Thoughts on New Beauty Brands and Authenticity

Flesh Beauty Tender Flesh Blush
Flesh Beauty Tender Flesh Blush

Last week, a new beauty brand–backed by a well-known, major beauty player, Revlon–officially debuted:  Flesh Beauty.  After the brand’s product catalog popped up on Ulta (the brand’s exclusive retailer) a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been thinking on what it means to build a new beauty brand in today’s environment, how it can or should be done, and can it be done authentically.  This is as much me teasing out my own feelings and thoughts on the topic and wanting to see how my readers feel.

For those unfamiliar with Flesh Beauty, the name and concept, which has been getting plenty of buzz, come from Linda Wells, founding editor-in-chief of Allure and current chief creative officer at Revlon, who came up with the brand.  Wells told WWD, “Flesh was this idea of, ‘How do you create different shades of nudes for different skin colors?’ Because there’s that idea that there’s this one color that will work on every color of skin, but that seems like kind of a fantasy — a unicorn. So rather than trying to make one thing for everybody, I wanted to make something work for everyone that was different and appropriate for their skin.”  The brand was conceptualized and developed in about five months.  Wells has made assurances that all the formulations are completely separate from parent company Revlon; that as a prestige brand, the formulas are more expensive.  I have no doubt that as a veteran of the industry, she is well-equipped with knowledge and deep insights into what the market needs, how products should perform, and the like.

One of Flesh Beauty’s biggest marketing bullet points is inclusivity.  In the last year, inclusivity has become a selling point and a lack of inclusivity can become a detriment and PR nightmare (just ask Tarte!).  I have fingers and toes and Mellan has paws crossed that it’s not just a trend or a selling point; that this will be the new normal and that we’ll see greater diversity across brands from marketing materials, to the influencers and celebrities they work with, to the types of products they release (inclusivity isn’t just about complexion products).

But at the moment, it feels and looks trendy, and there are brands releasing larger shade ranges but not always getting the undertones and depths right–so points for trying or does it speak to a brand merely attempting to capitalize on the buzz of having 40+ shades without putting in the real effort to get them right? Sometimes it can be obvious when deeper shades are exclusive to online retailers and unavailable in stores (did you know Becca founder required all of their foundation shades to be carried in store, regardless of the demographic of the area, and took this position years ago?) or when the distribution of depth is still quite uneven.

Is it still possible to be inclusive and promote your brand’s inclusivity/diversity now and still come across as authentic?  For some brands, they’ll just have to stay the course and continue to improve and diversity their offerings over a longer stretch of time, where it’s clear that it’s not a trend but a permanent change for the brand. They will also need to reinforce that commitment through campaign images, model selections, and other product offerings (e.g. 40 shades of foundations but two shades of pale highlighter doesn’t cut it).

Something interesting to think about with Revlon as the parent is to look at their best-known beauty brands: Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, and Almay. The latter might be one of the least inclusive ranges still available (right there with Physicians Formula), and frankly, from the comments I’ve seen on Almay across the community over the years, I don’t think they could ever authentically fix that. Revlon has made slight improvements in the last few years but still has pretty short shade ranges, while Elizabeth Arden’s current offerings seem to be slightly more diverse but hard to say without seeing swatches of the deeper half of the shades available.

When I saw Flesh Beauty’s offerings, marketing, and overall aesthetic, I was instantly reminded of a Glossier-esque brand but has to launch in a post-Fenty Beauty world (the brand that really shook up and cemented that it’s long past time for diversity and inclusivity and proved that you can be successful and have an assortment of shades; no more “but there’s no market” excuses).  The product names incorporate the more uncomfortable (to hear reactions across the community to the branding, at least!) concept of flesh through names like Tender Flesh, Ripe Flesh, Fleshy Lips, Fleshpot, and of course, Firm Flesh Thick Stick.  After that litany of formula names, it seemed a little less about the deeper meaning behind the brand’s name and felt a little more gimmicky to me.  There’s also something about it being marketed as a prestige offering (with some disjointed price relative to size choices) and yet the brand is supposed to be for everyone–particularly in light of Revlon’s namesake brand, which is more affordable, lacking that diversity.

A lot of the buzz on Flesh Beauty reminds me of now-defunct The Estee Edit, which was Estee Lauder’s attempt to market to and capture more of the millennial market.  I always thought that it would likely be better to acquire a brand already doing so or to create something far less associated with Estee Lauder to make the connection less obvious, but some of how I felt about The Estee Edit lingers here as I absorb Flesh Beauty’s launch and marketing–that I still feel a little pandered to, moderately sold to, and that it’s what corporate thinks I want to see all wrapped up with a bow.

The Estee Edit never felt authentic to me, because it felt totally rooted in capturing dollars instead of creating products that would appeal to me as part of a younger demographic.  It doesn’t help when most of the pieces on the brand talk about their intent to go after and get the millennial market–guess it’s one of those, “if you tell me what to do, I won’t want to do it” knee-jerk reactions.  There are several brands that seem to be shifting their offerings to attract a younger demographic from Jouer to Tarte with the latter often giving the vibe of an identity crisis, so missteps get made (like the shade names of their Lip Paints) that lack authenticity and feel like a brand trying to be “cool” to the younger generation.

In my mind, three of the most successful brand launches in the last few years that are definitely driven by and appeal to a younger demographic are ColourPop, Glossier, and Fenty Beauty, and how and why they’re successful vary wildly.  That is not to say, however, that the brands are perfect, appeal to all, and so on, just that they’ve emerged, stayed, and have become part of the greater beauty community.  These are brands that had a lot more from the start of their journey, as ColourPop was incubated by Seed Beauty, Glossier raised over $10M in their first year, and Fenty Beauty is owned by Kendo Brands, which is a brand incubator owned by LVMH (which also big beauty brands like Dior and Sephora).

ColourPop remains one of the most agile, fast, and consumer-driven brands with quick reactions to exactly what their customer is looking for; they capture trends as they trickle in with a lightning-fast turnaround time between concept and getting it into the hands of consumers.

Glossier has perfected the image of “effortless cool girl” and lives and breathes it; the brand’s aesthetic and offerings felt like a natural extension of the founder, Emily Weiss, Into the Gloss. The brand utilized a a slow but steady release of new products (that seemed back by quality, if early wait-lists are any indication) to build up their offerings while never losing sight of their core customer–and part of that was communicating and delivering stellar customer service over and over again.

Fenty Beauty is backed by the powerhouse that is Rihanna, but unlike some celebrities that get tapped for a brand or collaboration, Fenty Beauty had Rihanna’s touch all over it.  There was little question from what I’ve seen communicated within the community that she’s part of the brand and that it isn’t just her name on it. The brand prioritized inclusivity from access to the products (a simultaneous global launch in-stores and online) to diversity in shade range (40 shades of foundation) and selection of models in their marketing.

There are a lot of smaller, up-and-coming brands that I’d consider more true to the “indie brand” label (think Sugarpill, Melt, Dose of Colors, and so on) that are doing well and have strong, authentic identities.  What is it about these types of brands that feel and look more authentic?  Is it because they have smaller product offerings (e.g. often starting with just one or two types of products)?  Because it seems like only a few people are doing all the work?  A strong, prominent, and social media-savvy founder/owner?  A very specific aesthetic?  Is it the ability to tap into and get influencers talking about the brand regularly?  Will influencer-backed brands emerge as authentic, household brands in the next five years?

What makes you interested in a new brand?  What turns you off of a new brand?  Can beauty brands be authentic or is everything too rooted in consumerism to get there?  Can brands built by parent companies be authentic?  What brands have attempted to resonate with you — which have been successful, which haven’t, and could you articulate why?

