Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

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Positioned to be an inclusive, diversity-led brand, Flesh Beauty has been dropped by Ulta and is operating with a skeleton team. What went wrong?

When Revlon debuted its inclusive cosmetics line Flesh Beauty two years ago, it was positioned as a competitor to Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, carrying 40 shades of foundation and running diverse campaigns featuring models like Ajak Deng and Charli Howard. Led by Allure founding editor Linda Wells, the launch was highly anticipated, with analysts predicting Flesh could deliver $40-50 million in sales in its first year.

Yet this May, Flesh Beauty was quietly dropped from Ulta, its exclusive retail partner where it was carried in 510 doors. Wells, who left the company last April to work in a consulting capacity, has not worked with Flesh in over a year. And sales have not gone as planned, hewing closer to the single-digit millions in its first year, according to two sources who worked on the brand.

“It was just no match for a brand that had the power of Rihanna behind it,” said Stephanie Wissink, a consumer research analyst at Jefferies.

Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

In recent years, direct-to-consumer beauty brands such as Glossier and Drunk Elephant have transformed what it means to succeed in beauty today, leaving the traditional industry players under growing pressure. Revlon’s net sales fell by 5.7 per cent in 2019 to $2.4 billion. This March, it announced a restructuring plan and is exploring sale options with the support of Goldman Sachs. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has taken a further toll on business, leading to pay cuts and furloughing across the company. At Flesh Beauty, only two of the brand’s original employees remain, with their time split among other brands.


“As we have seen across our industry, it is incredibly challenging to launch a new brand,” Serge Jureidini, chief marketing officer of Revlon, said in an emailed statement. “Flesh was launched in a different way than Revlon’s traditional process, and we were pleased with the initial response. Unfortunately, over the last few months, the brand has yet to achieve long-term traction with the consumer.”

Flesh was designed to entice younger customers with a brand centred on diverse marketing and products. Revlon was once considered forward-thinking on this front as one of the first major American companies to feature Black models like Naomi Sims and Iman in its campaigns in the 1970s. The company also launched the Polished Ambers cosmetics line in 1975, with products specifically targeting women of colour, but it shuttered after a few years.

At Flesh, former and current Revlon employees described the environment behind the scenes as much less inclusive than the image the brand promoted on social media. No one on the five-person Flesh Beauty launch team was Black; one was a person of colour. And Gregory Littley, then associate director of digital, quit in June 2019 after a lack of response to an HR complaint he made about a series of alleged transphobic comments from one of the brand’s managers that were confirmed by multiple sources.

Ulta Beauty has dropped Flesh Beauty from its stores. 

© John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

“There was no real understanding of what it means to be a true inclusive brand because leadership was so antiquated in their thought process and marketing techniques,” he said.

Although Revlon declined to comment on individual personnel matters, Jureidini said in a statement: “We are absolutely committed to leading the transformation of our industry by increasing diversity at our company and promoting greater inclusion.”

Flesh was pegged as an innovatively inclusive brand; at the time of launch, Wells said her goal was to develop a line that offered flesh and nude-toned products that matched more than just one skin tone. But analysts say Flesh Beauty’s strategy was confused from the start. Prices were higher than Revlon’s other brands, running between $18 and $38, but it struggled to establish what qualified it as a prestige line to consumers, says Scott Clarke, vp and consumer products lead at Publicis Sapient.

Disagreements over the brand’s positioning behind the scenes were described by five current and former Revlon employees and consultants, with the choice to launch the prestige-leaning brand exclusively with a mass chain like Ulta (originally made by then-CEO Fabian Garcia in 2017) becoming a particular sore spot over time. The decision not to launch direct-to-consumer until a year after launch was also hotly debated, they said.

Flesh was a novel idea in 2017 when Wells first brought the idea to Revlon, but it then took them far too long to get it to market” 

Flesh Beauty was also meant to be scrappy and more agile than other Revlon brands, relying heavily on digital marketing and Wells’s industry friends for creative. But the company’s inability to move quickly and adapt to shifting consumer sentiment hurt the chances of new initiatives at the company, says Wissink, of Jefferies. She cited the Almay relaunch last September, which aimed to cash in on the clean beauty movement years after the space had grown crowded.

“Flesh was a novel idea in 2017 when Wells first brought the idea to Revlon, but it then took them far too long to get it to market,” Wissink concludes. “By the time it came out, 25 other brands had already launched expanded shade ranges.”

Today, Flesh Beauty products are only available for purchase on the Flesh Beauty website, and the brand has not posted on Instagram, where it has 85,000 followers, since 10 April. Its lack of clear positioning paired with an increasingly competitive market makes a future rebound unlikely, says Clarke, of Publicis Sapient. “This was a massive missed opportunity for Revlon.”

Written by  BY JESSICA SCHIFFER | All Rights Reserved

#Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

#Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

#Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

#Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

#Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

#Revlon attempted to take on Fenty with Flesh Beauty. It faltered

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