hollywood divas. Over at Celine, fragrances have largely not even made footnotes in the brand’s history up till late last year when creative director Hedi Slimane launched an entire range: nine gender-neutral scents – all with a powdery note – labelled Celine Haute Parfumerie. And come March 4, prepare for lots of oohs and aahs when Hermes – bastion of French luxury – debuts its own skincare and makeup starting with a lipstick line called Rouge Hermes.

Hedi Slimane has been working on making perfumes a part of the Celine vocabulary since his early days as its creative director.The 11 he’s introduced to the brand – nine released late last year and two to come in 2020 – are said to have all been masterminded by him, inspired by his personal “olfactory journal” and bottled in heavy glass flacons meant to evoke modern French classicism. Celine By Hedi Slimane lamé dress, cotton jeans, calfskin belt, and Cubaine embossed calfskin boots, Celine.

There’s an obvious reason why brands want to get into beauty. While an entry-level Birkin bag will set one back thousands of dollars, the upcoming lipstick is priced at $103 (there are also three limited edition, seasonal shades at $111 each). If a brand wants to access a broader customer base, beauty is the way to do it. Various reports have pointed out that cosmetics sales have been declining in recent years due to a growing obsession with skincare, but market research company NPD is predicting that the pendulum will swing back in 2021 – perfect timing for all these “newcomers”.

However, it’s not just about cash. Hedi Slimane and Alessandro Michele – the creative directors of Celine and Gucci respectively – both have cult-like followings and are artists with singular visions who want to express themselves in all sorts of different realms.

Michele designed the brand’s accessories and helmed the Gucci-owned porcelain brand Richard Ginori. Since becoming creative director in 2015, he’s redesigned the Gucci Garden (the brand’s creative space in Florence) and introduced a decor line on top of turning the label into one of the world’s most desirable (and profitable) fashion houses. His name is front and centre in his debut 58-strong lipstick collection, Gucci Beauty by Alessandro Michele, even though it was developed by cosmetics manufacturer Coty; beauty is a passion for him.

“I find makeup an almost magical language, strongly linked to the other details I use for the expression of the self, such as jewellery and a hairstyle,” says Michele in a press release. “Of all these aspects needed to emphasise or underline an aspect of ourselves, makeup is the most immediate and the oldest way, making it the most fascinating.”

Introduced last year, Gucci Beauty sees Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele channelling his love for vintage, subcultures and the weird yet wonderful into the likes of lipstick and fragrances. His first scent, Gucci Bloom, marks the first time that the intensely sweet-smelling Rangoon Creeper flower is being used in perfumery while his latest lippy is the metallic, black-based Rouge a Levres Gothique that comes in nine colours and leaves a 3D effect. Lace and leather halter top, and latex gloves, Gucci

Gucci’s lipsticks are usually intensely pigmented and beautiful to look at, and the ever-growing range is testament to Michele’s love of experimentation and colour. Released last month, the latest addition Rouge a Levres Gothique is a series of metallic shades with a deep black undertone (explains the name) and comes in glossy black tubes sporting vintage-y gold stars. Like all the brand’s previous beauty campaigns, the one for Gothique features unconventional faces – this time it’s musicians Jeffertitti Moon and Zumi Rosow – that reflect Michele’s stand on inclusivity.

Slimane is as much a polymath as Michele. He’s a photographer, had created perfumes for Dior and, since joining Celine in 2018, has overseen new store designs for its New York, Paris, Tokyo, Milan and Los Angeles retail spaces. For now, the Haute Parfumerie collection comprises six fragrances for day and three from night, all created from Slimane’s olfactory journal – his record of scents, memories and experiences. What this means: They’re all deeply personal and have something of that defiant – and very French – spirit that’s come to define his ready-to-wear collections for the house.

Like its fashion house that was founded a year before, Parfums Christian Dior – Dior’s beauty arm – is rooted in couture, be it its signature Rouge Dior lipstick offering “couture colour” or its makeup collections that are often influenced by the fashion shows. For S/S ’20, the latter include the Dior Backstage Rosy Glow blush that leaves a fresh, natural- looking flush and is embossed with the brand’s monogram, and nail lacquers in pretty, electric shades like fuchsia. Cotton T-shirt and Lady Dior embroidered cotton tote, Dior.

The tobacco, vanilla and musk-nuanced Nightclubbing, for example, is inspired by Slimane’s days as a teenage club kid in Paris, while the sprightlier (but no less sophisticated) Eau de Californie is a bottled representation of what he remembers of living in the Golden State. Complete with an elegant, mirror and wood-clad dedicated boutique on Paris’ Saint Honore, Slimane’s vision is said to hark back to the days of the couture perfumer: 1900s Paris where fashion houses like Poiret, Lanvin and Chanel developed their own in-house perfume, and when fragrance was as much part of a house’s identity as its clothes and leather goods.

Starting with Chanel No. 5 – which defied how women’s perfumes should be formulated and bottled – in 1921, Chanel remains a modern pioneer in synergising its fashion and beauty products, both of which pay tribute to the brand’s codes and past. Gabrielle Chanel Essence is a richer, creamier adaptation of the EDP inspired by the brand’s liberated founder with notes of Grasse tuberose, jasmine and Tunisian orange blossom. Fantasy tweed romper, satin sandals with strass, and metal bracelet with glass and strass, Chanel.

All of which brings us to Hermes, the 183-year-old brand that produces clothing, perfume, crystal, tableware, leather goods and more – all referred to by the house as its metiers (French for “crafts”) and of which cosmetics is the 16th. Unlike Gucci and Celine, cosmetics won’t fall under the control of the fashion creative director Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski. Instead it will be helmed by Jerome Touron, who previously developed products for Chanel and Dior.

That’s not to say that the other metiers aren’t involved. For the Rouge Hermes lipstick line, artistic director of Hermes’ women’s universe Bali Barret helped come up with the 24 shades – each drawn from the brand’s iconic silks – while Pierre Hardy, creative director of Hermes shoes and jewellery, designed the packaging that includes the same metal hardware that’s used on Hermes’ bags.

Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermes, acknowledges that there’s an economic reason for getting into cosmetics. “It’s true that beauty, like perfume, is a universe that lets us reach bigger numbers. And that makes us really happy, because I believe in the virtue of what we make,” he told WSJ magazine. But the real advantage for the beauty customers of brands like Gucci, Hermes and Celine isn’t just being able to afford a little bit of luxury. It’s that such maisons prize creativity and quality so the products that they make are often really good.

As the world gets less siloed and boundaries blur everywhere, collaborations have become the norm and everyone is a jack of all trades, so why shouldn’t experts in one field move into another? As Michele said in an interview last year: “Sometimes people think that fashion is just a good dress, but it’s not. It’s a bigger reflection of history and social change and very powerful things. If you want to produce something new, especially now, you need more languages.”

This story first appeared in the March 2020 print issue of FEMALE.

Art Direction Adeline Eng