Walk into a Sephora or an Ulta, and the options for beauty brands seem limitless. There’s celebrity-backed, newly debuted makeup lines like Rihanna’s Fenty; social media darlings like Becca and Charlotte Tilbury; and mainstays like Lancôme and Bobbi Brown. That’s not to mention the brands that line the beauty aisles at drug stores, like Covergirl or Revlon, and those that avoid third-party retailers entirely, like industry success story Glossier.
What the average consumer might not realize is that the bulk of these brands are controlled by a few massive conglomerates, the most notable being L’Oreal and Estée Lauder. Even if a brand don’t begin its life under the umbrella of one of these two companies, chances are high that it’ll end up there.
But typically, must begin its life elsewhere. And for several of beauty’s buzziest brands of the past decade, that place has been within the walls of Luxury Brand Partners, a company that develops new beauty brands.
It all started with Oribe, one of the haircare industry’s first luxury lines. Since then, LBP has launched or invested in booming brands like Becca Cosmetics, as well as current portfolio brands like haircare line R+Co, men’s personal care product line V76 by Vaughn and nail polish line Smith & Cult.
Though LBP still has several brands in its portfolio, some have been sold off to the aforementioned conglomerates. In 2018, nine years after its founding, LBP sold Oribe to Japanese cosmetics company Kao Corporation, and that same year, professional stylist hair color company Pulp Riot sold to L’Oreal. And in 2016, Estée Lauder purchased Becca Cosmetics (which LBP purchased from its founder, makeup artist Rebecca Morrice Williams, in 2012) for a whopping $200 million. However, LBP president and CEO Tev Finger said the company isn’t necessarily focusing on selling off brands, but on building the best brands they can—which, of course, can attract conglomerates’ attention.
Creating them takes a more personal approach. Dan Langer, CMO of LBP and president of R+Co, said the initial stages of building a beauty brand are always centered around a creator, like a hairstylist or makeup artist.
“We always start with an artist perspective,” he said. “In our minds, an artist is what can make a brand or a product special and nuanced. Each of our brands really revolves around the artist, whether they be a makeup artist, a hairstylist [or] a skincare expert.”
For Oribe, that artist was its namesake, the late Cuban-American hairstylist Oribe Canales. At Smith & Cult, it’s Dineh Mohajer and Jeanne Chavez, who founded the beauty brand Hard Candy in the mid-’90s.
R+Co took a slightly different approach: Instead of one artist, it’s a team of stylists, including Howard McLaren, Garren, Thom Priano and Ashley Streicher. The idea was to build products in collaboration with the person who was an expert in that particular space. “Most brands had a very singular focus or perspective from an artist’s standpoint, but with R+Co, we really wanted to create something that had a collective persona,” said Langer. “We brought together the pop hairstylists of the world to collaborate on the brand, and that way each product could be a hero because each product could be influenced by the person who is best in the world on that particular topic.”
R+Co also holds events in the industry: Its ongoing Legends Tour has stopped in cities like Austin, Dallas, Nashville and San Francisco to gather opportunities for hair professionals and provide hair education like live cutting and styling demonstrations.
“It’s really what keeps it relevant and current,” he added. “It’s an organic group that we’re always adding people to that reflects the sentiment of the generation.”
Collaborating with these experts helps LBP to nail the product performance element of the equation—which Langer calls the “number one thing that contributes to longevity” in the beauty space. “You can have an exceptional and beautiful brand, but the product efficacy has to be there in order for it to become a heritage brand,” he said.
Of course, being beautiful doesn’t hurt. R+Co, in particular, leans on bright, illustrative packaging: A thickening product called Dallas features a photo of a Texas rodeo. Sunset Boulevard, a shampoo and conditioner set for blondes, is wrapped in a picture of an evening Los Angeles sky.
“When you create something that resonates with customers, and they feel that it represents them, then you really create a connection,” said Langer. “It’s really important to touch multiple senses with those efforts in order to reinforce the messaging, especially in this day and age of almost over-information. Our dry shampoo—we called it Death Valley, because it’s the driest place in the country. We put a photograph of the desert on the bottle, which helped us convey what the product did.”
That beautiful imagery combined with the authenticity of a top stylist’s endorsement helps to mix that perfect formula for creating a beauty brand that consumers will connect with—and talk about.
“People want to feel that the brand is reflective of themselves and their lifestyle,” said Langer. “It’s not just something that we use, but something that’s integrated into their life. That’s a huge shift, that brands are not just a beauty brand or a fashion brand—they’re really integrated in people’s lives.”
That’s just the first step. Next: a major beauty behemoth.