In August, 19-year-old Kylie Jenner bought a $4.5 million mansion in Hidden Hills, California. The 5,000 square-foot, four-bedroom house is next door to the other 7,000 square-foot, six-bedroom house she bought for $6 million in May, in which she actually sleeps. It was reported by TMZ that Jenner planned to use the additional property as a workspace for Kylie Cosmetics, the burgeoning makeup empire that turned her from the baby of the Kardashian-Jenner extended media universe into a mogul in her own right. It has been almost one year since the first iterations of the line’,s flagship product, Kylie’,s Lip Kits—,pairs of matte liquid lipstick and lip liner in nude, pink, and brown that retail for $29—,sold out within minutes after going on sale at KylieCosmetics.com. (On eBay, one Lip Kit listed for $255 had 48 bids.) Since then, Jenner’,s churned out new Lip Kits, in bolder colors like orange, black, and turquoise. All have sold at a similarly brisk pace—,Jenner’,s fall-inspired lip kits launched on October 12 and quickly sold out. Fashion beauty makeup.
Seed Beauty, the company that manufactures Kylie Cosmetics in Oxnard, California, swears it is not faking this scarcity. “,We are running the factory 24-7 to meet demand,”, Laura Nelson, who co-founded Seed Beauty with her brother John, in May 2014, said in a recent phone call.
Since launching, the line has grown to include Kyshadows (eye-shadow palettes whose arrival was heralded with Snapchat tutorials and a surprise giveaway to her biggest fans in the Los Angeles area) and Kyliners (eyeliner, a gel pot, and a brush). Jenner debuted the first Kyliner—,infused with real gold—,for her 19th birthday in August. And while Kylie Cosmetics’, fans appear to await each new color and product with their credit cards ready, the line’,s first year of existence hasn’,t been entirely smooth sailing. Beauty bloggers and detractors have questioned everything from Jenner’,s followers’, blind devotion to a teenager who appears to be monetizing her most famous asset—,dermatologically enhanced lips—,to whether the formulas used in her products are any different from those used in identical ones sold by cheaper brands (and, if so, why anyone should pay for the Kylie Cosmetics name?). It’,s something she was forced to address in a video on her app last week, and a topic the Nelsons took on in May. This is a Jenner, though, so the hype and adulation, however questionably deserved, have been building since her very first appearance on her family’,s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The only question was how Jenner would brand and commodify her original product: herself.
Despite being less than one year old and experiencing those aforementioned speed bumps, Kylie Cosmetics is an undeniable success story. Money Nation, a Web site that describes itself as a personal finance resource, estimates that Jenner has made $8.7 million from branded merchandise like Lip Kits. It’,s reasonable to say that her evolution from reality teen star to budding cosmetics C.E.O. can be attributed largely to her own lips, which have transformed dramatically over the years, and teens’, fascination with them—,becoming something akin to the Gen Z equivalent of Tina Turner’,s legs or Jennifer Lopez’,s backside along the way. The fan worship went so far as to inspire a social-media viral phenomenon, the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge, which had teens risking physical injury to get Jenner’,s look by placing their mouths in shot glasses and using suction in increase the size of their lips.
“,If you think of celebrity lips in 2015, it only make sense that she would capitalize on that,”, says Stephanie Nicole, a beauty vlogger in San Francisco who has over 318,000 subscribers on YouTube. “,It’,s a very carefully crafted image.”,
Despite the runaway success, it is only recently that Seed has even publicly admitted to working with Jenner. For the first few months of Kylie Cosmetics’, life, the beauty blogger and vlogger community created something of a parlor game trying to deduce who was responsible for their manufacture. A few vloggers suspected Seed Beauty, including Nicole, who is known for reviewing liquid lipsticks. She posted a video breaking down how similar the formula for ColourPop’,s (a cult beauty brand known for its inexpensive products with unique names such as Can You Knot, First Base, and Instigator ) liquid lipsticks and Jenner’,s were. It showed that most of the ingredients were the same, but used in a different order. Because there are only so many beauty manufacturers, similar products from different brands are fairly common. These are called “,dupes”, by beauty junkies, and there’,s a whole thread.
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“,The same factory in Korea makes Kat Von D’,s liquid felt-tip eyeliner that is identical to Stila’,s,”, a makeup industry executive who requested anonymity told Vanity Fair in an e-mail. “,They’,re both the same, but Stila’,s is $2 more. Why? Who cares? It all seems like such a scam.”, When Nicole pointed out that ColourPop and Jenner’,s lipsticks were similar—,save for the $6 and $17 price tag, respectively—,she thought teens would be grateful to save the money. Instead, she received mixed reactions. Some viewers were appreciative of the hot tip, other, more passionate Jenner fans gave her grief in the comments.
