Farfetch has made many investments and acquisitions on its quest to dominate luxury fashion, and now it’s doing the same in beauty.
Hot on the heels of its acquisition of specialty retailer Violet Gray in January (and following the minority stake it took in Neiman Marcus Group this month), the platform will launch beauty on Wednesday with an assortment of over 100 prestige brands.
Simultaneously, Off White, which is owned by Farfetch, will launch four fragrances with the retailer, while Browns Fashion, the London-based luxury retailer, is also launching a limited beauty assortment online and in its two brick-and-mortar doors.
The battle for the prestige beauty shopper has reached a fever pitch in the past two years. Mass players like Kohl’s and Target have gone deeper into the category via partnerships with Sephora and Ulta Beauty, respectively, while digital players like Net-a-porter and Ssense have gone deeper into the category.
Farfetch is looking to differentiate itself with a gender-neutral assortment in an approach it is calling “Beauty Beyond Boundaries.”
Confirmed brands include African Botanics, Augustinus Bader, Chanel, Chantecaille, Charlotte Tilbury, Christophe Robin, Cle de Peau, Dr. Barbara Sturm, Frédéric Malle, Gucci, Joanna Vargas, Kjaer Weis, La Mer, Maison Margiela, Necessaire, Olaplex, Prada , RMS Beauty, Sam McKnight, Sisley Paris, Susanne Kaufmann, Tom Ford, Vintner’s Daughter, Westman Atelier, Yves Durif and Yves Saint Laurent Beauty.
“All of us have a wide variety of products in our cabinets, from indie brands to established brands, and we wanted a similar approach,” said Holli Rogers, chief brand officer at Farfetch. “We’re trying to be aware of the fact that we have this really diverse audience of pre-existing customers, and we expect to have a huge influx of new customers.”
It isn’t Farfetch’s first time eyeing the category for expansion. In 2016 it partnered with Space NK on a limited offering available online, which posed a slew of logistical challenges. “We realized it was way more complex because of the intricacies of shipping, and we decided that if we were going to do beauty, we needed to do it right,” Rogers said. “We’ve got a lot of stakeholders, and this is a natural next move.”
To that end, Rogers said expectations were high. “It’s going to be smaller than our fashion business, but we still anticipate it to be quite a significant piece of the business as we move forward,” she said, declining to quantify sales expectations. As reported by WWD, Farfetch’s gross merchandise volume exceeded $4.2 billion last year, almost double pre-pandemic levels.
While Violet Gray and Browns will lean into small, curated assortments, Farfetch will fulfill orders with inventory from the two retailers, as well as its own buy. “The amplification that Farfetch as a marketplace brings to Violet Grey, Browns and Off White is massive,” Rogers said. “Everything comes back to the destination of Farfetch being a marketplace, and there’s a whole ecosystem that’s being built around beauty as a category and as a way of life for people. We’re having this 360-degree approach for our proposition across channels.”
Digital activations will range from Roblox to The Sims 4, wherein content creators will create their own beauty avatars. Farfetch’s website will also include virtual try-on for makeup, starting with lipstick and later extending to complexion products.
With a heavy focus on content, Rogers is also taking pages out of the Violet Gray playbook. In addition to a campaign called “Your Choice. Your Beauty. Your Farfetch,” it is inaugurating the Global Beauty Collective, a committee that will aim to “educate, inspire and build a sense of community,” according to the company.
Founding members range from entrepreneurs and professionals to dermatologists and performers, and include Cassandra Grey, founder of Violet Grey; makeup artists Erin Parsons and Isamaya Ffrench; hairstylist Jawara; styling director Mia Kong; dermatologist Michelle Henry; cosmetic chemist Michelle Wong; actor Nico Hiraga, and drag queen Violet Chachki. A curator-in-chief will be named at a later date.
“One of the things we’ve been great at for quite a while is bringing together curators, creators and content makers in the fashion space. This transcends into beauty as well,” Rogers said. “That idea is to drive a stronger emotional connection and have a forum for people to interact in, to have multiway conversations.”
The collective is similar to Violet Grey’s own committee of experts who vet each new product. Gray said that the collective would serve a different purpose than Violet Grey’s. “It’s a small group, and it was underway before we joined the team,” she said.
Gray will continue to operate her company as a stand-alone business. When Farfetch acquired the business earlier this year for an undisclosed sum, it gave Gray the infrastructure and opportunity to focus on scaling internationally.
“We only shipped to the US and we were 38 people. We were operating without enough capital and with a lot of pain points in operational efficiency,” Gray said. “Immediately, Farfetch is bringing this technology and infrastructure and management to our operation. It’s enabled us to be so much more nimble and focused on what we really want.”
The businesses are separate, but Farfetch is still benefiting from Violet Grey’s credibility with consumers. “At our core, we are pretty laser focused on strengthening our relationship with the most discerning customer, and everything else falls into place. Violet Gray is essentially a seal of approval that enables customers to feel more confident in their purchase decision, with curation at our core,” Gray said. “We’ve always thought about retail and e-commerce as a convenience that we provide our customers and community. So, it’s adding this huge global infrastructure and e-commerce platform.”
Since Violet Gray currently only distributes in the US, there’s not much overlap between its customers and those who shop on Farfetch. “The Farfetch customer is global, and a lot of them have not shopped on Violet Gray before,” Gray said.
Many of brands that are on Violet Gray will be on Farfetch, sometimes with a fuller assortment.
“We had a very successful relationship with Violet Grey, where we became a top seller in eight months,” said Charles Rosier, chief executive officer of Augustinus Bader. “We always had a close partnership with them, and it’s natural for us to keep that partnership going. In some ways we’re dealing with the Violet Gray team, but within the bigger framework.”
While Augustinus Bader was quick to gain buzz — and customers — since its 2018 launch, Rosier still sees runway to expand internationally. “We are a growing brand, and we have this growth happening globally. To benefit from the potential distribution power of our partners, and those partners becoming stronger or having a stronger network, is always going to be a positive thing,” he said.
“Being exposed on a new platform is going to create more brand awareness. People looking into our story, and who are intrigued by it, are now seeing it again,” he continued.
As WWD reported, Augustinus Bader was said to do over $150 million in retail sales in 2021.
That rationale was similar for Randi Christiansen, cofounder and CEO of premium body care brand Necessary. “It really started with our partnership we had with Violet Grey,” Christiansen said. “When you think about Farfetch, they are both tastemakers in the lifestyle space, and in fashion and beauty. What they both do is have a strong point of view. We also recognize that Farfetch has a tremendous opportunity to reach new customers with that same rigor, point of view and brand expression that Violet Gray embodies.”
Part of the advantages includes bringing fresh customers to Necessary. “Our brand is three and a half years old, and it’s still early in its journey of meeting people,” Christiansen said. “Any distribution partner you partner with is a brand equity choice, it’s an expression of your brand. I think about it as brand awareness, people continuing to see the brand and create excitement in a curated and content-smart way. That’s what we love about Violet Grey, and it’s what we believe Farfetch will bring.”
For more from WWD.com, see:
Analysts Dissect Farfetch-Neiman Marcus Deal
Kim Cattrall, Josh Hartnett and More Star in Farfetch Campaign
Farfetch Stock Soars As José Neves’ Vision Takes Shape