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The makeup industry has entered the age of the X. You may have noticed the letter popping up a lot more, sandwiched between a brand’s name and that of an influencer to signify that the item was born out of a collaboration between the two. It’s becoming an increasingly familiar sight as more brands sign up to put Instagram and YouTube stars in the role of mini creative directors for limited-edition palettes, lipsticks, and collections.

The latest high-profile example: Last month, MAC announced an entire influencer-developed lipstick collection in partnership with 10 social stars like Laura “Laura88Lee” Lee, Nikkia Joy, and Marie “Enjoyphoenix” Lopez . When it debuts in April, it will join already-successful joint efforts such as the Makeup Geek x Manny MUA Palette (which reportedly sold out in 20 minutes), the Sephora-record-breaking Becca x Jaclyn Hill line, and the Tarte x Grav3yardgirlcollection (another sell-out) — just to name a few. There’s even a subscription service, Deck of Scarlet, featuring palettes designed by rotating “Artists in Chief,” which has so far included names like Sonjdra Deluxe and Kelly Strack. Everywhere you look, it’s collaborations, collaborations, collaborations, all with influencers.

Everywhere you look, it’s collaborations, collaborations, collaborations, all with influencers.

And for a lot of the companies behind them, it’s paying off. Last year, according to the marketing research firm The NPD Group, influencer collaborations in the prestige makeup division brought in an average of twice the money of traditional celebrity-led ones in their first month. Sure, we’re still seeing celebrity contracts pop up, but in an era when Gwyneth Paltrow has suggested she may slowly reduce the connection between the Goop brand and her name and Jennifer Aniston has cut ties with Living Proof, could a shift be on its way?

Possibly. After all, influencers gained the name for a reason. “Social media phenoms and influencers speak to the desire to feel that we have an insider track to the latest thing,” explains Karen Grant, global beauty industry analyst for the NPD Group. And being in the know is a driving force for today’s consumer and an important factor when it comes to turning interest into purchases. Case in point: Catherine Bomboy Dougherty, senior vice president of global communications for MAC, says that the upcoming influencer collection is already getting love from customers two months before its debut. “We’ve seen so much buzz around it we have to keep reminding people that they’re limited-edition,” she says.

Manny Gutierrez. Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Some brands are still simply using these social stars to promote a traditional product, like Maybelline has done with Manny “MannyMUA” (yes, the same Manny of the Makeup Geek palette) and Shayla “MakeupShayla” Mitchell for its latest mascara, but the emphasis right now is on joint efforts — and for good reason. A survey by Bloglovin’ found that 61 percent of women won’t engage with any post that feels forced. That’s why collaborations have a good chance of success — if the influencer is recommending something he or she had a hand in developing, his or her touting of it makes sense.

 And because so many of these social stars, like Nikkia Joy and Samantha Ravndahl, have beauty-artist backgrounds, this type of arrangement often leads to a great creative experience with the brand. “It makes it easier when someone has that point of view,” says Bomboy Dougherty. She points out that they often have the bonus of having been MAC fans for years — frequently much longer than members of the brand’s own product development team. “They actually know us better in some cases.”

And increasingly, these partnerships are selected with an eye toward an ongoing relationship, as is the case with the Becca x Jaclyn Hill line. “The early days of influencer marketing saw brands working often in a quick-fix single-post manner,” says Sarah Penny, head of content for Fashion & Beauty Monitor and Celebrity Intelligence. “However, with increased consumer cynicism, brands are now realizing that authenticity between brand and influencer is absolutely key — and that takes a long-standing relationship built between brand and consumer over a period of time.”

Social types haven’t completely replaced the Hollywood elite as the face of beauty-industry plug just yet.

Social types haven’t completely replaced the Hollywood elite as the face of beauty-industry plug just yet. MAC, for example, plans to keep putting emphasis on both. Bomboy Dougherty says, “I wouldn’t say that one is more important than the other — [celebrities] target a different audience that beauty influencers may not.” You just have to look at the brand’s smash-hit Selena collection last year to understand the thinking here. Celebrities still have clout, even in the afterlife.

But with the next generation, we may see a more significant shift. A study last year by Collective Bias found nearly a third of consumers surveyed are more likely to purchase a product by a non-celebrity rather than a celebrity. And in a 2014 Variety survey, the five most influential people among Americans ages 13 to 18 were all YouTube stars.

And that means soon beauty shelves may be filled aisle to aisle with Xs, like a kiss-filled love letter to social media. In an industry that reinvents itself constantly to bend to the whims of today’s finicky consumer, the fact that collaborations continue to have a strong showing is a bright spot that will undoubtedly get more attention in the coming months. Welcome to Age X.


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