It seems like every week another celebrity launches his or her own cosmetics line–especially on the heels of successes like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty. But unlike their high-profile clientele, celebrity makeup artists bring something different to the table when formulating products. Using their mastery of makeup application and infusing looks with their unique personal style, many makeup artists have founded topnotch cosmetics lines that consumers and professionals alike can appreciate; such brands have paved the way by inspiring other makeup brands to be more inclusive, which in turn has allowed consumers to use cosmetics as a tool for expressing their individuality. Here are four influential artists who built their own beauty empires by doing just that.
Company: Kevyn Aucoin Beauty
Few people have left a lasting impression on the beauty industry like Kevyn Aucoin. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1962, Aucoin’s passion for makeup artistry started when he was a young boy, and continued until his death in 2002. “He was constantly creating makeup looks on his younger sisters and friends, and was inspired by magazines and celebrities, such as Barbra Streisand,” says Hillary Solomon, the former CEO of Kevyn Aucoin Beauty from 2014 to 2018.
When he was 20 years old, Aucoin made the pilgrimage to New York with the hopes of turning his passion into a career. He landed his first gig, which didn’t pay, applying makeup on test models. Soon after, he was discovered by none other than Vogue magazine, and began working with famed fashion photographers like Steven Meisel and Richard Avedon. Over the next few years his career skyrocketed, and his roster of clients spanned hundreds of supermodels and celebrities like Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Janet Jackson and Sarah Jessica Parker. Aucoin was arguably the most sought-after makeup artist in the industry, and would be booked months in advance. “Kevyn worked with some of the most influential and famous supermodels, celebrities, actresses and musicians. The list is endless, and he loved them all,” Solomon says.
At 21, Aucoin served as the creative director for Revlon’s Ultima II line, and later helped launch The New Nakeds line, which was designed to cater to a wide range of skin tones. Something quite groundbreaking at the time, it paved the way for other cosmetics brands to be more inclusive.
In an effort to share his trade secrets and techniques with the world, Aucoin penned the book Making Faces in 1997, which became a New York Times Best Seller. A precursor to YouTube tutorials, the book includes 200 photos and sketches that explain the fundamentals for recreating his prized looks. It was such a success that he wrote another one, Face Forward, in 2000. Solomon says, “He helped inspire millions by sharing his techniques in his best-selling books, and his makeup needed to deliver and exceed those experiences and expectations.”
After celebrated makeup artists Laura Mercier and Vincent Longo asked Aucoin to endorse their popular cosmetics lines, he decided to create his own company in 2001 instead. “Today the line is inspired by his original vision, and includes many of his original formulations and shades,” Solomon says. Created for both professional artists and beauty enthusiasts, Aucoin’s goal was to make customers everywhere feel more beautiful and confident.
“Despite any initial challenges that Kevyn may have had early on, as with any entrepreneurial startup, the company has grown to become a globally recognized artistry brand,” Solomon says. “Kevyn’s original ideas, such as contouring, continue to inspire and impact the beauty industry today.”
Over the last 18 months, Solomon says the brand has seen tremendous growth on social media not only in terms of followers but also in regards to the level of brand engagement, awareness and quality user-generated content. “As an artistry brand, all of the social channels are a great opportunity to share and showcase how-to videos using the products,” she says.
In the future, Solomon predicts the industry will see more gender neutrality and fluidity, as well as one-swipe, holographic color. “High-intensity shades and payoff and complexion will continue to drive the category anchored by highlighting and contouring,” she says.
Though Aucoin passed away in 2002, his legacy lives through Kevyn Aucoin Beauty, his books and various documentaries detailing his life. For other entrepreneurs who want to start their own companies, Solomon advises, “Be true to your brand values. Everything else will follow.”
Behind the Hero Product
Inspired by the flawless skin of a geisha, Kevyn Aucoin developed The Sensual Skin Enhancer by collaborating with chemists from Japan to learn the secrets for dewy, radiant skin. “The Sensual Skin Enhancer is a Kevyn original, and many refer to it as Kevyn Aucoin in a jar,” Solomon says. A concealer and foundation in one, it’s available in 16 shades and is a fan favorite. With hydrating jojoba oil, honey and minerals, it provides longwearing, waterproof coverage, suitable on all skin types. Suggested Retail Price: $48
Company: Make Up For Ever
Though she was drawn to art at an early age, French-born Make Up For Ever creator Dany Sanz didn’t realize she wanted to be a makeup artist until after she studied fine art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. “It wasn’t until after I graduated and began working on theater sets that I discovered I could paint on the actors’ skin,” she says. “This was a revelation to me, and I began to see art as a form of movement, or paintings in motion, which is why I chose to transform bodies rather than canvas and sculpt faces rather than clay.”