I think authenticity is difficult to capture and define in a way that a brand could follow; there’s no step-by-step guide on being authentic, because it is really just being oneself, is it not?  But when it comes to authenticity and selling products, it’s more about selling that authenticity and getting customers to buy into it; to buy into the brand, its backstory, its meaning, and its product offerings.  There’s no room for missteps when there are 100s of brands and more launching every month happy to step in.

The linkage to selling product makes it hard to be truly authentic, I think, from brands that are powered by deeper pockets to begin with because so much of what they’re doing is related back to big bottom lines, not just earnings enough to fund a founder’s dream to make products–it is just so much more believable thinking of one person who’s dumped their life savings into the brand, who handles all the business and creation and overseeing of every aspect of the business being there for the love of beauty, not (or not just) the money. Yet… there’s plenty of work and lots of hours and time that goes into a brand even when a parent company is funding it.

It obviously can be done because there are many brands that exist today that are mainstream, household names that get sold across major retailers with iconic products with strong, loyal, and passionate fans that consume, follow, promote, and defend ardently.  I expect that brand founders, brand backstories, and who works for or is featured by the brand is going to become more and more important in establishing and selling authenticity in beauty. How brands interact on social media and how (and whether) they listen to their customers as trends shift or as products release (to success or to failure) will have a greater impact on how products are developed and released. The details will become more important as way to distinguish one brand from the next; there are so many high quality products out there, so why would I buy from this brand over that one? And how are you going to convince me to keep buying?

It’s an interesting time in beauty with Generation Z becoming the new demographic to sell to while brands in the industry are still trying to figure out how to market to millennials.  This comes at a time where every move a brand makes online can never be forgotten as more beauty consumers participate in the online beauty conversation and see these beauty dramas play out in real time.  Then these incidents–minor or major–percolate across the web as larger publications now report on new releases as much as they do on the latest beauty brand’s mistakes.  The integration with social media and growing up with influencers are two more aspects that will continue to change the way beauty brands interact, market to, and exist in the industry.  I think perceived authenticity and the ability to trust the softer aspects of a brand (diversity, inclusivity, ethics, and the like) will continue to be challenging areas but ones that will be vital to figure out as a result.


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Linda Avatar

Great essay. I think you’re spot on. I was also thinking Estee Edit vibes with this collection. I think they should have kept the Revlon connection quiet, because all I think is “ew, prestige Revlon” and have no interest. Everything I’ve seen on social media always references Revlon as well and I think that will hurt them, just like the Estee Lauder reference (stodgy, boring) should have been kept out of the Estee Edit.

kjh Avatar

You guys may be forgetting that Ultima II was the high end Revlon BITD, and that was Kevyn. Which late artist has more influence in today’s mainstream choices (warm neutrals, Naked, complementing the depth of one’s skintone than he?) Revlon formerly had Borghese as well. That’s Bloomie’s, Neiman’s, Saks not CVS, Harmon’s, Walgreen’s. I see this as an extension of the Kevyn inspiration/legacy, to whom Linda Wells owes a great deal. Today’s Flesh to me is directly derivative of 90s Kevyn (not today’s KA.)

Stacey Avatar

If I was Kevyn, I would be pissed off….using his name to promote these so call products. I bought his book in the 80’s. He was very talented. I expected his cosmetic line to be more classy than what is on the market.

Christine Avatar

It is interesting that for some the Revlon tie is a negative and for others it isn’t – but given that their target demographic is younger, it seems those who are older and remember Revlon’s prestige offerings in the past or who know Linda Wells more are the ones that have a more positive association between the two brands being linked.

But you are right – it is a lot like the impossible-to-forget tie to Estee Lauder that The Estee Edit had!

Michele @Binxcat4ever Avatar

Really interesting take Christine. I enjoyed reading this. Appreciate your thoughts as always.

I have a very good feeling about Flesh. I’ve spoken with them by phone a number of times now, as well as purchased quite a number of their new products. I find them to be nothing less than extremely helpful and responsive which, in this day, is often rare to find. I am finding their products thusfar to be impressive. They seem to be steps above say a Revlon quality (no shade here for anyone that loves the brand). The magentic packaging and clean line for their lipsticks is as good as any high end brand. Would I consider them to be prestige? No, but that categorization does not diminish the quality which is on par with many brands considered to be prestige. I do find Flesh to be authentic if not slightly gimmicky in names. The brand line is a clear departure from the Revlon aesthetic and there initial offerings are quite diverse both in product and shade.

With respect to ColourPop, I view them much as fast fashion – think Zara. Over the time I have purchased their products though, I’ve seen their quality and their service (esp. ship time) begin to lag. I’ve often wondered whether they’ve gotten too big too fast.

I can’t speak to Glossier as their aesthetic doesn’t appeal to me. When i think of the brand, I think of clean skin, no makeup. It’s just not something I feel I can relate to. Add to that the limited spaces for purchase and the cost per product and it’s just not been a brand I’ve felt like investigating.

I agree with you completely that Rihanna’s fingerprints are all over Fenty (much like with her Puma and Fenty clothing line). That said, I feel that Fenty IS gimmicky. I feel that with many products, the brand has relied on the pull of RiRi’s popularity over product quality. Certainly many products have been very, very good but there were equally as many that were subpar. Of course again, that’s the trend both with celeb cosmetic lines as well as with celeb collaborations.

For me personally, the most authentic brand is one I became an ambassador for. I don’t want to use your platform for self promotion so I won’t mention the brand name here. What I will do, is explain why (as you asked). This brand resonates with me. Long before I became affiliated with the brand, I was a brand customer. It was the first brand ever that I simply could not find a bad product. Unbelievable but true. Moreover, the brand’s ethos speaks to me. From day one, I felt connected to the brand. If the brand were a person, I feel we share the same world view.

Agree again about the marketing aspect. Beauty is always behind the time. Brands are already introducing products that won’t release to the public for another 3 years. It’s the nature of the business. And marketing cannot keep up with the changing demographics in society .

Thank you for this extremely interesting and engaging post!

Deborah S. Avatar

Interesting article, Christine, with good insight. I would expect nothing less, LOL! I live under a rock sometimes and hadn’t heard anything about Fresh until very recently when the buzz got to YT, IG, etc. Just yesterday I watched a YT’ers review video and was a little grossed out about the product names. I get that they are trying to attract the attention of a younger demographic but instead of assuming that young people are going to be attracted to these somewhat raunchy names is ridiculous. Why not elevate rather than sensationalize. I was shocked by how small the foundation stick was and I immediately thought, “This isn’t the brand for me.” There are a lot of other brands out their and I can find excellent products without having to deal with brands that are clearly after the fast buck.

I recognize how difficult it is to produce products for all skin tones, types and undertones but once a brand like Fenty launches and proves it can be done then I start asking myself, why haven’t others? Now I look at brands and recognize that there was a rush to market and a poorly thought out and developed marketing campaign, product development and quality control. It is a business and they chose to try and grab the money rather than actually care about what they stand for and how best to be inclusive. Twenty shades of pale with two shades of medium and one deeper shade is not inclusive. I am perhaps sensitive to this issue as I am so pale and my daughter who is of African American, American Indian, Norwegian, Irish and French descent both have difficulty finding color matches for foundation and for her it is both the color and the undertone. I look at advertising campaigns with the beautiful, perfect colour swatches on models of three colors. The sad thing is that even in the picture you can tell the darkest shades are not matching the models arm. I look at them and see that not a single shade would work for that model. On the other end of the spectrum there are certainly more options but I still find that many drugstore brands do not have a fair enough and cool enough shade for me to buy. In my sensitivity I decided to stop supporting Tarte. I am using the last of my Shape Tape back-ups and I have a couple of Tarte palettes but I don’t reach for them anymore. My daughter has opened my eyes to a lot of issues that I was totally oblivious to in the past. She majored in Women’s Gender and Sexuality and minored in Media Arts. She is passionate about being inclusive across all aspects of the human experience. She wants to make the world a better and more level playing field. She recognizes the extent of what needs to happen and just wants to be a part of the change.

