The impact of Rihanna launching Fenty Beauty two months ago is difficult to overstate. Overnight, she set a new tone for diversity within the beauty industry, laying down the gauntlet to other major brands with a ground-breaking range of 40 shades of foundation for ‘every woman’. Having long dominated the music world, then disrupted the fashion industry with her Fenty for Puma collection, Rihanna suddenly became the most talked about name in the beauty world.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Fenty Beauty was named one of the most important inventions of 2017 by Time Magazine last week ‘for its quality-to-affordability ratio and its emphasis on inclusivity’. The stats speak for themselves: throughout September, one of her Pro Filt’r So Matte Foundations was sold every minute. Her other best-seller, Gloss Bomb, a universally flattering lip gloss, is sold every three minutes. The brand is said to have made $72 million in media value in just one month and is set to make more than $100 million in revenue in its first year of business. And Fenty Frenzy shows no signs of dying down: there is still an hour-long queue just to get to the counter at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, where it’s exclusively stocked.
Out of nowhere, Rihanna single-handedly revolutionised an industry that has catered almost exclusively to white customers, with darker shades often added as an after-thought. While other brands have been slow to catch on to the power of the ‘brown pound’, by launching in 17 countries simultaneously and stocking 40 shades of foundation in every outlet, Fenty has showcased true inclusivity. According to one insider, ‘Rihanna’s ambition is limitless. She spotted a gap in the market and went for it. Music is still her priority, but this has been a true passion project and she’s been hands-on in every aspect.’
The scale of her achievement can be seen in the women who have been pictured crying at the beauty counter, having never before found the right shade for their skin – from albino women to those with the very darkest skin tones. ‘I never could have anticipated the emotional connection that women are having with the products and the brand as a whole,’ Rihanna has said. ‘Some are finding their shade of foundation for the first time, getting emotional at the counter. That’s something I will never get over.’
Unlike other brands, whose campaign imagery has often appeared tokenistic, Fenty’s marketing showed a range of women with a plethora of different skin tones and religions (one model wore a headscarf ) as a squad; united. It was an unapologetic celebration of diversity: every woman in it was equal and fabulous. Speaking to dazeddigital.com, Leomie Anderson, the British model who features in it, said, ‘Other brands provide foundations for our shades, but in the campaign imagery you’ll only see a girl with light or mixed skin representing the fact that they have foundation for darker complexions. I don’t think that’s fair... when I saw the call sheet (for Fenty Beauty) with all the models, I thought, “Wow this is going to be insane, it’s going to be so well-received and such a milestone for the beauty industry.”’
Why hasn’t something like Fenty Beauty come sooner? As a freelance beauty journalist, I have been championing and campaigning for more colours for darker skin tones for years. There have been a variety of offensive and ridiculous answers from big beauty brands as to why their offering falls short. I’ve been told there is no market in the UK for darker complexions, or that there’s not enough shelf space to cater to all. So the priority has to be given to a sea of beige.
But Fenty is already changing that. Far from there being no market, Rihanna has shown that women of all skin tones, especially darker ones, have a huge appetite to shop affordable, good quality products in a high-end environment. In the words of celebrity make-up artist and beauty blogger of andieKay.com, Kay Montano, who has worked with all skin tones from Julianne Moore to Kerry Washington and Lupita Nyong’o, ‘The market of women with darker skin tones hasn’t suddenly erupted because of Fenty. It’s always been there, but it has been hugely under-catered to for years.’
This success has cemented Rihanna’s growing global influence. In the last year her social following has grown by over 26 million, while her Fenty fashion and beauty offerings have built up a following of over 3 million fans.
And her rivals are fast responding. In the wake of its launch, MAC, Make Up Forever and Bobbi Brown, who do have large foundation shade offerings, quickly tried to reassert their extensive ranges. Indeed, MAC have pushed their hero foundation Studio Fix and the 50+ shades in a new campaign. Make up Forever, meanwhile, posted on Instagram, ‘40 shades is nothing new to us. Since 2015, the #ultraHDfoundation released 40 shades for everyone’s unique skin tone, understanding the difference between red and yellow undertones.’ It ignited an online showdown, with Rihanna issuing a typically dry response: ‘Lol. Still ashy.’
‘Brands can’t do token shades and shade extensions anymore. They need to be proactive,’ says Ruby Millie MBE, the legendary make-up artist and co-founder of the ground-breaking Ruby and Millie make-up brand, which also launched in Harvey Nichols in 1998 with a diverse range of colours. ‘Any intelligent new brand will have to nod in that way when it comes to shades for all.’
What’s more, the products are actually good. The range is owned by Kendo – a new division of LVMH Moët Hennessy specifically created to work on celebrity- focused projects. As a result, behind Fenty Beauty lie brilliant technicians, excellent technology and serious financial backing.
With its launch, old rules and excuses in beauty have been swept away for good. But the singer is only just getting started. ‘The options are pretty much unlimited in the world of beauty,’ she said recently. ‘I love challenges, so I’m going to continue to have fun and push the boundaries in this industry.’
It’s Rihanna’s world now – and I can’t wait to live in it.