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How M.A.C Cosmetics’s lipsticks found global success

ILLUSTRATION BY BENJAMIN MACDONALD FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

To mark Canada 150, Globe Style's Clearly Canadian series explores iconic examples of domestic design.

Wherever you are in the world, chances are that when someone pulls out a lipstick, it will be a bullet by Toronto-born M.A.C Cosmetics. Nathalie Atkinson charts the growth of the brand (a.k.a. Make-up Art Cosmetics) from the mid-eighties brainchild of makeup artist and photographer Frank Toskan and beauty salon owner Frank Angelo to the beauty behemoth it is today

  • Today’s recognizable black plastic case is the fourth iteration of the co-founders’ original design. The first was black, glossy and flat on top with a thick metal, logo-embossed band around the centre. The company’s extensive collaborations with celebrities, fashion designers and artists have resulted in special-edition packaging but the core lipstick range is always packaged in black, which ensures vivid makeup colours stand out.
  • The shape and dimensions of the lipstick inside – called a bullet – have remained the same since inception and are unique to the company (the lipstick is sculpted with a sharper point than other brands). Seven of the early colour assortment from the 1980s are still in production including New York Apple, Pink Nouveau, M.A.C Red, Bronze Shimmer, Russian Red, Chili and Mocha.
  • Lipstick is the number one category at M.A.C. and the company still manufactures it for global distribution in Markham, Ont. It produces one bullet per second, which is also the rate they’re sold around the world. Formulations now come in more than a dozen textures and finishes from a lightweight gel-like formula to satins and sheers and the highly pigmented Retro Matte range that has minimal-to-no-shine inspired by the original matte lipstick.
  • Madonna wore M.A.C’s intense Russian Red onstage during her Blond Ambition world tour, making the 1988 shade a top seller (it’s also memorably worn by a post-makeover Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada). Globally, as well as in Canada, the bestselling shade is Ruby Woo (four are sold every minute), which originally launched in 1999. When Rihanna worked with the brand to tweak a version of it, she made it her own by dubbing it “Riri Woo.”
  • The product development lab creates working names, but when partnering on capsule collections with the likes of Mariah Carey or Diana Ross, those guest collaborators choose their own.
  • In 1994, the company introduced the deep red Viva Glam lipstick, with drag queen RuPaul starring in the campaign. Every cent of the selling price is donated to the M.A.C AIDS Fund, helping women, men and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. In 1997, the pinkish mauve Viva Glam II was introduced and other colours have followed. The lipstick has raised $450-million to date.
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Nathalie More

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