September 22, 2023

When it comes to perfume, Rabanne has plenty of hits to its name. There’s One Million, with its bottle shaped like a gold bar, and Fame, launched in 2022, which resembles a woman in a chain-mail dress. Now the Puig-owned luxury house is hoping to sprinkle its fragrance fairy dust on to colour cosmetics with the launch of a 90-piece collection.

“Make-up is the new filter of the brand; it’s how we want it to look,” says vice-president for Rabanne Beauty Jérôme Leloup. It’s part of the company’s “one brand strategy”; a plan to fuse Rabanne’s beauty and fashion divisions into a single, modern identity that updates founder Paco Rabanne’s space-age radicalism. Call it a glow-up.

Rabanne has big ambitions for the project: Leloup says “we aim to be among the top 15 make-up brands worldwide by 2030” — adding that “beauty is part of a bigger scheme to double the female business overall”. Rabanne’s sales have grown 40 per cent in recent years and, according to Leloup, are set to cross the €1bn threshold “soon”.

Founder Paco Rabanne died in February, aged 88, and in June the house changed its name to just Rabanne and modernised the logo. The minimal typography was taken from Rabanne’s first fragrance, Calandre, a rose perfume with a metallic hint intended to suggest “lovemaking in a Rolls-Royce”. Introduced in 1969, it was the first product launched by Puig in Spain, France and the US.

Paco Rabanne on the film set of ‘Casino Royale’ at Elstree Studios in 1966 © Doreen Spooner/Getty

Barcelona-based Puig, whose holdings mainly span fashion and fragrance, and include Carolina Herrera, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci, has been on a growth tear since the pandemic, doubling revenues from €1.5bn in 2020 to €3bn. Sales are on track to surpass €4bn this year, according to chief executive Marc Puig.

Make-up was the fastest-growing category at the group in 2022, with sales up 52 per cent to €626mn year-on-year. It’s not the only luxury company lured by the high margins offered by colour cosmetics. Fashion houses that have launched make-up in the last five years include Gucci, Hermès, Dries Van Noten (also owned by Puig), Carolina Herrera and Prada, which relaunched a make-up line this summer.

However, the beauty category is “crowded” and standing out can be a challenge, Simar Deol, foresight analyst at The Future Laboratory, writes over email. “We can see several luxury brands launching cosmetics ranges are already in an arms race to claim their specific niche. We also have disrupter brands like Isamaya Ffrench and the success of its tastefully provocative branding, product design and partnership with Gen Z icons like Julia Fox proliferating on social media”.

So what has Rabanne bet its bottom dollar on as a unique selling point? Gen Z-friendly “radical self-expression” for all genders and skin tones, combined with vegan, mostly natural ingredients, sophisticated textures and a metallic aesthetic that reflects the house’s signature chain mail. Rabanne was known for avant-garde designs such as his 1966 collection “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials”, which featured mini-dresses made from interlinked plastic and metal strips and discs. Current Rabanne designer Julien Dossena regularly references this heritage.

A catwalk model wears a short dress that resembles a suit of chain mail
Rabanne’s signature chain mail made an appearance at Paris Fashion Week in March . . . 

A catwalk model wears an ornate metal bra and a gold-leaf dress that reaches her ankles
. . . as the metallic extravagance continued in the womenswear winter 2023-2024 show © Getty Images

It is Paco Rabanne’s disruptive spirit that the company hopes will appeal to young consumers — although there is always a hint of irony in referencing past innovation. New creative director of beauty Diane Kendal believes that Gen Z will relate to the range as they “are pushing the boundaries. They are making people think in different ways and breaking down those old patriarchal paradigms. I think that they want to be seen, they want self-expression and to be creative and authentic.”

Think arty and experimental rather than correcting flaws, more in the mould of Byredo or Pat McGrath Labs than a Bobbi Brown. One of the four subcategories of the collection being launched in Selfridges on September 1 is called Eyephoria, in a nod to the hit TV show in which California teens sport dramatic eye make-up incorporating bright colours, glitter and stuck-on pearls. Indeed, Euphoria-inspired make-up has been a theme among young people, and on social media since the show began in 2019. Eye products include gleaming silver palettes of highly pigmented shadow in shades such as silver, turquoise and chartreuse (from £26 for two colours), and Colorshot, a cream-to-paint shadow in pearl, metallic or matte finishes, with shades including gold and mauve metal (from £25).

The other out-there, Euphoria-like element of the range is Arts Factory, which includes a Shimmer Bomb glitter spray for the face and body (£27), “biodegradable” glitter, and multi-use highlighters and luminisers for a “metallic glow” (from £19).

Admittedly I’m older than the target age group, but I’m not sure I want a metallic glow. It sounds a bit robot-chic. I’d probably opt for Margot Robbie’s candy pink maquillage in Barbie over the take-me-to-your-leader look. And the popular “strawberry girl” look currently sweeping TikTok is more about a rosy blush.

A woman wears a golden top with a high neck line and gold highlighter make-up over her eyes
The shimmering gold trademark look has been translated for Rabanne’s make-up collection

Then again, maybe Rabanne is on to something by bringing the drama. Kendal is adamant that bold colour and glitter are wearable, especially when paired with a natural base rather than the heavy contoured look that is falling out of favour. She tells me that “this line is also for those who feel like experimenting but in a subtle way. You can just do a wash of colour or take a beautiful blue eyeshadow and just put it a little bit on the outer corners of the eye. You can use your fingers and it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

When it comes to testing the products, I can’t get along with a can of glitter, however fine the texture, without feeling like a car getting a sprayover in Pimp My Ride. However, the molten metallic eyeshadows in yellow and silver feel surprising, a little futuristic. And unusually for shimmer, they don’t accentuate fine lines.

I also like the Fresh Touch foundation (£37), which comes in 30 shades, and makes skin look dewy and even-toned. A matte scarlet lipstick called Red Seal (£29) makes a statement without evoking Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Despite the emphasis on disruption, the line seems more evolutionary than revolutionary, but the finishes are impressive. And in today’s market, they need to be. The Future Labratory’s Deol says, “It’s difficult to remain loyal when trends are constantly changing.” Instead, Gen Z consumers “will check, cross-check, find a dupe, double down on comparisons and consult with their favourite expert influencers before they make a purchase”. Perhaps part of the new radicalism is research.

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