Sanz found her true calling as a professional makeup artist, and started teaching her techniques to other local artists, who she affectionately calls her “tribe.” With the desire to formulate high-performing cosmetics geared towards professionals, in September 1984, Make Up For Ever was born out of a little boutique on 5 Rue La Boétie in Paris.
“The company has always been a team effort, and only made possible with the help of my tribe: family, friends and students,” Sanz says. In fact, her mother and father were the company’s first employees. Her mother bottled the creams and her father pressed eyeshadows. “At first there was little money, but as always, my tribe inspired me, supported me and gave me the energy to keep going.”
The boutique evolved into a one-stop shop for artists who needed products that didn’t even exist on the market yet. “Every product I have ever created was fueled by my desire to solve a professional makeup issue,” Sanz says. “As I experimented in the cellar of the boutique, my line grew and eventually had a whole lot of unique formulas.” These formulas included some of Make Up For Ever’s staples to this day, such as the Star Powders, glitters and lipstick palettes.
“The major attraction was the collection of 100 eyeshadows in a full spectrum of color. At the time, no one was making bright shades that could withstand intense stage lighting. I created bold pigments in every color I could imagine that did just that,” Sanz says.
As the company’s creator and artistic director, Sanz now formulates products keeping the brand’s core audience in mind: beauty professionals. But, she also serves the needs of novice customers. “I believe life is a stage, meaning that whatever your role, I want our products to help you play it,” she says. “I sought to create a brand that not only met the needs of the professionals, but also connected with toutes les femmes–everyday women. I believe makeup should help people embody what (and who) they truly are.”
Acknowledging that today’s consumers are savvy and well researched because of the internet, Sanz understands that customers expect high-performing makeup. She says, “This is exactly what we do: create authentic products with reliable, professional-level performance. ... I adore these strong men and women with real spirit who are authentic, expressive and know what they want!”
Today’s “tribes,” as Sanz would say, can be found online, in the people who support one another on social media, share techniques through YouTube tutorials and recommend products to their followers. She says, “At its best, social media is exactly this, and I feel great joy knowing our community can talk to one another, teach each other and share their love of the brand.”
Behind the Hero Product
Launched in 2007, Make Up For Ever’s Ultra HD Invisible Cover Liquid Foundation solved the need for a product that could hide blemishes and provide a natural finish on actors filmed with high-definition cameras. Sanz says, “And as technology continues to evolve, so has the formula. The current Ultra HD Liquid Foundation formula is undetectable by the 4K camera lenses that are everywhere today.” Available in 40 shades. SRP: $43
Company: Surratt Beauty
“One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the beauty salon with my mother, waiting for my grandmother to have her hair done. She would go there once a week; she wore this kind of big, silver beehive. I was mystified as to how they manipulated her hair into that shape—it defied gravity!” Troy Surratt, the founder of Surratt Beauty, recalls. A teenager in the ’80s, he was inspired by makeup of the British New Wave invasion era, and his early influences included Boy George, Annie Lennox and Duran Duran.
“I loved the way Boy George used makeup to express himself,” Surratt says. “When I came to New York to study fashion as a budding illustrator, I often found myself translating those skills, the knowledge of color, shadows, lines and so on, to makeup.”
After working at Henri Bendel and Alcone (which he calls “the epicenter of all things makeup in New York”), Surratt was bitten by the makeup-artist bug. To this day, many of his celebrity clients, like LeAnn Rimes, feel more like family. “I’ve watched her grow up and become the most amazing woman and performer,” he says.
A culmination of life-changing experiences lead to Surratt founding his own cosmetics line: studying fashion in New York, assisting Kevyn Aucoin, becoming a professional makeup artist, traveling the world over the past 10 years and conceptualizing his dream cosmetics line, which officially debuted in 2013. “Surratt Beauty stands by three descriptive terms: artistic, expressionistic and impressionistic. I believe cosmetics have become a modern accessory and a medium for self-expression. Makeup has the power to enhance or completely reinvent, and the Surratt customer is always looking for new ways to express personality and creativity through personal style.”
Surratt believes that makeup artists are the ultimate beauty junkies. His love of cosmetics is so far-reaching that his friends in Japan nicknamed him “beauty otaku” (which loosely translates to beauty “geek”). “The Japanese have an attention to detail and pursuit of mastery and perfection that I relate to because I’m a perfectionist as well. That attention to detail has been a constant throughout my career, whether it’s finding the best of the best textures and formulas or conjuring up a new innovation in the category,” he says.
Though he doesn’t believe in trends, Surratt encourages consumers to experiment with his makeup and enjoy the ride. His philosophy is simple: “If you think a color is pretty or if there’s a cool new shade you want to try, try it! There should be a bit of whimsy. It should be about having fun and using makeup as a medium for creativity and self-expression, not about following trends.”