I didn’t realize that Becca had included this aspect in their roll out and that makes me even happier that I support them so much!! Every brand is bound to make a mistake at some point. How they handle and respond to that mistake is crucial. I was frustrated with Tarte for falling back on the old, “We are going to roll out more shades. We always intended to do so.” I am sorry, I don’t believe you.

Anyway, I could ramble on here all day. Suffice to say that I appreciate your article very much, Christine.

Tiffany C Avatar

This is an excellent read and you did a great job analyzing all aspects that impact these brands. I agree with everything you said. I have been deep in the YouTube makeup community watching videos for few years. I am far from an expert myself. I used to love going makeup shopping and new releases were exciting. But now it’s just overwhelming. We needed new brands to come out and push drugstore brands to be better. That has been a huge positive. But now we have influencers releasing makeup, without the proper knowledge and education, to make money. I think we as consumers need to look at more than the name attached to a product. We shouldn’t be surprised when a new product is crap or doesn’t perform compared to brands that have been in the industry for years. Just because someone loves to put makeup up on doesn’t qualify them automatically put out a brand. I love ice cream but I’m not opening up an ice cream factory and selling it out of my basement with my name on it….

Z. Avatar

What makes you interested in a new brand? Quality – to which I trust temptalia among other online reviewers to be able to vouch for. It also needs to be accessible (i.e. prices in dollars for my country, no outrageous shipping/duties, easy returns — OR needs to be cheap enough to compensate for lacking all of those, like Colourpop). I feel like I’m interested in most brands, it’s more the individual products than the brand as a whole that I buy into. So I can’t just be sold on a concept, I want to be sold on a specific product.

What turns you off of a new brand? The opposite of what’s stated above: poor reviews and inaccessible. Also things that turn me off are cheap packaging, especially if the price warrants something nicer. It’s not a complete deal breaker, but i.e. with the brand Flesh, I just hate the look. It’s marketed as a prestige brand but it looks like cheap drugstore to me. I know I’m being picky, but it just irks me a bit. (Also doesn’t help that Flesh is an Ulta exclusive which is a pain in the arse to get in Canada).

Can beauty brands be authentic or is everything too rooted in consumerism to get there? I think I’m more sold on brands that exist to solve a problem, but I can’t ignore that ultimately they’re there to make money. Fenty wanted to make an inclusive shade range, bite beauty wanted food grade products, etc etc. I think that’s where authenticity comes from, though capitalism does kill everything eventually.

Can brands built by parent companies be authentic? This one I have a tough time with. I feel differently about brands that are acquired by parent companies rather than being built by them. This one I’m iffy on.

What brands have attempted to resonate with you — which have been successful, which haven’t, and could you articulate why? I hated the marketing for the Estee edit, but I honestly really like some of their products. I didn’t end up trying the products until after they called it quits and everything was on sale, which is too bad because the marketing is really what got in the way of me wanting to try them initially.

A Avatar

I completely agree with everything what you said, especially that products are more important than brands as a whole.

There are some brands like NARS where the image appeals to me greatly, but I don’t own many of their products, as I haven’t been that tempted. Conversely, Estee Lauder’s image doesn’t appeal to me at all, yet I love their lipsticks. MUFE is probably the brand I use the most, though I’ve been disappointed with their eyeshadow reformulation and I’m neutral about their “image”.

I also find packaging and ease of availability important.

Mariella Avatar

From a personal POV, a wide shade range isn’t hugely important to me because I’m a pretty common shade but I totally see the need for all lines to have available colour ranges for all skin tones and depths of colour, etc. What I will say is that as soon as I read the “Revlon” connection, my interest bottomed out (it wasn’t all that high to start with just based on the few products I’ve seen). I don’t even know if these products will be available in store in Canada and what the pricing will be, given the tariff battle that has begun.

As for the Estee Edit, I was surprised that it was such a short lived line, that, again, it wasn’t widely available (only at Sephora here) and that there didn’t seem to be much hoopla or advertising but I guess it was pitched in such a way as to appeal to younger women than I. Strangely, I have 2 or 3 products from the Estee Edit that I really love and while I didn’t find their pricing to be in a range I think of as for younger women, many of the products were kind of “ageless”. And the Gritty+Glow palettes….come ON – how GREAT were they?

Kristi Avatar

Side note: I actually have purchased some of the Estée edit products from the cosmetics outlet and I really like them! But I remember at the time, I was definitely not interested in them because of the spokesperson and the marketing.

Laurie Avatar

Beauty sites that are old line all seem to love Flesh, which makes sense since Linda Wells is one of their own. Bloggers and youtube have been more muted. The product names to me are so tongue in cheek, but are for many such a turn off that if they like the products, it’s almost grudgingly. For me, Wells is an icon and I am an unabashed fangirl. She founded Allure and did quite a bit to democratize beauty. I was really angry when she left Allure because I felt she was pushed out for her age, but I hope Flesh succeeds. Is the brand trying too hard to grab millennials? The font has such a 70s vibe that I almost feel it’s trying to appeal to my demographic … women in our 50s … and give us a safe way to play with more glossy face/eye products. But you know so much more about such things and if you feel manipulated, that’s bad. I wish the foundation were normal stick size, but if they want you to buy a face color and a contour color, maybe it evens out. I just wish I could tell what my shade would be … until they are in Ulta stores and I can swatch, the website descriptions don’t help. Anyway, that’s my two cents. Probably worth half that.

Lesley Avatar

I too am a Linda Wells fan girl and I wish her well. It truly surprises.
me that the brand went with such inelegant product names but I do plan to swatch the foundation sticks when they get to Ulta next week. The Revlon company has a history of short lived upscale lines. I remember Etherea in the 60’s and there was Ultima as well. Andrea Robinson, who was a magazine editor also, launched a line of neutrals called The Nakeds (in the 80’s, I think). I expect Flesh will be another one because Revlon doesn’t seem to be very supportive as an incubator. I suspect that authenticity is not part of its corporate culture.

Christine Avatar

I recall reading that they are doing a very lean marketing effort, so they don’t appear to have done as much influencer outreach. It’s one of those consequences where some influencers receive SO much product that there’s no incentive to go out of their way and buy anything (if you had 1,000 products to choose from and could only feature 25, it’s not any wonder that you’d have to be very compelled to buy instead!).

I know on my end when it came to picking products to try and review… it’s a new brand with little to assure me of quality for the price, and because it is prestige, it’s not cheap so buying just 10 SKUs was like $300. On top of that, there was nothing in the line that screamed new/interesting/exciting – powder blushes, powder highlighters, lipsticks, etc. are all typical product offerings, so it was like, “What is interesting enough to spend my review budget on?” I ended up picking up a selection of shades from their cheek colors and the foundation but skipped the lipsticks entirely… if the brand can get a powder right, the lipsticks are probably fine (so many great, budget-friendly lipsticks out there).

Katie Avatar

Love hearing your thoughts on this, Christine.

I think the key to authenticity is involving the group you’re marketing to in the development of the products. Glossier feels authentic because they hire millennial women who actually ascribe to their aesthetic. Fenty feels authentic because there are women of color involved in developing the colors and formulations.

