Meet the new face of luxury

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Michelle Phan has been described as the next Michael Jordan of the upscale endorsement world. She’s a 23-year-old Floridian who has become a massive YouTube sensation with her video make-up tutorials and beauty tips As of June 2010, her 100 videos have been viewed more than 150 million times. And now she is a video spokesperson for Lancome. Never heard of her? I had not either until I attended an Advertising Week panel on how luxury brands are attracting the coveted Generation Y audience. Michelle Phan was the star of the show even though she was not even in the room.

The panel, “Attracting Generation Luxur-Y,” was hosted by my Razorfish colleague Joe Crump and featured Scott Galloway, founder of L2 Think Tank, Paul James, vice president of Starwood luxury brands like the St. Regis, and Kamel Ouadi, global digital director, Louis Vuitton. Although the panel covered a lot of wide-ranging territory, the discussion that resonated the most for me is how Gen Y is redefining our notions of luxury.

We often think of luxury as something unattainable and indulgent. But to reach Gen Y, luxury brands need to stand for authenticity, passion, and emotion. Hence Michelle Phan has become the new face of luxury. As Scott Galloway pointed out during the panel discussion, “For Generation Y, luxury is about real people using real products.” In calling her the “the next Michael Jordan” of the luxury world, Scott cited how her appeal stems from the fact that she is genuine and social, in many ways the embodiment of Gen Y. People love her videos because she is real. She uses only products that she is comfortable using in real life, and she is “one of us,” not a megawatt celebrity from the world of the unattainable.

Louis Vuitton brought “real people” into the fold with its Journeys Award to showcase the talents of emerging filmmakers. Participants were invited to create movies that defined what a journey means to them, whether an emotional or physical one. The short-listed movies all answered the question, “Where will a journey take you?” — not “What does our brand mean to you?” The winners enjoyed the cachet of becoming feted by Luis Vitton. And Louis Vuitton in essence recruited quasi-spokespersons who brought an air of authenticity and emotion to the Louis Vuitton brand.

Joe Crump mentioned that relying on lesser known people to tell their stories is a departure for luxury brands, who are traditionally proprietary in their use of spokespeople. The shift in thinking reflects an acceptance that Gen Y want luxury to be more attainable. Hence St. Regis has opened up its brand by encouraging visits to its restaurants and hotel services even if you are not ready to shell out the money to stay at a hotel, and its parent Starwood operates the high-end but more affordable Aloft brand. And both Louis Vuitton and St. Regis have made their brands more social — for instance, Luis Vuitton uses social media to broadcast is fashion show.

Real people using real products and having real experiences. As Scott pointed out, “All great luxury brands have spokespeople — they just have not met them yet.”

More about the panel here and here.

17 thoughts on “Meet the new face of luxury

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  2. My 16 year old sister loves Michelle Pham but opts to buy Dior mascara and MAC cosmetics.
    Not sure if that Lancome endorsement is working out…

    Personally and very honestly, I like my luxury brands laden with elitism and pretentiousness. While it\’s fun that LV is getting its hands dirty in social, I don\’t necessarily think accessibility is where it is benefiting as a luxury brand. I think it really is more about the delivery and execution of familiar branded social experiences done in a luxurious way (more innovative technology and content). I think that particular combination is much more powerful than just using pedestrians as brand reps.

    Luxury just isn\’t as satisfying when it\’s so accessible, in my opinion.

    • Thank you for commenting. I think some of these upscale brands are trying to make themselves accessible enough to give Gen Y a taste of what their brands have to offer. Then when Gen Y consumers become more affluent, they will consider the more expensive (and by implication less accessible) luxury options. For instance, St. Regis hopes to give Gen Y a glimpse of luxury through an affordable dining experience at a St. Regis property, in the hopes that some day St. Regis will be a real option for a multi-night vacation stay — like giving you a whiff of expensive perfume for a fraction of the cost of buying an entire bottle. I agree with you that making an upscale brand more accessible can be a risky strategy if that brand wants to maintain a certain mystique.

  3. If you did any other research on Michelle Phan, you would know NOT describe her as the \”next Michael Jordan of the upscale endorsement world\”. She uses her young fans to advertise her skincare line, which is known for shady business tactics, and is currently NOT USFDA approved. She has a total disregard for her fans and their health by teaching them \”skin-care tips\” or encouraging them to buy \”circle lenses\” that are also not USFDA approved.
    If you asked other professional makeup artists, you would know she is consider a total joke in the industry. She is not even certified yet proclaims herself as a make-up artist with a non-existent portfolio besides her Youtube videos.
    If you had any knowledge of makeup, you would know her skill is mediocre at best and the only reason people watch her is NOT because she is \”REAL\”. It\’s because she puts up a facade that she is perfect and a \”nice person\”.
    If you check her twitter history, you can check that she manipulates her fans into attacking whoever gives her criticism or anybody who does not give in to her little \”good girl act\”.
    Recently, she even verbally attacked a minor over twitter, because she couldn\’t take criticism.

    I usually do not care for articles such as these. But, you are deceiving your readers if you think your information is correct.

