The Era of the Makeup Celebrity


A roaring crowd of fans. Hundreds in line, head to toe in merchandise, holding products in the hopes of an autograph or waving their iPhones about for a coveted snap of the star.

Sounds like a pop star exiting their concert venue, doesn’t it? Or perhaps an Oscar nominee walking the red carpet? Nothing of the sort. It’s makeup artist Jeffree Star at a meet-and-greet for the Vans Warped Tour and the hype is explosive.

Jeffree Star’s brand, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, sprouted exclusively online a little over a year ago. Presently, his products—including liquid lipsticks, highlighters and an eyeshadow palette— sell out within minutes of their restocking. His label’s hot pink packaging has been littering Instagram, making his products identifiable with an immediate swipe of the thumb and seriously hot with online retailers. This trend of epic online sellouts for makeup is not exclusive to Jeffree Star. In recent months, it seems as if the hottest palettes and collections from any brand embed themselves into our understanding of current trends. Pink lips aren’t in this summer— Anastasia Beverly Hills Liquid Lip in shade Kathryn is.

To what do we owe this sudden enriched knowledge of makeup to? The culture we are a part of is constantly seeking connection to the renowned. Human fascination with the rich and famous does not need to be explained; we are like fish, drawn to the shiny stuff. But in 2016, the connection between the them and the us is becoming more achievable. Online retailers and publications hand-pick for you the dining table in Kris Jenner’s kitchen or the fur coat Cookie wore on Wednesday’s episode of Empire. Instantly, we can snatch up what we desire from that glitzy other side. The same principle applies to cosmetics. Instantly, the secret products used for a celebrity’s high-profile photoshoot are revealed on multiple beauty blogger sites. And just like that, the makeup items are in our shopping cart.

Beauty has always been on our minds. The cosmetic industry has prevailed for decades, convincing buyers of what they need to become most desirable (the sexist implications of that are another article for another time). Makeup has always had a place in our culture, but it seems to now have a a culture of its own. Thanks to the sprawling opportunities of the internet, people now dedicate their lives to the art of makeup and beauty. This has ushered in a new type of fame: the makeup celebrity.

Makeup artists were once people you knew existed, but never heard about. They were behind the gorgeous smiles and glowing skin on the red carpet or catwalk. Why publicize them when you can publicize their work on someone more beautiful and famous? That era is over. The 2016 makeup celebrity is often the face of their own work and publicizes their own business.

A popular meme circulating Twitter jokes that if your girlfriend is late, she is most likely watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. The video-sharing website has played a key role in introducing some of the most notable makeup celebrities. The most unlikely and unsuspecting prospects are able to share with the world their skill, innovation and love of makeup.

Aforementioned makeup celebrity Jeffree Star has gained a 2.2 million subscriber following since creating a YouTube channel. Before he made any sort of makeup business endeavor, back in the day— meaning 2007— Jeffree Star was a MySpace mogul with an interest in music. His gender-bending, Hello Kitty/Rocky Horror aesthetic catered to the scene kids of the moment. Capitalizing off of a marginalized type of glamour, Jeffree Star factored into the new-wave of internet persona. Jeffree merch became a sellout at Hot Topic stores everywhere, where his electro-screamo EP’s lived on in the bedrooms of misunderstood teens. Flash forward to this year, where Jeffree can be spotted on his YouTube channel biweekly, still rocking his original hot pink hair. Only now, among some cosmetic facial improvements, his glamour is toned down— expensive even. His skilled makeup looks are legit while maintaining his signature punky flare with neons and shade-titles that reflect Jeffree’s humorous sense of style. His brand grew not with a whimper, but with a bang in the year 2015 and is still on the path to takeover. Gaining the most popularity on social media sites, Jeffree Star Cosmetics has reached markets beyond his original, marginalized audience of the emo underground. By association, Jeffree himself has gained notoriety as the go-to makeup artist with his YouTube tutorial videos. To think, an outspoken, edgy gay male has become the makeup poster child to many in mainstream culture. This notion testifies to the effects of sweeping popularity and trends in the world of makeup.

The turnover rate for YouTube’s makeup artists and gurus is astounding. Each day new makeup looks are created and essentially redistributed throughout the countries the video is provided in. The relationship between cosmetic brands and makeup celebrities is a steady, mutually beneficial one. Popular partnerships between makeup celebrities and brands include MannyMua for Makeup Geek, NikkieTutorials for Too Faced, Bunny Meyer for Tarte, Jaclyn Hill for Becca— the list is ever-evolving. The growth of both the individual and the brand helps profit off of the other. Makeup and tattoo celebrity Kat Von D created her wildly popular Sephora-exclusive cosmetic line in 2008. Since then her line of products became a staple in professional circles, once again making the rounds as a must-have on social media platforms. These faces added to beauty products push themselves deeper into our understanding of what is on trend.

Perhaps the epitome of name/brand association in makeup culture is none other than Kylie Cosmetics, created by Kylie Jenner. Kylie’s brand has arguably transcended cosmetics from a sectioned off part of our lives to an integral element of pop culture. Kylie Jenner rocked the world with her rumored cosmetic procedures around 2013, shuttling to the forefront of the Kardashian cultural shockwave. Kylie’s image, which is ever-evolving and mega-sought after, influences her mainstream audience instantly. Whatever Kylie uploads to her most-followed Snapchat account, viewers scramble to emulate in their own online identities. Kylie Cosmetics began by launching LipKits by Kylie— possibly the smartest business move of the decade. Consider that all eyes were on Kylie’s newly-plumped lips when her following began to grow. Kylie created the LipKits to give fans a gateway to her image. In doing this, Kylie Cosmetics gave buyers the perfect formula of feeling glamorous, elite and famous— like they were in on her secret to success.

And in a way, they are. Kylie’s liquid lipsticks, metals and lip glosses have become the new Pokémon cards with their collectible aspect. Each shade cleverly incorporates memories and members of the famous family— bringing buyers closer to the Kardashian-Jenner clan once again. The success of Kylie Cosmetics has made makeup culture transformative in its marketing and presence in society. Kylie has released music videos that have reached millions of views just to release three new shades of lip gloss. When spotted out on the town, casually exiting her Mercedes, Kylie can be captured among the flashes rocking any of her lipsticks or latest Kyshadow colors on her eyes. Makeup is now part of Kylie’s outward identity and, slowly, it is becoming a part of ours as well.

Makeup culture can take us in many different directions. We could question if obsession with cosmetics stems from the vanity in the new millennium. Makeup itself is rich in sociological and historical meaning; catering to the higher class and reiterating prejudiced beauty standards throughout time. However you may feel about makeup or its use in your life, its force in our culture has grown undeniably. Somehow our understanding of beauty is packed with names, people and techniques we had not once known before. The makeup celebrity is an invention of the era, which, like many others of our time, reflects how far into stardom trends can be driven. Makeup culture provides us with a new understanding of fame and beauty combined. The notorious “who are you wearing?” red carpet question now extends beyond garments— we want to know who is on your face.