Designer Makeup Brands Are Fighting a Battle for Relevance


On a stretch of Broadway in New York City’s Soho neighborhood, one of the city’s most touristy blocks, two new shiny beauty stores opened right next to each other last month. One is almost entirely red and has a huge red gorilla in the window. The other, lacquered black with red accents and hot-pink neon signs, has a DJ booth in the back and features a rotating roster of visiting YouTube and Instagram beauty influencers. The brands? Armani and YSL.


Designer fashion brands are obviously only within financial reach for a certain shopper, but their associated fragrances and beauty lines traditionally offered a way into the brands for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Even then, designer makeup brands held themselves aloft from the beauty fray and reveled in being exclusive, with a price point to match. However, they are now trying to become more accessible, in a bid to grow in the US beauty market. Makeup in particular is on fire as an overall category, but seems to be leaving the luxury stalwarts in the dust.

Uri the gorilla at the Armani Box pop-up.

Prestige makeup sales, which include designer brands as well as heritage brands like Estée Lauder and indie brands like Anastasia Beverly Hills, totaled $7.9 billion in the US for the 12 months ending June 2017, according to NPD Group data. This represents a 10 percent increase in sales from the previous year. Designer brands only made up 6 percent of those total prestige makeup sales. Sales for this group increased by 4 percent, less than half of what the growth was in the rest of the category. Designer brands tend to have strong fragrance businesses, but fragrance is a smaller overall market. For the same time period, women’s fragrance had $2.6 billion in sales, and 66 percent of those sales came from designer brands; overall fragrance sales were flat from the previous year.

Which is presumably why Armani Beauty and YSL Beauté decided to open pop-ups with a heavy makeup focus. Both brands are owned by L’Oréal and are part of that company’s International Designer Collections group, so the fact that the stores are right next to each other makes some sense. They will both be open until December 31st, though it’s pretty clear that this is an experiment for them to see if standalone retail is realistic for these two brands. Both brands have their own e-commerce sites, and both sell in a selection of traditional department stores as well as at Sephora. Representatives for these brands said, in separate interviews and in what appears to be a mantra for the company, “Stores are the new media, and media are the new stores.”