    • Hi, thanks for weighing in. In my blog post, I cited Scott Galloway of L2 Think Tank as the source of the comment about Michelle Phan and Michael Jordan. Since he makes it his profession to study prestige brands, his remarks certainly carry a bit of gravitas worthy of reporting. I am neither an apologist or critic of Michelle Phan; what jumps out at me is the undeniable fact that she is popular enough to become a Lancome spokesperson, and she represents a departure from the kind of spokesperson upscale brands usually choose.

  4. You got it all wrong but I can\’t fault you because you don\’t follow makeup gurus. When makeup videos started popping out, it was honest girls who gave their honest opinions about products. Now, it has gone too corporate, these girls have become greedy and have lost all integrity and honesty. Their videos are no different then watching tv infomercials. It has gotten so bad that these girls are now demanding money from companies in exchange for positive reviews. This has been proven on numerous occasions. It is the greedy companies that have ruin the beauty community on youtube. Lets get back to michelle phan, yes she is lancome\’s spokeperson, but shes not doing very well as most of her lancome videos are receiving low ratings. If you read the comments left on Michelle\’s videos, they are all along the line of \”ughh another sponsored video, i feel like I am watching an infomercial.\” As you can see, most fans are displeased by these sponsored videos and I am pretty eventually this whole beauty community will come to an end because it is no longer fun. Using these girls are not working, because they have lost the viewers trust. It is sad because they used to be girls who wanted to have fun, it was their hobby, they took their time to try products for us, we were able to relate to them. But now that money is involved, it has all changed. All they do is push products which makes us (the viewers) even more pissed off! so no, using these girls is obviously not working because we aren\’t dumb, we know that their getting paid to push products and we refuse to buy those products, simple as that.

  5. Oh i would love to point out that although michelle phan is one of lancome\’s spokeperson, one can\’t help but to notice how horrible her makeup skills are but I can\’t expect you to know anything about makeup. Even professional makeup artists who go to school for makeup comment on Michelle\’s lack of skills, and how sloppy and immaturish her looks are. In fact, Michelle\’s latest video got a lot of negative feedback because she demostrated Lancome\’s products horribly. Now who is going to want to buy those products when she can\’t even make them work for her?? Taking this into consideration, it is obvious that Lancome did not look into Michelle\’s skills and creditials but rather the number of views and subscribers she has. Lets also out point out that half of her viewers are male because she does things to attract male viewers, (wearing low cut shirts that reveal her boobs) and the other half are teeny boopers that can\’t afford lancome and know nothing about makeup.

    • Thank you for taking time to comment, Ingela. So I hear you saying that Lancome got it wrong because you believe Michelle is neither authentic nor talented enough to be credible. Meantime there is no doubt she continues to attract the attention of the likes of the New York Times, sparking similar debate here: It would be interesting to know how Lancome views the matter eight months into their relationship. Let\’s see how this one plays out.

  6. All I know is that I\’m sick to death of seeing her face and poor makeup skills and being compared to Kevyn Aucoin.

    But that\’s marketing for you. You don\’t have to have talent nor a brain to make it in this world, just deceptive marketing will do.

  7. Hi David,
    I get what you\’re saying about giving Gen Y a sample of luxury so that they want to buy it later, but I\’m not sure if YouTube and video contests really do that. The St. Regis strategy works though.

    Also, I find it humorous that women have come out in droves to basically \”flame\” Michelle. She is a very successful vlogger, and that\’s a fact. Lancome is a successful cosmetics brand, that too is a fact. As for everything else? Well that\’s simply just your opinion 😉

    • Thanks for the follow-up; I\’m curious — do you think Louis Vuitton should not broadcast fashion shows like the company has been doing? It was interesting to hear how the broadcasting was described at the Gen Y panel as a way of an established prestige brand keeping up with the (digital and social) times. I can see the downside of the approach (the reasons you articulated). On the other hand, it seems as though Louis Vuitton believes those types of things are necessary to stay relevant to Gen Y.

  8. Actually, im pretty sure Lancome is getting quite a headache from her. Lancome was getting a lot of hate on their blog which is run by the Vice president of PR, Kerry Diamond. ( There were tons of comments everyday, even from loyal long time lancome customers who thought Michelle was unfit for the job. These were not comments from haters, these were comments from people who didnt even know michelle. They saw her videos on and were appalled by how sloppy and immaturish the videos were! Lancome is high end brand afterall, yes? A lot of them have decided to not use lancome products anyore. The comments were getting so bad that Kerry Diamond ended up deleting most of her posts in an effort to delete all the comments that came with it. Now she has comments on approval before they are posted. You see, Michelle\’s lack of skills is hurting the image of Lancome. For example, she made a video about natural beauty but everyone noticed that her face was orange and did not match the rest of her body. This is a makeup NO NO! Lancome is the one that has to answer to that. It seems like Lancome is doing more damage control then anything else. Of course, eventually all the negative comments drove lancome to photoshop her picture that was featured on But she\’s still orange in the video..oh well.

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