I think Flesh misses the mark in feeling authentic because Linda Wells is part of an era of beauty when brands were able to exclude WoC without consequence. Her attempt to appeal to them now inherently feels insincere. This isn’t passing judgment on the actual products, which I haven’t tried yet, and may be great. But the combination of Revlon + Linda Wells is never going to bring youthfulness and inclusivity to mind for me.

Deanne Avatar

Actually Allure was one of the only fashion magazines where you could regularly find diversity. I subscribed in 1999 and loved it until Wells left. To the point however, it seems really late in the game for Linda Wells to be starting a new brand. I think we’re on brand saturation and it’d be preferable to work with existing companies to improve products.

soitgoes Avatar

To me, it makes a difference that Flesh was spearheaded by an Allure editor. People trust Glossier in part because the products were a result of conversations about other products on Into The Gloss. It reminds me of how Milk Makeup never played up its ties to Milk photo studios in NYC. Milk’s products play a lot better if you know that they’re coming from a place of editorial NYC photography.

Becca’s stance on inclusivity has always been way more organic than the way other brands approach it. Even before the recent conversations, Becca was posting gorgeous insta pics featuring all skin tones in equal proportion. Chocolate Geode is a beautiful addition to their line.

There are some things that can’t be avoided. Reviewers refuse to remember that the fluid ounce measurement of a liquid foundation cannot be compared to the weight of a solid product – besides, if you pour out an ounce of liquid, it would likely be less product than you’d find in any of these Flesh products. I groan internally whenever a brand launches a stick foundation because the conversation immediately gets swamped by false commentary about the size of solid base products. Maybe there should be more discussion about the deceptive sizes of foundation bottles (why is UD’s All Nighter as big as it is for one fluid ounce?) but that’s a whole other line of thought.

I guess I’m saying that, marketing or not, you can’t shake the feeling when something doesn’t feel sincere. Flesh feels disingenuous for reasons I can’t quite explain. For some reason Flesh is playing up its Revlon association instead of announcing that its founder has an impressive pedigree and that’s hurting the launch.

Christine Avatar

Do you think that Flesh should have been more about Wells creating a brand utilizing her experience as a beauty editor? I feel that these days, it is very much about building a cult of personality around a brand, but at the same time, is her experience enough to translate into something interesting to the market?

Worth noting, I don’t compare sizes of dissimilar products, e.g. a stick foundation definitely shouldn’t be compared to a liquid foundation. The Firm Flesh Thick Stick Foundation is more odd because it’s priced lower than other items at $18 (the powder highlights are like $28, usually foundation would be more expensive) but contains a small amount–a lot like ColourPop Lippie Stix, attractive price but actually on-par per ounce as mid-end. Firm Flesh comes to $112.50/oz., which is probably a bit high for mid-end but isn’t unreasonable compared to high-end.

I do think that optics can be important, though; the foundation feels like a deluxe sample from the packaging (super cheap in feel, very thin and plastic; the compacts for blushes/highlighter feels more mid-end) to the quantity, even if it’s not that expensive per ounce. I doubt most people are going to bother with calculations across other formulas, you know? My personal thoughts were actually that the Firm Flesh foundation was designed to be similar to Fenty Beauty’s Match Stix–multi-use as much for concealing as it was for foundation or contour–and that by its nature, designed for you to buy two or three shades.

Here are some other price per ounce comparisons for stick foundations:

Anastasia Stick Foundation ($25.00/0.32 oz.) – $78.125/oz.
Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick ($46.00/0.31 oz.) – $148.39/oz.
Fenty Match Stix ($25.00/0.25 oz.) – $100.00/oz.
Hourglass Vanish Stick ($46.00/0.25 oz.) – $184.00/oz.
Lancome Teinte Idole Stick ($42.00/031 oz.) – $135.48/oz.
Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Stick ($43.00/0.44 oz.) – $97.73/oz.
NARS Velvet Matte Stick ($45.00/0.31 oz.) – $145.16/oz.
Tom Ford Traceless Stick ($85.00/0.50 oz.) – $170.00/oz.

However, it’s worth noting that based on the price points of their other products (lipsticks are $18, blush is $26), their pricing is mid-end (more in line with Anastasia, MAC, and Urban Decay) but doesn’t approach most of the pricing you’ll find in brands like Hourglass, Lancome, NARS, or Tom Ford.

Lesley Avatar

I wonder if the foundation pricing reflects that they don’t have a concealer or a contour product so to do your whole face, you would need three foundations. This reminds me of the magazine advice in the 60’s about using shades three shades lighter and three shades darker to contour.

Christine Avatar

I think so – at the very least, probably a foundation shade and a lighter shade for under eye concealing and then those who contour might grab a deeper shade as you said.

The size of the foundation sticks reminds me of one of the LE Meteorites Guerlain put out that just looked tiny and made some react quite negatively as soon as it was in their hands.

Laurie Avatar

I think so much is a matter of perspective and background. Not everyone who communicate online has your depth of knowledge, Christine, and my guess is that many influencers have no idea who Linda Wells is, and what she did in beauty and fashion. If you grew up relying on Jane Aldridge’s advice on how to dress and check TrendMood for the latest from Sugarpill, why do you need Allure? If I do a great job critiquing makeup or skincare on YouTube, so what if I don’t know the history of Smashbox? Corporate sites like Revelist and Bustle, not to mention online sites for magazines and the NYTimes, are giving great coverage to Flesh because Linda Wells is a known entity, but if I’m a 25-year-old with a two million Instagram followers and the last magazine I read was 17, Flesh is just a new line with gross product names and high prices for a company usually displayed on the cheap side at Ulta. I know I sound like the old fussy-daddy I am … I remember that before Anna Wintour was Diana Vreeland … but the downside of the impact of social media is that we are losing context.

Alice Avatar

Thank you for the thoughtful read, it’s interesting to see what your take on the topic is, I found myself agreeing with much of it. As far as Flesh is concerned, I didn’t know anything about it when I first saw the products on Ulta’s website but didn’t like the brand and product names and scrolled right past them. I later saw some of the products swatched and reviewed on Refinery 29, which made me a little curious. The thing is, aside from Linda Wells’s name, there is very little in terms of a positive association here. Revlon? No. The names? No. Price? No. Quality ingredients/cruelty free, etc? Nope. I’ll probably look at the products next time I’m at Ulta, but that’s about it.
As far as inclusivity in the beauty industry, I’m thrilled to see such big changes and do think they will stick. As Fenty showed us, there is a huge and lucrative market in makeup ranges suited for various skin tones. I would really like to see the inclusivity expand to combating ageist notions of what’s appropriate or attractive for people of any age.

Christine Avatar

I think they’ll stick, too, because I don’t think it’s like a normal trend where you could just revert, you know? It’s tied to much deeper, more painful and important issues, so I can’t imagine a brand discontinuing 20 of their deeper shades in five years either.

Iron Maiden Avatar

I have no idea what you mean by “authentic.” As opposed to what? “Fake”? “Unreliable”? How does authenticity apply in the beauty world, which is purely about illusion? You seem to be trying to discuss marketing, market appeal, brand agility, and changes in marketing technique in conjunction with market appeal. I understand somewhat what you’re trying to convey, but attempting to build an opinion essay on a concept that doesn’t exist is an endeavor doomed before its begun.

trecey Avatar

For me, the word “flesh” is as bad as “moist” is for some people. I was immediately turned off. And then names like “thick stick” and “fleshpot” just sound so try hard to me. It’s like something Janice Eyan’s mom would say from the movie Mean Girls trying to seem cool but it just comes across as very cringe. I also feel a bit pandered to when it comes to the shade range because the shades are just there while the models featured on their Instagram don’t seem to represent much of that diversity. I also think that this brand seems a bit inauthentic because the founder is marketing to the glossier type consumers without identifying with that particular demographic. Revlon’s like the least millennial/gen-z friendly drugstore makeup brand and Allure magazine is also something that I don’t think the younger generation is really too familiar with.

