When Australian beauty brand ModelCo released a fleet of 100 “beauty butlers” onto the streets of Paris on Tuesday in a guerilla marketing stunt, the goal was to gain enough international attention to prop the company up ahead of its next phase of global growth.
The butlers wore suits and face-shielding helmets inspired by a cartoon sketch of Chanel and Fendi designer Karl Lagerfeld. The stunt marked the release of ModelCo’s collaboration in 3,000 retail stores and online. The limited-edition collection of beauty products, the first complete set of cosmetics to be released by the Lagerfeld brand, is comprised of 30 pieces, including $28 lip glosses topped by a miniature version of the 3D cartoon Karl head worn by the butlers and a $65 eyeshadow palette inspired by Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette.
The collection is being sold at Karl Lagerfeld stores; on the brand’s site and ModelCo’s site; at Nordstrom in the U.S.; at Galeries Lafayette, Cult Beauty, Douglas and Nocibé in Europe; and at Paris Galerie and Dubai Mall in the Middle East. Once the product sells out at all retail outlets, more won’t be made. The collection is projected to bring in $50 million in total sales, according to the company.
“Collaborations have always been a part of our model — we focus them on bringing our customer, who is a fashion-minded customer, something new that they want,” said ModelCo CEO Shelley Sullivan. “They’re a big part of our future and a big part of our marketing calendar. They draw tens of millions of dollars in publicity and boost the relevance on both sides.”
Sullivan said that ModelCo aims to do one big collaboration per year. Its strategy is focused on anchoring partnerships in the fashion industry: In the past, the company has partnered with brands including Zimmermann and models like Rosie Huntington Whiteley, Hailey Baldwin and Stella Maxwell. Sullivan’s roots are in the fashion industry, having started a modeling agency prior to launching ModelCo in 2002, with a heated eyelash curling wand and an aerosol tan spray. Now, ModelCo is estimated to be worth $40 million by industry projections, and the company recently raised $1.2 million in funding in order to double its staff from 24 to 48.
The funding and hiring are being channeled into ModelCo’s international rollout plan, which Sullivan said would take place in early 2019. Right now, Australia’s cosmetics market is worth close to $5 billion and is expected to grow at a compound rate of 9 percent to reach $7.8 billion by 2020, according to Mordor Intelligence. While ModelCo, along with buzzy brands like Aesop and Mecca, is one of the country’s fastest-growing beauty and skin-care brands, there’s more dollar value to be seized overseas. Globally, the cosmetics and skin-care industry is worth $445 billion, according to CB Insights. ModelCo’s biggest target is the U.S., where the industry is worth $63 billion.
“We have major retail relationships in the works that will put ModelCo on the global map in 2019,” said Sullivan. “Those relationships typically start on the collaboration level.”
Sullivan and her team choose retail partners by figuring out which companies will give them the most marketing attention. Sephora, for example, while a leader in the beauty industry and known for its power to boost smaller brands, is cluttered with too much conflicting noise.
When developing product for collaborations, ModelCo’s internal product teams take the lead, as well as initiative around marketing plans and distribution. The partners play a role in creative design as well as separate marketing campaigns. Sullivan said that outside of collaborations, ModelCo’s production cycle releases around three to four drops per year, not tied to typical seasons. Other marketing efforts throughout the year include influencer and affiliate marketing campaigns, for which ModelCo works with a dedicated group of influencers.
“It’s all part of our expansion plan – it’s hard to break into a country like the U.S. on your own. That’s where partners come in,” said Sullivan.