Laura Nelson of Seed Beauty says the secrecy about who was making Kylie Cosmetics was an oversight. “,I didn’,t think about it at the time because it didn’,t necessarily occur to me that it would be a thing,”, she said.
Most beauty brands have homespun origin stories, like Burt’,s Bees namesake Burt Shavitz selling honey at a Maine roadside stand, or Rodin founder Linda Rodin mixing face oils in her bathroom. The start of Kylie Cosmetics, though, is not nearly as quaint. While this may not be the official story the company would tell, it began in a dermatologist’,s office where, at 17, Jenner had her lips injected with the filler Juvé,derm to make them bigger, an enhancement she initially refused to admit to. “,These plastic surgery rumors hurt my feelings to be honest, and are kinda insulting,”, she tweeted in April 2014. But on a May 2015 episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, she confessed, “,I have temporary lip fillers. It’,s just an insecurity of mine, and it’,s what I wanted to do.”, The mystery had been solved, but fascination with the youngest member of the Kardashian clan’,s pout had only just begun.
Seed Beauty was an apt partner for the progression of Jenner’,s lips from curiosity to commodification. The company works more quickly—,and holistically—,than other cosmetics companies. It comes up with a product, then manufactures, names, packages, and ships it from the same building—,its headquarters in Oxnard (with most other beauty products, those steps occur at many different locations). They’,re the makeup equivalent of fast-fashion stores like Forever 21 or Uniqlo, which makes them perfect for teenagers who like everything to happen at Snapchat-speed. And Jenner’,s Lip Kits are fun, from the Rocky Horror-esque packaging to the just-dark-enough wine color I tried. I personally found the sweet smell—,like melted caramel—,off-putting, but Nelson said, “,She likes it.”,
Instead of taking months, if not years, to debut new products, laboring over everything from the creation to the marketing, Seed Beauty just wants to get their makeup out as fast as they can. They once invented and shipped a product for ColourPop in 27 hours. With Jenner, they developed the brand in only six weeks after she approached the company, Nelson said. (Kylie Jenner declined to be interviewed for this piece).
“,It was Kylie’,s concept,”, Nelson says, “,and since we had known each other for a number of years in the industry and between the families, she came to us, and we created Kylie Cosmetics.”, Before Seed Beauty was open about manufacturing Kylie Cosmetics, Jenner posted a picture on Instagram of herself in the Seed Beauty factory with her mom, Nelson, and another woman—,all wearing hairnets—,with the caption “,hanging out with the owners at @colourpopcosmetics we don’,t have the same formula or exact colors but they are my friends and they do have some bomb ass products that I love. Check them out #KYLIECOSMETICS.”, Nelson immediately got texts saying, “,You should have taken your hairnet off!”,
“,I think she’,s coming from an authentic place of working very hard and truly loving makeup and beauty,”, Nelson said. “,It’,s very hands-on in her company. I think for those reasons, I hope people are rooting for her.”,
Attempting to look like Jenner is what Kylie Cosmetics is all about, a business model that has given some parents pause and proven somewhat controversial within the corners of the beauty-blogger industry that concerns itself with ethics in marketing. (Celia San Miguel, founder of the beauty site Sicka Than Average, isn’,t a fan of the line, an opinion she prefaces with “,I’,m a mom, so I may be seeing it through that lens.”, She continues, “,The makeup line glorifies her full lips, putting them front and center. The marketing doesn’,t revolve around the products themselves—,their texture, longevity, colors, pigment pay-off, etc.—,but it revolves on Kylie as a beauty and style icon.”,) Jenner has weathered additional controversy due to products that seemed rushed, arriving with frayed lip-gloss applicators or half-full tubes of metallic color. Nevertheless, they didn’,t seem to impact Kylie Cosmetic’,s sales. Nor did an initial “,F”, rating from the Better Business Bureau, which was widely covered by the press. (It was later changed to “,no rating.”,)
The kids clearly do not seem to mind. Fire up any teen’,s Instagram or Snapchat, and you’,ll likely see girls who are posing just like Jenner: hands on hips, heads tilted, and kitted-out lips puckered. Gwyneth Paltrow’,s daughter, Apple Martin, 12, isn’,t a confirmed Jenner fan, but she also isn’,t immune to the power of the pout. She makes suggestions to her mom about products for Juice Beauty, Paltrow’,s organic-cosmetics collection. At an event in New York, Paltrow said, “,The latest thing that she’,s asked me is, ‘,Can we please make a lip kit that stays on all day long?’,”,
Paltrow may take her daughter’,s advice someday, but for now, at least, Lip Kits—,the sold out fall lip shades will be re-stocked October 20 —,are the house that Kylie Jenner built.
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