Kimberley Avatar

Christine, I’m so so so glad we have you in this industry with your experience and perspective. Pieces like this…. more please, err’day!

(My first gut reactions, rather than a well thought out response to what makes a brand authentic or sincere) I’m lovin’ this!

Patty Avatar

Thank you for this thoughtful discussion. I was having some of the same feelings but not able to articulate them nearly as well. It has started to seem as if every brand just has a knee-jerk reaction to the shade issue…”we have to get to 40 or we’ll get in trouble”. Is that bad? Yes and no. At least inclusivity is being examined.

And yet, I’ve been shut out of foundations and concealers from the vast majority of brands for my entire life. It has always been very rare for a brand to have made shades pale enough for me, and the excuse was constantly “well, there’s just not much of a market”. Said with no excuse or apology, and to the tune of no public outcry at all. Yes, I get that it’s culturally not the same, but as far as being able to buy makeup I can wear, it is really difficult! I guess some benefit has tagged along in the current atmosphere because I’ve seen some brands expanding with lighter shades now as well as deeper.

I didn’t know Linda Wells was behind Flesh. I always thought her ousting from Allure was terrible, and the magazine really tanked from that point on. I can’t get behind this release though. I really think they are going to regret the name and the tacky product names. She couldn’t have called it skin, or human or anything else to make the same point?!

Susan K Avatar

A brand is authentic to me once it has proven itself with staying power. Im too old and have been on the boards a long time and have seen many come in like a lion and out like a lamb. Flash in a pan brands. Everyone raves over how great the products are, they are all over the place on internet, then you dont hear much about them anymore and its onto the next flavor of the month. Prove yourself with good products that people are actually buying consistently and not just talking about over a period of time. Thats when I will start exploring a brand.

Genevieve Avatar

There is nothing about Revlon that I like nowadays – I find their products to be, apart from the ColourStay foundation range (which is very expensive here in Aus – $37 a bottle) to be of poor quality and cheap finishes. So the Flesh range (what an awful name) doesn’t interest me either.
Thank you for your interesting article on authenticity in the makeup world. Authenticity, to me, means delivering high quality products at a reasonable price, accessible to all and if you are going to do foundations, ensure that there is a diverse range of shades. Responsing to customer requests is also very important to keep your brand alive and well.

Robin Avatar

NY Times article below. Wells wanted the name Flesh and the font. I think Flesh will disappear like the Fiona Stiles collection.

I’m interested in a brand when it’s different. Colourpop fits that component. Their Super shock eyeshadows are some of my favorites. The colors and the texture are unique and the quality/pigmentation are great.

I rely more on reviews than social media hype. Your reviews, Isabellamuse (Musings of a Muse) are the reviews I trust and check before purchasing a product. I also like Taylor (Thataylaa from You Tube). Taylor had similar skin issues as me and she is pale like me. I discovered Colourpop thru a fan base Instagram called Colourpop Cult. They are fans of indie companies (and shimmer). I discovered Nabla cosmetics thru them as well based on their reviews and swatches.

Companies that generate a new collection every few weeks that are subpar lose their authenticity with me. It feels like they didn’t care about their customers; they just want to churn out mediocre products for a buck. Too Faced used to be authentic ; they now fall into this category. Their holiday collections were some of my must haves. It’s been more than five years since I purchased something from their holiday line. Like you said,Colourpop generates new collections frequently, but it’s great quality for the most part.
I think the difference between Colourpop and Too Faced is product reviews. Both companies rely a lot on social media, but the reviews, honest reviews, shows the differences between their products.

Nancy T Avatar

This excerp from the article has me rolling! LOL!

“Nude” connotes a polite, tasteful, sculptural nakedness, while “flesh” is meaty, messy, spilling over: the title of an unsettling show by the painter Chaim Soutine now at the Jewish Museum; what Billy Idol demanded for fantasy; and a meal for the zombies of “The Walking Dead.” Ms. Wells has no qualms about any of this.

Christine Avatar

What’s interesting about Super Shock Shadows is that ColourPop launched around a more innovative product, which is a smart way to go about it — now, my experience was that other brands had similar formulas (Chanel, Dior, MAC), but they were all mid-end to high-end brands doing it, so having that formula at $5? THAT was innovative, and there was no brand that had that extensive of a range of cream eyeshadows.

That was something I struggled with when I was trying to figure out what to try and review from Flesh Beauty – the line doesn’t seem to have a particularly unique offering, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s so standard that nothing was screaming “Try me!!”

Alice Avatar

That article is laughably awful. I forgot about the Fiona Stiles line, I have some lipsticks and eye gloss type items which I really like, but the line seemed terribly at sea at Ulta.

Josef Avatar

Thank you for mentioning inclusivity across non-base products like highlighters. I’m not even particularly dark skinned (I’m NC35) and most “nude” lipsticks/lip glosses are way too light for me. I can only imagine it’s even harder to find a good, pigmented blush or bronzer for darker-skinned WoC.

Kirsten Avatar

It’s interesting to compare Flesh to Flower Beauty. I’ve heard more buzz about the latter from the millennials I know. I think Flesh missed the mark by a mile in their price point, especially if they want to appeal to millennials.

Christine Avatar

Flower Beauty looks like they just dumped a truckload of money all over the influencer industry in the last months, so I expect to see quite a bit there.. but Drew Barrymore is extremely personable and likeable, I think, so I expect it to resonate well with the demographic. I also think that they established themselves as a brand prior to doing so, and now that they’ve gained credibility with consumers, I assume they also finally have some cash flow to support a stronger marketing effort (plus, I’m sure their recent move to Ulta is driving some of this).

WARPAINTandUnicorns Avatar

I think I should share an authenticity story here. I got into makeup in a big way back in 2008 when for the first time someone made a foundation that matched my pale ass and was full coverage…

Every Day Minerals is the brand but what got me to buy almost exclusively from them with MAC rounding out what they didn’t have is that they built a community/forum for their customers. This was their brand, and they allowed us to talk about other brands and how to use other products with their products. They, however, shifted gears after a few years, dropping products that customers plead to bring them back and shut down the forum without notice. They sold out for profit in the most literal way with celebrity endorsements and cutting product quality and diversity.

For me and a lot of their brand fallows it was a slap in the face. There is nothing wrong with turning a profit from your work, but they practically lambasted their advocates for the brand.

Now hears a story you might have seen but not really known. Tarte was a respected brand for working woman closer to the mineral makeup movement with the more grass root ingredient and cleaner living formulas. But slowly they morphed into a social media driven brand that in some ways turned off people that just didn’t understand the lingo that seems juvenile to them but the 20+ers they where targeting are definitely eating it up. It might be off-putting for the 40+ crowed, but the one thing they have not done is try to cheap out on their products. Some do fail, but overall they do try to make good products because they are not a classic prestige brand that can bank on people with a tone of disposable money to but their label. They shifted to where the money is with social media. They also expand their shade range in foundation much more frequently than most brands (The Shape Tape launch was BAD timing in that the launched early and didn’t have all their shades ready but they usually start with more than 3 deeper shades… this was odd…. and any other brand would have folded under the backlash).

