3 Secrets to the Success of Fenty Beauty You May Not Know But Need To

Retail Blog

By Karen Tang and Tricia McKinnon

In spring of 2019 we learned that Rihanna is behind the newest luxury label from LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The brand is called Fenty Maison. As Vanessa Friedman from the New York Times stated: “Rihanna will become the first woman to create an original brand at LVMH, the first woman of color at the top of an LVMH maison, and her line will be the first new house created by the group since Christian Lacroix in 1987.” Rihanna is clearly on fire but how did Fenty Beauty Rihanna’s previous and ongoing collaboration with LVMH become such a success? Is it simply the touch of a famous celebrity?  Fenty Beauty is an overnight success several years in the making. While it would be easy for the success of Fenty Beauty to be attributed to Rihanna’s star power or her focus on inclusivity, there are additional factors that contributed to the brand’s disruption of the competitive beauty industry in one fell swoop.  How does a brand generate 500 million euros in sales in its first year? Ask Rihanna. 

1. A world class partnership in the making. What you may not know is that Fenty Beauty was created in collaboration with LVMH’s Kendo Beauty division.  Kendo was created in 2008 as an incubator by LVMH as a way to create brands that could be sold in LVMH owned Sephora. Kendo has a significant amount of autonomy and the people working there often have start-up experience creating a risk profile among employees that is different than most companies. This strategy has been successful for LVMH as evidenced by other popular brands owned by Kendo such as Kat Von D, Marc Jacobs Beauty and Bite Beauty. Landing such a coveted partnership allowed Rihanna to pair her product development and marketing savvy with deep talent in the beauty industry. Additionally, partnering with LVMH gave Fenty Beauty marquee distribution through Sephora.  

Although Rihanna could have stepped into the beauty arena in a major way on her own like Kylie Jenner did when she launched Kylie Cosmetics online Rihanna decided to start by entering into this lucrative partnership with LVMH. Partnering with LVMH has many benefits.  One of which is having access to all of the sales data from beauty juggernaut Sephora as well as other LVMH beauty brands to make key decisions including which product lines to launch first.  Sephora also provided Fenty with great merchandising and product placement in-store and online.

Working with LVMH gave Fenty Beauty the logistical infrastructure necessary to launch a brand on a global basis instantly. Fenty Beauty was launched in 17 countries at once, at 1,620 stores (exclusive to Sephora in the US and exclusive to Harvey Nichols in the UK) a rather unprecedented move that likely would have been more difficult or impossible to execute without the LVMH partnership. LVMH called the launch of Fenty Beauty: “the first-ever global beauty launch in history.”

Even with online shopping, beauty is still a category that consumers like to purchase in-store as it is easier to see if products match which was especially important for the first product launched under Fenty, which was foundation. Even Kylie Cosmetics has come around and the brand can be found at Ulta Beauty. Similar to many digitally native brands that start online first and quickly realize that they require an offline network to achieve growth targets.  In addition to focusing on inclusivity perhaps Rihanna’s best move was choosing the right partner and deciding to launch offline and online. It is estimated that Fenty Beauty made as much as five times the sales of Kylie Cosmetics in its first month. 

2. The case for inclusivity. Fenty Beauty was named Time magazine’s Best Invention of 2017. Speaking about the brand Time magazine said: "Fenty’s unabashed celebration of inclusivity in their makeup campaigns put an unprecedented spotlight on the need for diverse beauty products." As many people know, Fenty Beauty launched with 40+ shades of foundation.  But Fenty Beauty was not the first brand to offer 40+ shades of foundation.  For example, Make Up For Ever even stated, in an Instagram post after the launch of Fenty Beauty: “40 shades is nothing new to us.” The bigger question is how did Rihanna manage to disrupt when others failed to barely innovate? 

Other beauty brands with a diverse range of shades have not made marketing themselves as brands serving all as a central part of their business model. Rihanna, from the beginning wanted to serve everyone. Not just dark-skinned consumers but everyone.  Speaking about her line of foundation Rihanna said: “there needs to be something for a dark-skinned girl; there needs to be something for a really pale girl; there needs to be something in-between." One key difference is in how Rihanna marketed Fenty Beauty which Time magazine noted as being part of the genius behind the success of the brand.  Fenty Beauty also uses models from many ethnicities allowing the brand to become known as “the new generation of beauty”. Rihanna focused on all women and now all women can’t stop buying her products.   

3. It’s about the quality. Simply put, Fenty Beauty produced a higher quality product than its competitors.  Back in 2014 when no one was looking, Rihanna registered the trademark for Fenty Beauty. Then Rihanna spent over two years to create the right formulations before the product dropped.  Speaking about Fenty Beauty Rihanna said that she “wanted it to be right” and “never wanted it to be a rushed project.” “I always wanted it to be something that was respected and if I feel like I’m not there yet, I’m not even gonna make an attempt.”   Speaking about Fenty Beauty, a customer named Shavonne Fagan said: "before Fenty came out there were only three foundations I could find that matched my skin and only one that got my undertone right."  "It's terribly frustrating. One girl started to cry in the Sephora when the person put the foundation on her skin and it matched."

As Rihanna and her brand takes the next big leap into the luxury fashion world, it is easy to feel as if the trailblazer can do no wrong. Yet it is clear just how well planned and executed her road to success has truly been. The success of Fenty Beauty, dubbed the Fenty Effect, set a new standard for the beauty industry. As the Rihanna’s new fashion line launched this spring, the world waits to see what is next.


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