For her third drop, Ffrench is leaning into what she’s best known for: provocation. Lips is a collection of refillable lipsticks that come in cases that resemble penises. The collection will be promoted at a 3 March event at Dover Street Market’s cultural space, 3537. The event strategically aligns with Paris Fashion Week, where Ffrench is the lead makeup artist for the Balmain and Off-White shows. In February, Off-White also named Ffrench as its first-ever beauty curator, where she is responsible for overseeing the brand’s creative, product and packaging development. Isamaya Beauty is also sponsoring products for the Vivienne Westwood and Ottolinger runways.
Ffrench is twisting the idea of what it means to be a makeup artist-turned-beauty star, offering a new spin on the path previously taken by Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier and Francois Nars, who were the first makeup artists to make a name for themselves globally and launch a major profitable brand. Savvy makeup artists turned entrepreneurs, such as Pat McGrath, Gucci Westman and Charlotte Tilbury, followed. Makeup artist-founded brands have also become attractive investments. In January, Mario Dedivanovic’s Makeup by Mario received its first ever funding at a $200 million valuation. In December 2022, private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners acquired a minority stake in Huda Beauty, valuing the company at $1.2 billion. Anastasia Beverly Hills was valued at $3 billion after TPG Capital’s minority investment in 2018.
But, in an era where anyone from traditional celebrities to TikTok superstars can launch a brand, it’s become much harder to stand out.
Isamaya Beauty’s differentiation is that “it’s so creative and iconoclast as well as being a very good product,” says Comme des Garçons’s chief executive Adrian Joffe, who co-founded Dover Street Market in 2004 with his wife, the designer Rei Kawakubo. He’s been a fan of Ffrench since meeting her seven years ago. “She has the best sense of humour.”
A key component of Ffrench’s event with DSM is a 10-foot-tall penis sculpture, which, according to Joffe, is made entirely of chrome. Asked what will happen to the object after the event, he responds: “I have no idea.” There are expectations that brands take a sustainable approach as they increasingly take on large-scale experiential marketing campaigns.
Ffrench hopes the activation will introduce the brand to new consumers in Europe. The US is currently Isamaya’s leading market, with a majority of purchases coming from New York and Los Angeles. She acknowledges that while her name may be well known in inner fashion and beauty circles, it’s lesser known to the everyday consumer. Colour brands also require an omnichannel presence to allow discovery, she adds. “Physical retail is key to increase our brand awareness and act as a lever for sales growth.” Wholesale currently accounts for 20 per cent of revenues; Ffrench hopes to double that in the short term. “We’re looking at partners who have a particularly strong bricks-and-mortar footprint,” she says.