While a beauty brand must have social media platforms to stay relevant in today’s competitive market, Surratt admits to having a “love/hate relationship with social media,” and says that it doesn’t come naturally to him the way other aspects of the business do. “For me, as with everything I do, my main goal is to keep our messaging in line with the core of the brand–to inspire and promote creativity,” he says.
Many believe that the beauty industry is overly saturated with makeup brands, but Surratt begs to differ; he lives by the ideal that there’s room for everyone in this fast- paced, ever-changing industry. He says, “Yes, there are so many brands, both established and new, but I believe there’s infinite room for creativity and innovation. The success of Surratt is a testament to that.”
Behind the Hero Product
“To be honest, I really don’t have a favorite or hero product, but the Smoky Eye Baton comes close,” Surratt says. “My entire career, the most asked question that I’ve received from both beauty editors and clients is, ‘How do you do a smoky eye?’ So, I tried to create a product that made it as easy as possible and demystified the elusive process.” A double-sided pencil with eyeliner on one end and an eyeshadow dispensed from a teardrop- shaped sponge applicator on the other, Surratt says the sponge hugs the contours of the eyes to make blending a breeze—without fallout. SRP: $35 (each)
Company: Dose of Colors
The advent of social media has made it possible for many gifted makeup artists to get their work recognized all over the world. Such was the case for Anna Petrosian, the founder of Dose of Colors. Passionate about cosmetics ever since she was 13, Petrosian attended MUD Makeup Designory in Burbank, California, and got her start work- ing in the beauty industry behind the counters of Sephora and MAC Cosmetics. A few years after that, while she was a freelance makeup artist, Petrosian gained an avid following on Instagram (she now boasts over 1.5 million followers), and had fans across the globe that wanted to replicate her beautiful eye looks.
“I vividly remember going into Naimie’s [an LA-based beauty store for professionals] one day to stock up on lashes and brush cleaner, and one of the workers told me that customers had come into the store wanting to purchase the products that I used on my Instagram eye looks. That was my ‘aha’ moment–when I realized now is the time to start my own cosmetic line,” she says.
Petrosian founded Dose of Colors in 2013, using her knowledge about what her clients desired as the catalyst for creating high-performing cosmetics. “Through those makeup sessions, I was really able to learn what worked best for each individual, and what products, formulas and ingredients I preferred,” she says.
The first products Petrosian developed were 10 pigmented, opaque shades of lip gloss packaged in a clear bottle with a flat applicator wand. The lip glosses, which remain a top seller today, can be worn by them- selves or over another lip color. Though the initial formulation process was time-consuming, it served as an important lesson.
Through experience, Petrosian has learned that creating a high-quality cosmetic takes time; it cannot be rushed. “A new project or product launch can take anywhere from six months up to two years, but this time frame also depends on how quickly the formula and packaging is approved,” Petrosian says. “When I first started my company, it was difficult for me to understand how doseofcolors.com long the creation process takes from the moment you have a new product idea to actually having the finished product. That time frame can be long and frustrating, especially if production ends up taking more time than expected. With that being said, patience has been my biggest lesson. When opening a new business, patience is key because there will be delays and disappointments, but you can’t let that affect your focus.”
Petrosian also credits social media for making Dose of Colors a brand “built by its supporters.” Using Instagram as a way to involve fans in the product development process, she connects with her customers in order to gain invaluable feedback and predict upcoming trends.
In 2018, Petrosian noticed the return of glossy lips. “Although matte liquid lipsticks are extremely popular, I think lip glosses are going to [continue to] make a come- back–ultra glossy lips in different finishes, from sheer to opaque, flat to ultra sparkling, and everything in between. I also think we are going to see clean-cut makeup looks with pops of bold colors on the lips or on the eyes.”
When offering advice to other beauty entrepreneurs, Petrosian stresses that running your own business is not a typical 9 to 5 job. “It’s more of a 24/7, 365 job,” she says. “There will be days when you wish you could press pause on the clock, but you can’t because there are always things to do and people to respond to. Remember, dreams don’t work unless you do!”
Petrosian says that while it’s difficult, she put her profits back into the business after launching Dose of Colors. “You are investing in yourself and your brand,” she says. “It’s OK to treat yourself, but don’t spend all of your money on material things. Instead, use your profits to create more products and expand the business.”
Behind the Hero Product
“Our Matte Liquid Lipstick has a velvety high-fashion matte finish, which envelops lips in rich, long-wearing color. It applies as a creamy liquid, but after a few minutes, it dries to an ultra-comfortable matte finish,” Petrosian says. Available in 38 shades, there is truly something here for every one of your customers. SRP: $18 (each)
[Lead photo by KMNPhoto; Kevyn Aucoin image by 1999 Ron Galella, Ltd.; rest courtesy of Kevyn Aucoin; remaining photos courtesy of Make Up For Ever, Troy Surratt Beauty and Dose of Colors]