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This morning, Estée Lauder announced its decision to discontinue its millennial-targeted, Kendall Jenner-fronted collection, The Estée Edit. Yesterday, Kim Kardashian shared that she would follow in her younger half-sister Kylie Jenner’s footsteps by creating a beauty brand of her very own. The timing is probably a coincidence, but Kardashian’s announcement throws Lauder’s missed opportunity with the elder Jenner sibling into sharply-contoured relief.
The Estée Edit launched just 16 months ago to much fanfare, with projected first-year sales of $60 million. Estée Lauder positioned it as a continuation of its successful partnership with Kendall Jenner, who had served as a face of the company since November 2014. The timing of Jenner’s initial contract with Lauder couldn’t have been more perfect: Her first ad for the company, in which the star posed for Lauder’s Modern Muse fragrance in a fiery pantsuit, dropped just days after Jenner posted a softly-filtered Instagram of her hair shaped into small hearts, which would quickly become the platform’s most-liked post ever. In terms of social media equity, Lauder couldn’t have asked for a better ambassador.
In June 2015, Kendall created her own lipstick for the cosmetics giant, a limited-edition orange-red shade that featured her signature on the tube. Not only did it promptly sell out, but — according to Byrdie — Lauder was still receiving so many requests for Jenner’s lipstick almost half a year later that the company’s counter staff began recommending a mix of its other shades to recreate the out-of-stock hue.
The obvious next move was for Lauder to create an entire collection of Jenner-branded cosmetics. Except — it didn’t. Instead, the company launched the nebulously-named Estée Edit in January 2016. “Everyone was talking about it when we signed Kendall,” the company’s group president. Jane Hertzmark Hudis, told WWD at the time. “We asked ourselves, ‘What would Estée do if she were here?’ And the answer is, she would have signed Kendall Jenner and she would have created The Estée Edit.”
Perhaps, but the latter decision was a mistake. If there’s anything the astonishing success of Kylie Jenner’s namesake cosmetics brand has taught us, it’s the power of both shameless self-branding and limited-edition inventory. By selling us Lip Kits and Kyshadows and Kylighters and other Kyssentials, she’s really selling us, well, Kylie. In suspenseful, surprising, social media-documented drops, no less. And with the launch of the Estée Edit, Lauder branched out from simply selling us Kendall and instead rolled out a huge collection (82 items!) of products aimed at customers who weren’t already loyal to the Lauder brand.
Consider the fact that buzz for one particular product — the $48 Kendall Jenner eye palette, which was labeled a “Guest Editor” item and, like the aforementioned lipstick, bore Jenner’s signature — overshadowed the chatter surrounding the entire Edit launch. Sure, outlets like WWD and People covered the Edit itself — but many more, from Refinery29 and the Daily Mail to Glamour and Cosmopolitan, focused their coverage on Jenner’s palette exclusively. And when Jenner made a personal appearance at a Manhattan Sephora store to promote the Edit in March, few attendees appeared to be interested in the actual cosmetics for sale.
By the end of the year, Lauder insiders were telling the Financial Times that sales figures for the Edit were “short of their targets,” while Business of Fashion pointed out that “social media metrics suggest that [Kylie Cosmetics] is far more popular — or at least more relevant to consumers who are active on social media, a powerful indicator of interest — than the Estée Edit,” sharing data that supported the story.
Sure, some will argue that the elder Jenner sibling was the wrong choice to front a younger Estée Lauder line from the start; Jenner’s said in interviews that she doesn’t wear much makeup, after all. But if Lauder really did want to go the “cool by association” route, it’s hard to understand why it happily invested in a large, millennial-focused brand tied to the star’s face and name, but stopped short of calling it, say, Kendall x Estée, or the Kendall Jenner Collection. Had Lauder gradually introduced individual Jenner-branded products — or even just one big collaboration with the model — the company’s effort to court millennials would’ve likely been more successful.
But seeing as Jenner’s still all over the Estée Lauder website, it appears that she’s still under contract for the brand. Perhaps it’s not too late for Lauder and Jenner to turn these learnings into a best-selling collaboration. After all, with Kylie’s growing cosmetics empire landing her on this year’s Forbes Celebrity 100 list and Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty launching next week, it’s clear that when it comes to selling beauty, this ultra-famous family has still got it.