Although the marketing changed they are still in some ways the same brand, the packaging remains nice and not too bubble gum/sweet. The products are consistently good and their not too invested in Limited Edition collection to make them money. Jumping on the social media train and changing names to reflect their that demographic while staying somewhat agile has made them a much more profitable brand from 7 years ago. Tarte almost fell into the prestige department store trap that other brands have brands. Although the marketing is off-putting to some of the working woman brands use to target, they are not excluded from the products underperforming for them and their needs.

My point is the changing of a brands identity, and it can be ugly and painful at times, but so long as you don’t fuck with the core products and are agile enough to listen to customers, there is no reason for brands not to evolve and change. Admittedly being Agile is almost more important now than ever with trends and response needing answers within days now instead of the month to year cycles all brands have to work within the past. (this is also fashion and beauty products)

To the brands that feel stale in the public eye, invest in people that can be agile to help you shift your brand image. These brands are doing ok because they have core products that are still loved and you don’t need to invent a new brand to change their image; they just need to embrace new ways of communicating their story.

For me, I was never a LABEL girl could care less about the label and more about the quality of the thing. But LABEL was still king in the 2000-2013 for most people, so with Every Day Minerals the closest experience I’ve had to brand loyalty was a rather rude slap in the face that comply made me say F-It to any brand loyalty. I started a blog and tried out everything that interested me regardless of the brand and started to share what I thought was good.

I will say the fast past of trends now gives everyone whiplash. They are also dead in a month now and that time gap is only going to get worse and shorter until we all step back and say no the overload. It might be another decade before the normalcy sinks in and the novelty of social media wears off of always being plugged in. Or we are going to get literal plugged in like the matrix and our individually will be snuffed out. Either is a future we can have but everyone is getting speed up to the point if you blink you missed it and the next scandal is a new gossip, it is harder to have a brand voice in a sea of duplicity in term of products. Who you are is the last bastion of uniqueness and it’s a key part like Jeffree Stars brands stand out. Despite some rather rotten things in the past he has done there is literally not another brand like him in the cosmetic world and there should be (more diverse owners, more different points of view, more celebration of quirkiness).

Although trends are being pushed more by the consumer now than every it the fact that things become trends is that all these brands are still trying to emulate each other to make profits I think people are getting fatigued over. I appreciate brands that are more tailored to a product that fits a need in the market rather than a trend and invests in their formulas more than mass turnover that keeps me coming back to indie brands than larger brands trying to incorporate their trends for their exposure say we got it too!!!

Christine Avatar

I also think that if brands change… they have to be cognizant that they ARE changing and WILL alienate certain customers… and that they are CHOOSING to do so because capturing XYZ audience is more profitable than keeping ABC audience. Tarte always feels like they’re stuck in their initial branding with the actual colors and offerings (though that’s been getting a little further away… baby steps) while their product names/marketing/packaging have gone much further away. You’re right, though – announcing a brand change or shift would be a good signal and make it less, “What is going on with my fave?!”

Alli Avatar

Thank you for all of these very thoughtful and conversation starting ideas that you brought to your blog. I feel like as a drugstore brand Revlon is really falling behind. Maybelline and L’Oréal are the old school brands that have remained on top while newer drugstore brands have been dominating the market of late such as Milani, Wet and Wild, and NYX.

Revlon keeps not getting it right besides their lip products and their omnipresent ColorStay foundation. Thus, when I heard this was a Prestige brand from Revlon I immediately didn’t care. Honestly I don’t know if it’s true that Flesh isn’t genuine or if it was more of an ignorance but than awakened by money type thing. Like, there wasn’t enough space at stores for all the colors, but wait all the colors did well at Fenty. We should make all colors of foundation? Oh people are making money by being inclusive instead of the same industry excuses for years? Let’s be inclusive than!

Finally, how did the names get brought to market? I know with all that money they had to have focus groups and such. No one was like Millenials will freaking hate these names? I guess I can’t hate products for having stupid names, example number 1 Urban Decay. Reviews haven’t been horrible for these products, but I for one am not excited for any of it.

Christine Avatar

Yeah, Revlon is pretty off my radar. The only product I hear about is ColorStay, though I know the Super Lustrous Lipsticks is a solid, reliable formula, whereas I feel like I hear plenty about Maybelline, Milani, NYX, and Wet ‘n’ Wild’s new releases.

For me, I think if they just kept it as Flesh Beauty but didn’t regurgitate the word Flesh is every formula name it would see less try-hard and more about setting the tone/identity of the brand (what they said inspired the brand’s name).

Nancy T Avatar

This article that you wrote goes deep. It is incisive, intelligently thought out, and most importantly, accurate in how it depicts what is actually taking place in the beauty world. There really are so many questions that we, the consumer, do have these days when a new, start-up brand comes along. Authenticity is one of the biggies. Especially, as it pertains to consumers view of a brand’s authenticity and the company’s corporate “personality”.

I personally feel that Fenty is one of the few very new kids on the block that *does* exude an authentic statement of who they are, and what they represent. And I find that to be just as refreshing as their massive 40 shade foundation range, launched worldwide in one fell swoop! That is just the sort of thing that will move me to have interest a new brand and to be excited to see what they do next!

ColourPop also got me hooked very early on when I first saw swatches on here of their early Super Shock Shadows. Over time, we got to see CP evolve and develop new products, that in the beginning, were interesting and innovative. Unfortunately, now so much of what they produce feels like reruns of everything else they had recently done. (like, really, how many orange toned eyeshadow palettes does one actually need!)

Then there’s those new(ish) brand’s that thrive (survive?) on drama and controversy. Those do not feel authentic to me at all. My thoughts? Nothing I need! Except for The Ordinary, as their CEO wasn’t always unhinged and behaving erratically.

Now, onto Flesh. I’m not feeling them as a brand. Not terribly authentic, first off. But, as you and a few YT’ers whose opinions I respect have brought out: cheap feeling/ looking packaging on a prestige brand, way less product than average at their price point, then add in the shock-jock, juvenile sounding names, and yeah, I’m out. Will I try anything from Flesh, ever? Perhaps. But, I’m in no hurry.

Eliana Avatar

When it comes to feeling that inclusivity is authentically part of the brand (as opposed to solely a sales gimmick), I want to see a commitment to it at all levels. And I think that when you have that, it should shine through in the quality of the product and how it performs on all kinds of people.

What I mean by that is like… there are shows or movies that try to cast “diverse” people or try to tell “diverse” stories, but I don’t just want to see it in the actors. To authentically tell those stories, you need to be inclusive in the writers’ room, in production, so that these voices actually get heard. And you’ll often end up with really great and honest stories and end products because of that.

Fenty obviously has that, especially with Rihanna heading it. But if makeup is getting it wrong or formulas don’t work the way they should or undertones are off, maybe they should take a look at who is leading the process or has real input. After all, studies show that diverse business perform better, not just in makeup.

Christine Avatar

Yes, diversity isn’t solely foundation – it’s everything from marketing materials, models, celebrities, who’s reposted or featured on their social media, to the actual products they offer across the board.

Personally, I feel Rihanna’s commitment to diversity because I see it across her brands, and I see it in her beauty line but also in her lingerie line – I was SO, so impressed by her using different bodies, shapes, skin tones, AND breast size and didn’t Photoshop everyone to death – because it just reinforced what I was seeing in the Fenty Beauty range and that it wasn’t just about having 40 foundations but truly being inclusive as possible in all the ways they could think of.

Eliana Avatar

Yes, exactly! I feel as though Rihanna set a good model for what inclusive /leadership/ and at all levels of business looks like. What I’m looking to see is if people who are trying to replicate that success will actually see and understand that.

The folks who are already on board and had been from the beginning obviously get it. But it seems to me that those who are realizing it only AFTER Fenty’s financial success are only seeing the superficial model (no pun intended) yet miss the foundation of inclusivity, which means they will continue to be unable to replicate that success.

