MAC Cosmetics and boundary-pushing pop ingenues have always gone together like two peas in a collaborative pod. There was Lady Gaga’s 2011 Viva Glam campaign, Mariah Carey’s champagne-hued lipstick this past December, Nicki Minaj’s hot pink lip glass, Lorde’s Pure Heroine gothic plum lipstick, Rihanna’s topless campaign and Miley Cyrus’ tongue-flashing Viva Glam campaign video, to name a few. But the makeup brand, which launched in 1984 at a Toronto department store and was acquired by Estee Lauder in 1994, is about to shine the spotlight on a different sector of the music industry.
On March 17, MAC will launch Future Forward, the first of an ongoing series of collaborations and campaigns that spotlight newer talent. "It feels like a great thing to be able to support artists who are breaking through but aren’t necessarily at the top top, to push them forward," MAC senior vp and group creative director James Gager says of the initiative. "We’ve always done that sort of thing with fashion designers, and to me, it’s most interesting to introduce these artists, as well as our MAC fans to new people."
For the debut capsule, Gager worked with artists Tinashe, Dej Loaf, Lion Babe's Jillian Hervey and Halsey — most of whom landed on the Billboard charts for the first time last year. "They were each very distinctive personalities. They run the gamut, but obviously they're hitting different people in terms of who listens to their music," he notes. "Plus you've got someone that has blue hair."
The product rollout will occur first with Tinashe’s "Times Nine Palette" of eyeshadow, followed by Halsey’s matte gunmetal lipstick, Dej Loaf’s rosy-nude lip glass, and Lion Babe’s shimmery gold Liquidlast Liner with prices ranging from $15 to $32. The first-time opportunity to collaborate with a major brand, Dej Loaf notes, was "a big first step" and entryway into a new creative medium.
Gager, who joined MAC in 1999 and has been instrumental in helping the brand raise more than $400 million for AIDS research through the MAC AIDS Fund, speaks with Billboard about the launch.
In speaking with each of the artists you worked with for Future Forward, it was really refreshing to hear how important this partnership was for them — that it was the first time they had ever been approached to collaborate.
I think it shows a breadth of what MAC is about and what we're bringing out as ideas. It was interesting for me, actually, having worked with each of them because when they came into the office they each had unique personalities: one of them was very shy, another very outspoken.
And why the decision to make Future Forward a collective with four faces rather than say, one or two?
I think it really indicates that there's not always just one person. With groups of people, as I mentioned, we are able to hit different fan bases.
How did you select each of these artists?
We like people who have something unique about their style. We feel that each one of these young ladies has a unique music sensibility, but also that they are representing their look with a distinct point of view. When each of them came in, we didn't say "Oh, you're going to do a lipstick, you're going to do an eyeshadow." We asked them what they felt connected to, product-wise. Each person was very involved, right down to naming the product shades and thinking about packaging. We also worked on videos for each of them that will offer a more in-depth understanding of them as an artist.
Why does the music industry make sense for MAC?
We love music. MAC is steeped in many different areas from music to fashion to film to interior design to illustration. And we want to keep tapping into different forms of creativity and bringing those forms out to speak. If you think of some of our first-ever Viva Glam spokespeople, there was Mary J. Blige, Lil Kim. We've done stuff with Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj; we now have Ariana [Grande].
Does sound ever inspire color for you?
I can be influenced by smell — a color for me smells a certain way. A smell might represent a color for me and actually, even with our holiday collections out now, it's all about blue tones, which were influenced by the world of jazz and what jazz suggests as a color. For me, jazz never represents hot colors; it represents coolness.
And you have plans to continue Future Forward annually?
Oh absolutely, this is not a stand-alone idea. We are going to keep it going in a way where it might not always be four artists — it could be two or even one — but I think each year it is going to be really interesting to say, "OK, these are the ones to watch."
Does that feel risky for MAC, to be turning to lesser-known artists?
Of course. You don't know what's going to happen to their career. But I think we're also a brand of pop culture and what's going on at the moment, so the risk is lessened when you hit it on the mark at a particular time.
Halsey is an example of someone who has really blown up over the last year — she sold out Madison Square Garden.
Oh yeah, she’s already going bigtime. When we had Iggy Azalea perform at the opening of our store in Paris in 2012, she was also someone that was big but not huge, so it was interesting to see that transition then. It was also kind of like that when we signed Lady Gaga on as a Viva Glam spokesperson. She wasn't big big big at that moment. She was kind of just beginning to break and then suddenly: wow! We got her exactly at the most fortuitous moment.
Seems like you guys have an algorithm.
Well, let's not jinx it. (Laughs.) A lot of it is luck for sure, but a lot of it is kind of paying attention to what's going on.
Are there any artists you’ve been listening to in particular?
I love Justin Bieber's new album. I'm so happy that maybe he's turning a page, that he's learned a bit of a lesson, and I think it's influenced his music in a really great way. I like that he's growing up, approaching things with respect makes you pay attention to him in a different way.
You’re the senior vice president and group creative director for MAC, La Mer and Jo Malone. And MAC in particular, has an immense amount of campaigns and campaign videos that are released each year. How do you have time to make it all work?
I'm a bit of a control freak. (Laughs.) I care about the brand deeply and so I feel responsible for each project that I work on and I want it to be the best that it can be. I love working with my team here, we are really driven to make things the absolute best so that we feel proud. In some way it's work, but it's work that I love and it's work that I feel privileged to be able to do.