MORE THAN A WOMAN: What the M.A.C. x Aaliyah Collection Says About the Legacy of Celebrity Beauty
There’s a reason two of the most anticipated M.A.C. releases have been involving women who are no longer with us.
BY TYNAN SINKS June 20, 2018
Beauty has always been an essential part of celebrity. Whether it’s full glam on a red carpet, or an alleged “no-makeup” Instagram selfie, seeing our favorite people polished and peacocking gives us something to aspire to. At the same time, celebrity has become an essential part of beauty. From beauty brands fronted by actresses, to more and more celebrities creating their own beauty brands, it’s getting difficult to find a product without a celebrity attached to it in some way.
Beauty and celebrity have always leaned on each other, especially now in the age of social media, beauty startups, and everyone wanting a piece of beauty’s expanding market profitability. They share a symbiotic relationship that has turned beauty YouTubers into internationally-recognized influencers whose power is both harnessed by brands and used to launch their own lines, as evidenced by Laura Lee, Tati Westbrook, and MannyMUA (so far).
While once a big deal with tons of promotion, the marriage of famous faces and makeup is so commonplace that it barely moves the needle anymore, making it that much more noteworthy that two of the most anticipated collections in recent history have both centered around women who are no longer with us.
In October of 2016, M.A.C. launched its hotly anticipated collection celebrating the global music icon Selena Quintanilla. The makeup was inspired by her signature beauty looks, adorned in rich, royal purple packaging — and it all sold out everywhere almost instantaneously. Most interesting is that the collection was inspired by a Los Angeles-based makeup artist who made mock-ups of the packaging and put them online. The designs quickly gained traction and not long after, a change.org petition was created, which gathered over 37,000 signatures.
This month, M.A.C.’s second high-profile posthumous makeup collection is being released, and if the fervor surrounding it is any indication, the brand has another hit on its hands. Like Selena’s, the M.A.C. X Aaliyah Collection began with a change.org petition, and was eventually endorsed by all the right people, including her close friend, rapper Missy Elliott, her makeup artist Eric Ferrell, and her brother who not only supported the collection, but mentioned that Aaliyah had been a fan of M.A.C. products, like the Chestnut Lip Pencil and Espresso Eyeshadow.
Though they are different in countless ways, both Selena and Aaliyah are both American icons who exemplified women of color succeeding on their own terms, without conforming to anyone else’s standards to success, authenticity, or beauty. As Crystal Martin of the New York Times puts it: “Selena’s self-assured personal style still resonates with her fans. Because of her tragic death, Selena is frozen in time as an unapologetically brown Latina.”
In the same way, Aaliyah was taken from us at the height of her career, when the mainstream was beginning to regard her as the certified star that she was becoming. With three albums under her belt and two blockbuster films, she was transitioning from an R&B star to a full-blown force of nature before her life was cut short in a plane crash after shooting her video for “Rock The Boat.”
Losing a celebrity is always more jarring than we’d like to admit, because our connection to celebrities, though distant, is real.
She was already a fashion icon, whose fashion sense is still reflected in today’s street style. You can see Aaliyah’s influence in basically everything on Instagram and Fashion Nova, with baggy pants, Tommy Hilfiger waistbands, bare midriffs, and belly chains. Her beauty look was just as iconic and even more representative of her aesthetic and mystique. Perfected skin, strong brows, smoky eyes that worked to accentuate her eye shape with just a bit of shimmer and smoke, and of course, a glossy lip.
Her M.A.C. collection seems to have everything you need to achieve your own Aaliyah beauty moment. A few lipsticks, a nine-pan eye shadow palette with plums, browns, and rusts, and of course, the lip glosses, all encased in beautiful brown chrome packaging.
Aaliyah’s face was often half-hidden by a bang over one eye, but something about the way she did her makeup made what you could see of her face seem…exposed, like the flash of an ankle from underneath a skirt. Her look was perfect, but not unattainable. She wasn’t hiding anything, simply accentuating her already beautiful features. It felt like something every girl could achieve.
But why is now the right time for a collection like this? And, is it in bad taste to center a beauty collection around a famous woman who has passed, especially so soon after a collection so similar to it?
Aaliyah remains a reference in fashion in part because she had such singular style, but also I would guess, because she was taken from us too early. We were never able to watch her grow into the mogul she was on track to becoming, so emulating her style is just another way to celebrate her legacy.
To fans who have idolized her and can’t easily access her music, a makeup collection is another way to engage with her memory and share it with others.
In Aaliyah’s case, channeling her beauty and fashion influence is an integral part of keeping her memory alive, because if you look for Aaliyah’s music on your streaming service of choice, aside from her first album, you’re not going to find the rest of it.
The bulk of Aaliyah’s catalog, her second and third albums One In A Million and Aaliyah, which both contain most of her biggest hits and are both double-platinum, are still inaccessible through any streaming platform, which is the predominant way that users ages 18 to 44 stream music today. Complex reported in 2016 that due to complications with her uncle Barry Hankerson, who is also the head of her label Blackground Records, neither albums are streamable, and even after years of disputes and rumors of a final Aaliyah album, none of the music has seen the light of day.
So, while a makeup collection celebrating the legacy of a pop star may initially strike some as being in bad taste, to fans who have idolized her and can’t easily access her music, it may be another way to engage with her memory and share it with others. It’s fitting that it’s a beauty collection, really. It is also worth mentioning that Selena and Aaliyah are not the only women who M.A.C. has engaged with after their deaths. M.A.C. debuted a Marilyn Monroe collection for holiday 2012 and, while in western pop culture, Monroe has reached the level of something between an urban legend and a deity, both Selena and Aaliyah feel more current. Though Selena has been gone for 23 years and Aaliyah for 17, their memories are still fresh in our mind because their influence lives on today in both fashion and music.
M.A.C. also isn’t the first company to engage with Aaliyah’s memory: In 2015, the boutique perfume company Xyrena created, with the blessing and help of her mother and brother, Aaliyah, a scent inspired by the singer and created using the types of fragrance notes the singer wore and loved.
We were never able to watch her grow into the mogul she was on track to becoming, so emulating her style is just another way to celebrate her legacy.
Losing a celebrity is always more jarring than we’d like to admit, because our connection to celebrities, though distant, is real. Whenever someone talks about a current female pop star, Aaliyah’s name is always soon to be brought up because of her legacy and lasting influence on pop culture today. At times it’s thrown around that “Yeah, well if Aaliyah was still around, then Beyoncé wouldn’t…” or “If Aaliyah was still making music, then Rihanna would never…” as if Aaliyah’s influence isn’t rife within their work, or worse, as if two women cannot succeed alongside one another.
Our relationship with beauty is also, often deeper than it might seem on the surface. How much of your everyday beauty look is influenced by the women you grew up idolizing? How much of your technique has been learned by hours of poring over magazines and music videos? Aaliyah touched a generation of young people at the height of her career and is still influencing the way we look today. While the M.A.C. x Aaliyah collection may raise questions for some, I can think of no better celebrity deserving of her own beauty line.