The horror story behind beauty collabs

By Alessandro Carrara | Published: 2-Oct-2023

Cosmetics Business takes a look at the beauty brands fighting for the horror aesthetic’s place in the mainstream spotlight, through high quality cosmetics collections

There has been a long standing fascination with horror, ghost stories and the macabre throughout human history.

While the psychology of willingly scaring yourself is certainly confusing, there is a genuine appeal for many in feeling the adrenaline rush of a spine chilling tale.

It is no wonder that horror films dominate the film sector as one of the most profitable genres to produce, according to the American Film Market.

But it is important to remember that beauty has played an instrumental role in bringing to life some of the most iconic looks on the silver screen.

The likes of Beetlejuice and Pennywise, to more technical prosthetics such as that seen in the 1986 classic The Fly, have all been created by dedicated make-up and effects artists working behind the scenes.

However, when it comes to the mainstream beauty industry, the horror-focused aesthetic has largely taken a back seat to the more colourful and family friendly trends that dominate the beauty cycle each year.

There are a number of brands who are not content with this current status quo, and are pouring their passion and love into creating horror beauty collabs to inspire a new wave of consumer appreciation - paving the way for more beauty brands to explore the genre’s untapped potential.

Creepy collabs

The Chucky range includes a make-up palette, lip kit and mirror

The Chucky range includes a make-up palette, lip kit and mirror

Beauty collaborations are dime a dozen in the sector, and most brands have dipped their toe into a partnership at some point in their lifetime.

These encompasses countless intellectual properties (IPs) from Disney, to Hello Kitty and Marvel and DC Comics. It makes sense to do so from a business perspective, as according to a study from consumer insights firm Circana, one-third of consumers aged 11 to 44 years old are more likely to buy a beauty product from a brand collaboration.

But Anthony Ares, Vice President of beauty brand Glamlite, is unhappy with the quality of most of the licenced collections. “Licensing is hot right now and so many brands want to jump in on the trend,” Ares explains.

But the reality is that a lot of the make-up collabs are “simply lazy”, with many of these beauty brands simply “slapping a logo on regular packaging”. “That is not a collab, it is a quick cash grab,” he continues.

Earlier this month Glamlite launched a dedicated beauty collection inspired by the killer doll cult classic film Chucky. Ares says he took “pride” in really creating something that truly captures the essence of the IP.

“For the Chucky collection, we pulled inspiration from the pantone colours used in the movie and really studied the make-up,” he adds.

The range includes a make-up palette, lip kit and mirror, and features packaging designed to resemble the box a doll would be housed in.

This can take a considerable amount of time for the brand to get it right, while also liaising with the licensee, but Ares says this is the minimum really to create a genuinely successful collaboration.

“Whether it is pulling eyeshadow colours from their clothing or environment, creating custom components based on key elements in the movies, naming the products unique names that only true fans would know - that is a success in my eyes,” adds Ares. 

Rachel Clinesmith, founder and CEO of Vampyre Cosmetics, echoes Ares' views and is also tired of the abundant “sticker slapping” beauty collaborations.

She does appreciate that there is a place in the industry for this type of mass market and sometimes more affordable product, but says that the overwhelming consumer demand for authenticity rings out louder.

“We do not push for a standard of beauty and do not want people to think they need make-up,"
Rachel Clinesmith, founder and CEO of Vampyre Cosmetics

“I think that that really puts our brand in a position where we can accommodate those specific preferences and say what we are doing is very much our niche.”

Clinesmith, who is a former make-up artist herself, is gearing up to launch the first official Silent Hill make-up collection.

Working with Konami, the original publisher of the video game series, the brand obtained the licence for the first four games and the upcoming remake of the second game.

Clinesmith made a deliberate choice to go with video games over the films, as she says fans hold a deeper appreciation for the original series.

This meant using Masahiro Ito’s original artwork from the Playstation 2 classics, featuring the franchise's most recognisable figures such as Pyramid Head and Robbie the Rabbit throughout the packaging.

It also saw Clinesmith formulate shades which accurately reflected the game’s themes of death, fear and loneliness, represented through blood red and rusty brown tones.

The collection also does not shy away from the grotesque either, and features the game’s disturbing enemy designs on the packaging of the lipsticks for example.

Clinesmith sees this as a stance against the clean and bright standard the beauty industry has been maintaining in recent years. It is also reflective of her overall brand ethos of not considering the business as a traditional beauty company.

“We certainly do not push for a standard of beauty and do not want people to think they need make-up,” she continues.

“We want it to be an experience of self expression, so we just sell tools - the consumer can do with them what they want. “There are people who want to use it for make-up effects, or they want to recreate horror looks or they just want to look different and that is totally cool too - it is supposed to be fun.”

