Some time ago, Kylie Jenner was quite the rage. Forbes declared her the youngest ever ‘self-made’ billionaire because of the success of her company, Kylie cosmetics. But as people debated whether or not she is self-made, her company was quietly overtaken by another humongous make-up brand: Pat McGrath Labs.
Pat McGrath Labs founded by celebrity makeup artist Pat McGrath secured a $60 million investment on July 16 from New York-based Eurazeo Brands to reach a staggering valuation of $1 billion to Kylie Cosmetics’ $800 million.
While Jenner has been at the center of conflict, social media hearts are unanimously beating for a middle-aged McGrath, a black woman who has climbed her way to the top of an industry that has excluded women of colour for decades. McGrath has, quite literally, coloured her way out of penury.
Rescued By Colors
McGrath was born in England to a Jamaican expat Jean McGrath who raised her alone. Her mother, McGrath says, “influenced her creativity and would often quiz her on different shades of eyeshadow”. “Together,” she tells Guardian, “they would analyse the makeup looks of Old Hollywood film stars, identifying which had inspired fashion designers that season.” But there was one problem: no makeup for women of colour in 70s and 80s England existed.
McGrath learned from her mother how to mix up colour and became a makeup nerd, but now says that no one should be deprived of makeup for their skin tone. It was this early learning at home, which no professional training in fashion or makeup followed, that would help McGrath dab, smudge, and impress her way to become, what commentators in Vogue have called, the ‘most influential make-up artist in the world’.
When McGrath was starting out in the early 90s, she knew she wouldn’t make money immediately. I found another way to support myself, she says, “I was a receptionist.” McGrath later gained popularity because she used colour liberally, treating makeup as art and never painting a dull face. Her ascent began when supermodel Amber Valleta introduced her to lensman Steven Meisel.
She has been known for her innovation and has had an illustrious career. Beauty experts and editors have consistently maintained that McGrath has been the woman behind numerous trends that made runway makeup popular among people: from dewy skin to coloured lashes to thick eyebrows. Her work has been published in magazines her mother and she read as a child: Vogue, W, and Harper’s Bazaar.
She has worked with designers like Prada, Miu Miu, Dolce and Gabbana and has a clientele that includes supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Gigi Hadid and others. She has constantly been travelling; working, each season, in innumerable shows backstage while managing other commitments – one of which is now her own brand.
The adulations and awards have been plenty, especially when in 2013 she was named an MBE or or Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the fashion and beauty industry.
The Gold Rush
However, makeup and beauty have now moved online where startups are born through Instagram and young boys and girls with a keen eye are perhaps much more obsessed than McGrath and her mother were. Makeup executives would tell McGrath that no one wanted what she was selling in real life. But when McGrath got on social media, she found out that they most certainly did. Unsurprisingly, it’s exactly the social media makeup fans who get McGrath’s style and queue up as her biggest fans and loyal buyers.
In 2015, McGrath debuted her own line with a $40 product called Gold 001. The gold pigment arrived in a sequined bag and sold out all 1,000 units in merely six minutes. She told Glamour how she decided to finally launch her own make-up brand: “I was questioning myself, “What do I crave? What have I never seen before?” And the incredible gold that I’d been using was nearly finished and I was panicking. So when I found [a new gold], I had the mad idea of, Why not just do a line now?”
The decision, although seems cavalier and spontaneous, came from a place of assurance that McGrath has carried all her life. Makeup is all she ever wanted to do. After her first make-up assignment, McGrath has said, “I didn’t even know that was a job… so I went home that night knowing what I was going to do with my life.”
In 2015, she launched other products like a skin-highlighting kit Skin Fetish 003 and a lip kit Lust 004. Most recently, the brand released something called Lip Fetish Astrals, a luminous lip balm. The limited number of these products, an old tactic followed by numerous brands, has increased its craze among fans.
McGrath self-funded her company initially before bringing investors on board. Today, Eurazeo Brands’ investment brings Pat McGrath Labs’ total external funding to $88 million. It’s being speculated that Eurazeo Brands took a 5 to 8 percent stake in the company, putting Pat McGrath Labs’ full valuation even more than $1 billion. A report by WWD also predicts that the brand will bring in more than $60 million in sales for 2018.
Keeping the thick ceilings of the beauty industry in mind, McGrath’s success seems like a dream. She agrees it is. ‘It has always been my dream to create an iconic beauty brand that goes beyond the usual limitations, that lives outside the parameters of what is expected,’ McGrath said.
Partly, McGrath is successful because she envisioned makeup for people of colour when few were but partly because she is, by popular opinion, an adventurous and genius at work. If you’re wondering about her own personal style, McGrath said, “I wear very natural makeup but it’s made up out of five foundations to make that perfect skin and my lipstick might be three different lipsticks mixed together, so it’s a kind of obsession in a different way.”