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The Biggest Italian Makeup Brand You’ve Never Heard Of Is Now in a Mall Near You

Kiko Milano has opened 28 stores loaded with affordable makeup – and more are coming.

Photo: Kiko Milano

Italy, despite having one of the world’s four major fashion capitals, is not necessarily recognized for its beauty brands the way France and the UK have been for decades. But cosmetics company Kiko Milano is quite literally putting Italy on the beauty map, with almost 900 stores in 18 countries and the online capability to deliver to 36 countries. The US is just the brand’s latest stop in its quest for global recognition.

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The most important thing you need to know about Kiko Milano is that it’s affordable, but looks and feels expensive. Its price point falls somewhere between Nyx and MAC. Aesthetically, it is the soul sister to those two brands — slick black packaging and trendy colors abound. It offers about 1,200 products, including makeup, skincare, nails, and tools. Almost all of its products are made in Italy.

Kiko Milano first landed in the US in 2014 without much ado. The company opened up two stores in New Jersey, followed by Staten Island and New Haven, CT. Over the next two years, stores popped up in Miami, Las Vegas, Annapolis, Providence, Torrance, Los Angeles, McAllen (Texas), and Puerto Rico. The largest cluster of stores is on the East Coast. A website delivering to the US became operational about a year ago.

Kiko’s official US coming out party, though, arguably happened this past summer when it opened an outpost in the buzzy new Westfield World Trade Center shopping mall in downtown Manhattan. "It’s a very important milestone in our ambitious growth. We wanted to be in the capital of fashion," says Maria Rodal, Kiko Milano’s global retail director. "The market response [in the US] has been amazing. We’ll therefore expand faster and farther in strategic areas." (Rodal declined to mention where the next stores will appear, though the Midwest is strikingly devoid of any yet.)

The stores, which are sleek and feature the brand’s signature lavender color, are fun to shop. I’ve been to the Kings Plaza and Westfield World Trade Center stores, and at both places the salespeople were knowledgeable without being pushy. The best part of both stores was a trough-like series of bins in the center of the store where you can find bargains. I spied $3 lipsticks and $2 double-sided eyeliner and eyeshadow duos.

This sense of "Hh my god, that’s so cheap!" treasure hunting can also be found on the website. A quick scroll through the makeup tab reveals that one of the brand’s most popular items, its normally $9 High Pigment Wet and Dry Eyeshadow, is $4.90. Discount codes are also prominently featured.

The Lovegrove Neo Noir collection
Kiko Milano

Foundation tops out at $26, but you can find several formulas for under $8. As befits a brand with global ambitions (India is its newest market), there is an impressive range of shades available. Ditto the lipsticks, which range in price from $3.90 to $15 and feature every formula imaginable, from sheer and creamy ($12) to the inevitable, ubiquitous matte liquid lipstick ($12).

Skincare is new for the brand, and there are six different ranges available. There are basic wipes, cleansers, and toners, but also anti-aging and brightening formulas. The most expensive is a serum ($45), which is the brand’s bestseller in Europe, but there are several products that are under $15.

Much of the packaging feels heavy and expensive; some lipsticks and compacts have that satisfying magnetic closure. There are way too many different formulas to critique them all, but of the 30 or so products I’ve tried, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the formulas, especially the lip and cheek products. Rodal says the typical Kiko customer is 14 to 45 years old, and that "the younger crowd comes to us for price and fashion trends and our clients over 25 enjoy our quality, style, and overall results."

While it seems like Kiko came mysteriously out of nowhere (a perception that was reinforced for me when it took almost two months to pin down an interview with the rather reserved Rodal), it’s actually part of a large and well-known company in Italy called Percassi. The company got its start in 1976 when its founder worked closely with the Benetton family to develop the Benetton fashion brands in Italy and beyond. Percassi has also worked closely on Italian retail ventures with Inditex, Zara’s parent company, as well as Gucci, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret. It also has a large real estate arm, which, yes, develops malls and retail sites, among other things.

Kiko Milano

According to Rodal, Kiko Milano was launched in 1997 as a wholesale brand sold via distributors in 40 different countries. A company representative says the name was chosen because "the company liked the universal appeal of the name Kiko. It is a name that works globally."

In 2005, it opened its first store in Italy. Over the next four years, between 2006 and 2009, it rebranded as a standalone entity and experienced significant growth. From 2010 to 2015, the company expanded out of Italy internationally. Kiko opened in Portugal, France, the UK, Russia, Switzerland, and Austria before landing in the US.

Much like its slow and careful growth in the US, Kiko seems to be taking that same approach with its marketing here. It has a large social media presence, with 3.8 million Facebook followers and 1.3 million Instagram followers. The products are not yet all over Instagram influencers’ feeds the way brands like Tarte, Benefit, ColourPop, and others are, although Kiko has done some one-off projects with influencers like It’s My Raye Raye (1.3 million Instagram followers) and That’s Heart (792,000 Instagram followers). A representative for Kiko says that juggernaut vloggers Carli Bybel and Kathleen Lights both "organically" featured Kiko products. Back in August, influencers Jamie Chung, a starlet and blogger, and Louise Roe, a former English TV presenter, did store appearances at the Miami location.

Kiko also has a program dubbed #kikotrendsetters, which currently has over 51,000 hits on Instagram. Kiko will choose looks from so-called "real girls with a passion for beauty" to feature on their site and social feeds when people use the hashtag.

Traditional editorial and celebrity makeup artists are also important to the brand. Earlier this year, The Cut noted that makeup artists like Hung Vanngo and Nick Barose (who count Selena Gomez and Lupita Nyong’o as clients, respectively) were fans of Kiko and would stock up when in Europe. "[Makeup artists] are a fantastic source of advice for Kiko in terms of research. The feedback is very useful and the expertise is key in terms of our product development," says Rodal. Kiko has had a presence at Milan Fashion Week, and sponsored the Karen Walker show in February of this year in New York.

Like many other makeup companies now, Kiko has dabbled in limited-edition brand collaborations. Its most recent is with British designer Ross Lovegrove. He designed a collection in the spring, a collection still available on the site now, called Neo Noir, and, according to WWD, a red-encased holiday collection is forthcoming. It’s definitely a more aspirational approach, as opposed to collaborating with a starlet or high-profile YouTuber on a palette.

It remains to be seen if Kiko will really hit here, with so many homegrown beauty brands vying for attention. But a high-end image and drugstore prices sure seem like a winning combination. Ciao.


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