Cater to the demand

Anthony Ares, Vice President of beauty brand at Glamlite

Anthony Ares, Vice President of beauty brand at Glamlite

Between the two collaborations, a lot of passion went into bringing these collections to life. This, realistically, takes a lot of work, but there is a business case for brands improving their offering for horror communities.

This is because horror fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated groups of individuals in pop culture, explains Clinesmith.

Silent Hill in particular has garnered worldwide acclaim thanks to its compelling stories and striking visuals and soundtracks.

“I think a lot of people can relate to the messaging in Silent Hill when dealing with some kind of trauma or difficulties in their lives,” explains Clinesmith.

“It definitely encompasses psychological horror, but it is not as abrasive as some of the other titles in games.”

She says this “hits home” for a lot of people, who can relate to the characters and the challenges they go through - creating a strong sense of nostalgia for their time with the games.

For Ares, his love of the Chucky franchise helped him find strength in being gay in the beauty industry and society.

The scene in Bride of Chucky, which sees doll antagonist Tiffany putting make-up on and ‘glamming’ up, stuck out to Ares during his youth and inspired him to be more confident. He says he wouldn't be the person he is today if it was not for that particular film.

“There is a huge link between successful beauty launches that trigger nostalgic emotions"
Nora Zukauskaite, Global Marketing Director at Lottie London

That is nothing to say of the immense horror cosplay culture, which sees individuals dressing up and recreating looks from their favourite media.

For all of these examples, horror can mean a lot of important things for many different people, and the size of the consumer base should also not be underestimated either.

Larissa Jensen, beauty industry advisor at Circana, says brands have an opportunity to tap into the group more effectively. “Brands need to know their consumer,” she adds. “It requires listening and additional research to allow for better understanding.”

And it can certainly pay off to listen. While not strictly speaking horror, Lottie London’s gothic-infused Vampire Diaries collection was relaunched in September after seeing an incredibly successful release in 2022.

Nora Zukauskaite, Global Marketing Director at Lottie London, explains that getting the collection right was imperative, as the show has a loyal fan base that is only continuing to grow in size as new consumers tune in to watch the show.

In particular, this has seen an influx in Gen Z individuals join the fandom, which is most visible on TikTok where the Vampire Diaries hashtag has over 38 billion views.

She continues: “The show also carries a lot of nostalgia for those who have been long-term fans of the show, and we know there’s a huge link between successful beauty launches that trigger nostalgic emotions.”

Making room for horror

Lottie London’s Vampire Diaries collection has returned for 2023

Lottie London’s Vampire Diaries collection has returned for 2023

For horror to thrive, Zukauskaite stresses that brands need to be willing to take the plunge away from what is safe. She notes that gothic and horror genres are different from the macro minimal ‘clean girl’ looks that have been dominating the landscape, which makes it more appealing for those who have been “rejecting those trends”.

“Horror and beauty both offer escapism for consumers, and the horror genre continues to create narratives and visuals that are memorable,” she adds. “Cosmetics allow consumers to explore these visuals by creating looks inspired by the aesthetics or directly emulating their favourite characters.”

Zukauskaite believes the genre is beginning to gain more recognition, pointing to the success of the Netflix show Wednesday and the darker aesthetics seen during Fashion Week Runways.

But while all of this sounds great on paper, the reality is that horror-focused beauty has a tough mountain to climb in the modern cosmetics market.

Barbie's explosive influence on beauty since the reveal of Greta Gerwig’s official movie in 2022 is partly to blame, as Jensen says it resulted in an influx of Barbie collaborations.

“Directly or indirectly, Barbie fever is having a strong impact on beauty performance,” she continues. Circana found that from January through to August 2023, sales for pink make-up grew 33% versus last year - nearly twice the growth rate of total prestige make-up.

Glamlite founder Giselle Hernandez said she had also bowed to this pressure to create a Barbie range amid all of the hype for the movie.

But now that the dust has settled, Hernandez has found that the Chucky collection is completely outselling the Barbie set.

She describes the realisation that “so many have been denied what they love for so long”. “Glamlite is now here to dominate the horror make-up sector,” Hernandez adds. “We have already partnered up with five of the biggest horror characters of all time to create the ultimate collections for horror fans.”

The brand is set to release its GhostFace x Glamlite collection on 29 September, with a further two yet to be announced launches coming in October.

“Despite Barbie being such an iconic brand, there have been thousands of Barbie collaborations in the beauty space,” Hernandez concludes. “I think the beauty consumer is ready for something refreshing, daring, unique and edgy.”

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