Nicole D Avatar

Love your essay Christine; provocative and insightful.

I find unfortunate that most of the consumers take what is given/offered/raved about by “influencers” without doing their research, without going deeper beyond the curtains of smoke. This “influencer marketing” that puts emphasis on people with potential for influence rather than educating the customers is detrimental in the long run, imho, because it leads to a culture of superficiality. Extreme consumerism dominated by “OMG, you have to get this product. OMG it’s gorgeous” repeated 100+ times, no vocabulary, no general culture, no insight into the brand/people & story behind the brand, ingredients, some specifics etc. Not even the effort to pronounce the brand’s name correctly, today, when with a click you hear the pronunciation in almost every language on this Earth.

Speaking of authenticity, it’s hard to be authentic even as a person, especially in North America. As you said, it implies to be yourself but also to stay true to yourself and not to bend to all kind of external pressures. It’s like a form free speech in a way. As long as it does not do any harm and respects the rights and dignity of the others, it should be allowed. Can a brand do that? Perhaps a smaller brand, yes. Big companies and/or with shareholders, etc. not so much. I rather prefer to associate authenticity in the beauty world with releasing genuine, innovative products and not just imitate what others already released/created. It seems that I see over and over again the same shades since ABH’s Modern Ren. It was a success when it was released, it was something relatively new but other brands chose to capitalize on that over and over again. A highlighter released in a certain formula/design; copied ad nauseam. Why not come with something different and new? Why imitate? Because it’s always easier to imitate than to come with something new.

Personally, I don’t like trendy. Someone from the fashion world, way wiser and creative than I could ever be, said that if you really want to be fashionable and stand out, you should be either two steps behind or ahead of what is trendy because if you wear what everyone else is wearing, that’s not fashionable anymore. To be ahead, it means to be a visionary. To bring something from the past and adapt it to today implies knowledge, real talent and cultivated taste. All these can be learned but this process requires a lot of effort. As we live on the fast lane where “Next” is the menu of the day, I don’t see many companies willing to deploy the required efforts and time, much less to be visionary.

Rabbit Avatar

Great article. I don’t know when (or if) we’ll be seeing Flesh in Australia – I do think they have missed one of the big selling points of the cooler, ‘hipper’ brands, which is to be cruelty free (I’m assuming they’re not which could be wrong.)
I think a strong brand identity can help or hinder (cf Kat Von D’s recent PR disaster – still curious to know if this will have an effect on her sales.) You either like that strong aesthetic, or you don’t – there’s really no in between. Of the brands you mention, I feel like Colourpop is the one with the winning ticket – a) low price points, b) trend driven and c) cruelty free. (I will cop to falling for the extrememe ‘collectability’ of their Super Shock shadows, although I’m well out of their demographic age-wise!) Will Flesh go the way of all flesh, or Posh Spice’s collaboration with the EL edit? I’m watching with great curiousity.

Kellie Avatar

“Is it still possible to be inclusive and promote your brand’s inclusivity/diversity now and still come across as authentic?”

The kicker of this is that brands should have ALWAYS been inclusive. I don’t think it should be a selling point, it should just be the way it is. With that said, I don’t think new brands should make it a point to use inclusivity specifically as a marketing message. They should just be inclusive by default and lead by example. People will be able to judge for themselves whether or not they are truly inclusive. Their authenticity will then be in continuing to be inclusive with product releases and in their marketing.

Purely from a marketing perspective, I hate when brands jump on a particular marketing message bandwagon. It all sounds canned after awhile and not a great way to build a brand – especially if that brand is new. I think new brands need to try and set themselves apart from the competition. Having a message that is unique to them is the best way to do that.

KatyCT Avatar

Authenticity is probably different for everyone. For me, it stems from making product offerings that stand the test of time. It has to be earned. A brand can’t tell me they are authentic, I need to feel it. When a brand becomes a shape-shifter I know that they are pandering. And while some brands like Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden and Clinique can seem a bit stodgy and old I don’t think that anyone can say that they are not authentic and they seem to be happy in their own lane. When they do try to go outside of that business model they seem to fail – like Estee Edit. Creating a new brand entirely is the way to go. To me MAC is guilty of the shape-shift and I have lost all interest in their new lines they seem to create monthly.

For me Revlon is not a brand I even look at in the drug store but naming a brand ‘Flesh’ is just not my idea of an interesting company no matter who created it so it is an easy pass for me. It is pandering and attention seeking. (But remember when NARS came out with Orgasm and people got all red-faced just saying the name?) So we will see if it passes the test of time.

There are some brands from which I would like to try more product offerings but the demographic is just not for me. Glossier is one of those companies. I have good skin because I take really good care of it. I would use more of their products and like minimal makeup but I am not 19 anymore and I have never seen them use their products on a model older than that. I guess if they do that then they would push away their core consumer??? But I spend a lot of money on products so it is their loss.

Thanks Christine for opening up this discussion – I would love to have more of them.

lumi Avatar

This is an interesting article and thank you for writing it! TBH I’m really not sure how I feel about trying to determine whether a commercial enterprise is “authentic” or not. The point of businesses is to be profitable and sometimes that’s more complicated than just following trends and (trying) to use whatever hip words some people in corporate think (strong emphasis on the word “think” as those embarrassing tarte lipstick names prove) 20 year olds are using.

How can something that lives and dies based on profit really be “authentic” to begin with? Authenticity is about being yourself or having a clear vision of what you’re about REGARDLESS of whether that self is palatable to others or profitable. Authenticity is the antithesis of business and capitalism which are about changing to suit consumer preferences when necessary to remain profitable.

As an aside I can’t help but look at those names and wonder if they hired Hannibal to come up with them. Really? Tender and ripe flesh? Are they serving that with fava beans and a nice Chianti?

And I’m also going to echo a sentiment I see in some of the other comments. I’m puzzled as to why they’re playing up the ties to Revlon. How many millenials or gen z-ers get excited by the name Revlon? I’m not old enough to remember other high end offerings from the company and I have no idea who Linda Wells is (I also probably haven’t looked at an actual printed beauty magazine such as Allure since 2003-4) so I’m confused as to why those things are supposed to be compelling to millenials or gen z? To me this is about as appealing as someone telling me that covergirl is coming out with a high end brand.

Christine Avatar

I hear you, Lumi! It’s an interesting question of whether authenticity can exist for for-profit enterprises, but then what about many of us working day to day – we are all, ideally, earning more than we spend so that we can build up savings, right? Personally, I feel like brands can have a clear identity or vision or reason fore being and stick with it, and that will help me buy into their identity. I feel like it can exist but not in a pure form – not in the sense of 100% authentic – but I feel the same about people (at some point, most of us will have to make compromises over time – how many may love wearing blue eyeshadow but wear neutrals to work because that’s what you have to do at work? does that betray their authenticity?).

On the other hand, there’s something to it overall – there is brand identity and vision that consumers buy into (or not) – because that’s a huge part of the marketing game is how to be authentic as that’s one of the biggest things that millennials and now gen Z are looking for–it’s the big buzz word when I read about current marketing trends and challenges.

KHV Avatar

Great essay.

I agree athat Tarte has lost its authenticity. While they’ve only been on my radar for a couple of years (they aren’t readily available in the UK), they have, as you said, gone through an identity crisis. Their ‘eco chic’ theme really set them apart. Sadly, it feels more and more like influencers are more important to them than being authentic. They have now pushed me away as a consumer with their mermaid obsession and cringe inducing shade names (yaaasss anyone?). At 24, I’m guessing that I’m the demographic they’re trying to target, but it feels so false and in all honesty, slightly insulting. The poor handling of the Shape Tape foundation fiasco was the final straw for me.

I feel the same way about Too Faced as well, (though to a lesser extent) they seem to jump all over the place with their offerings.

I feel a lot of brands are trying to replicate Colourpop somewhat, in pumping out lots of different products which cover lots of different themes. Or maybe I’m just fatigued at so many brands trying their hand at unicorn or mermaid themed makeup!

Conversely, with Colourpop, it genuinely does feel authentic. It makes sense to market at a younger demographic and price their products accordingly. What has always baffled me about Kylie Cosmetics, for example, is the discrepancy between their target demographic and their higher price points.

Emily P. Avatar

I absolutely LOVE this post!! I hope you continue to do content like this, because to me this is absolutely fascinating. When I first saw Flesh getting teased on IG, I honestly was excited for about 20 seconds and then saw the packaging and thought…ugh. And then reading from you about how the founder wants it to be a “higher end” formula than Revlon – well, that definitely turns me off. Because in my opinion, a lot of drugstore formulas are beating the high end ones lately, or at least proving the point that a product doesn’t need to be sold in a department store under beauty lights to be worth my money. I want to be able to buy high-quality products at Target and Walgreens, too. So then is Revlon admittedly putting out sub-par formulas? Because to me, if I can find a product from Wet n Wild that compares to or even exceeds a brand at Sephora or Nordstrom, then I have no problem saving that money even if my packaging isn’t as great. ColourPop is another example of high-end quality formulas at drugstore (often cheaper!) pricing, without skimping on packaging. And I’ll gladly give them my money over Flesh any day.

Allie Avatar

Wow, what a strong essay. I found it really interesting to learn about Seed Beauty and their passion for turning concepts into products in their customers hands in “5 days.” That explains a LOT about Colourpop and Kylie Cosmetics.

I’m not a huge fan of that idea. I’d rather have products with a little more passion put behind them. Not to say I don’t think Kylie (well, I’m not sure about her specifically) and Colourpop don’t have passion backing their products, but I’d rather purchase something that was a labor of love and a work of art. I still purchase from Colourpop from time to time because their products ARE really nice, but I’d RATHER save up for a $60-80 palette that will be a real treasure in my collection.

Flesh Beauty is a strange concept to me and does seem super gimmicky. I don’t predict that it will be successful, unfortunately.

Zoe Avatar

I think you articulated this whole scenario very well- as most people have an immediate and negative knee-jerk reaction to this brand. I don’t find Flesh’s approach to be that different from makeup brands in general. All makeup brands are trying to appeal to a demographic and get sales. Why is this shocking to some people? Why is Flesh singled out?

I don’t get why this packaging supposedly cheap compared to so many other brands. Or why this brand try-hard. I feel like Too Faced is the one doing that the most, if anything. They release Instagram filter palettes and taco stickers.

And all of a sudden people are acting all prudish with the names for these products. Like, NARS makes a blush called orgasm! UD used to be known for their sometimes lurid color names. KVD has their “underage red” or whatever. (“Ripe flesh” reminded me of fruits- like peaches or plums.) But this is the brand that gets flack? The one aimed at inclusivity? Something is weird about the perception of this brand’s launch. I sense shenanigans.

Sarah Avatar

I suppose I’m more utilitarian when it comes to picking what makeup I buy. I care about the color, the product performance, the ingredients, and the price above all.

I don’t want things like brand image to matter, and I have no interest in being brand loyal. I don’t know if any brand is truly more “authentic” than others…rather I think there are some brands that have superior marketing to present themselves as such.

Chiara Avatar

What makes you interested in a new brand? A strong and clear brand image, versatility of the products, chique but sturdy packaging, easy-to-use and good quality products. I am especially drawn to Charlotte Tilbury, Nars, Bite Beauty, Glossier, Nudestix, and Fenty Beauty.

What turns you off of a new brand? When it is sending out their new stuff to every influencer out there, to the point where it completely inundates my Instagram and Youtube feed. An overall sense of trying-too-hard, I suppose.

MichelleChefNYC Avatar

It was really nice to see someone call out Becca for being an early inclusive brand who insisted on serving all skintones in stores and online. They have also always had really diverse models in their promotional images, which I’ve always loved about the brand. I feel like their name rarely comes up when discussing inclusive brands, and they have had a wide shade range with a healthy number of shades at both ends of the spectrum since the brand’s inception.

As soon as I heard this brand announced there was something about it that rubbed me the wrong way… I’m not sure if it was the name “Flesh,” or some of the product names, or the somewhat disingenuous seeming lipservice about diversity, or my general dislike of parent company Revlon… but I wasn’t expecting much from this brand and didn’t have much motivation to try it. Now that you’ve mentioned it, this does have a feeling of the Estee Edit to it, I guess time will tell on this one…

I think authenticity is a hard thing when you are in an industry driven by consumerism. Certain brands do seem to pull off a feeling of authenticity better than others when trying to sell you something. I think for me having someone driving the brand who clearly has a legitimate passion for what they are developing helps immensely. I think that is part of what made Fenty so wildly popular, Rhianna really seemed to be passionate about what she was developing and was very involved in the process of building the brand and its image.

TravelingBlush Avatar

The beauty sector is one of thw highest growing sector in the world, including developing countries. Trade wars are coming and surely, economic recession, so getting ahead with a new beauty brand is a good idea. In bad times, women still buy lipsticks. Revlon has an intl marketing chain, so they can also turn this to intl markets.

Mariah Avatar

I think it does take a lot to be authentic. I feel like Fenty definitely does. It feels like they really are into what they’re doing. And ColourPop, they feel like they love this stuff, they love what they do and have something for everyone. I know 100% they all are just trying to sell to me and make money, but you’re right, it’s that tint of authenticity that draws me in. I feel like Melt has it, I fell like Makeup Geek used to and then just lost it somehow. I don’t really feel it from “Flesh” cosmetics. It’s like they decided to make this amazing, inclusive line, but then give it all jokey joke names. Like this is all haha silly. Like, I know makeup isn’t serious, it’s fun. But there’s a line when you’re trying to make this thing for “everyone” and then give all your products dumb names, it’s like you weren’t serious, like you didn’t really mean this. You know? I get what you’re laying down, totally. And I agree, there’s just this air of authenticity that Flesh doesn’t have. Maybe it’s knowing it’s spawned from a brand that’s usually drugstore? Maybe it’s that they’re selling it as “prestige” but then putting it in tiny, cheap packaging (and I mean you get a TINY amount for your money!) or maybe it’s that they’re heart just isn’t in it and they wanted in on that economy of people who went to buy all the Fenty inclusive shades and they jumped on the trend for the cash. Who knows, but it just doesn’t feel authentic.

brittany Avatar

Colourpop- I used to rush into orders. However, I’ve been noticing their last launches have been looking kind of similar ?. Ex- the Sol y Mar palettes look almost like their Festival single shadows. They have also appeared to be tweaking some of their larger palettes. Their larger palettes have similarities to each other. I don’t know if during production if they have left over batches and decided to tweak them as ‘new’ products. I’m only referring to the colored products. They always excel in launches. I do think they will continue to lead esp with diversity. They are still a small company but can release 40 shades of foundation and concealers with in between undertones. I feel they are ahead of the game and passing up larger companies with diversity. Even their staff is diverse. When I watch their insta stories, they have all shapes and sizes working there.

I also would like to note- enjoy the prices while one can. They can go up more at any time.

An additional thought to your essay:

I’ve been noticing promising brands like Dose of Colors, Violet Voss, and Nabla are making great launches while alot of other top high end brands are getting kind of ‘lazy.’

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