Like a true Angeleno, Smashbox Studios is having some work done. Last year, the iconic 25,000-square-foot Los Angeles studio partnered with Industrial Color, and this year it reopens after a serious face-lift. A $7 million face-lift, to be exact—one that caters to YouTube and social media stars, care of the new “Made at Smashbox” program. The new initiative, started in tandem with Collective Digital Studio (a multiplatform entertainment company), opens the studio’s famed doors to “digital celebrities” free of charge and offers them full access to high-tech equipment, production crews, and customizable green screens. The company is referring to the merging of fashion and Hollywood’s elite with the YouTube generation as a “creative sandbox,” in which anyone with a big enough following can play. In addition to offering workshops with top photographers and directors, Smashbox will custom-blend 100 lip glosses for these social media celebs to share with their fans. (Sure beats filming in your bedroom or dimly lit bathroom.)
It’s safe to say that things have changed since brothers Dean and Davis Factor founded Smashbox in 1990 as a destination photo studio that built off of Davis’ expertise as a photographer. In 1996, the duo launched Smashbox Cosmetics, which carried on their family lineage as the great-grandsons of legendary makeup master Max Factor. Widely known as the man who invented makeup, Max Factor’s early innovations were driven by his work as a Hollywood makeup artist, as he had firsthand knowledge of the shortcomings of many cosmetics when used on camera and under lights. With Smashbox, the Factor brothers have taken a similar approach—formulating professional-quality products that are informed by the wants and needs of the artists, photographers, and models they work with in the studio. And the new focus on organically bridging the gap between traditional entertainment circles and the rapidly expanding social media realm increases the cosmetic company’s outreach to the selfie-obsessed public. Smart. We caught up with Davis Factor at his Los Angeles home to talk about how Smashbox continues to innovate and renovate.
Smashbox turns 25 this year. Was the reopening planned as part of the 25th anniversary?
No, it was just synchronicity. The relaunch of the studio wasn’t timed for our 25th anniversary—it just happened—but we are going to do something later in the year.
What kind of renovations went into this upgrade?
We gutted it. We upgraded every aspect. We brought the studio into the 21st century with updated technology, furniture, experiences…We changed the whole facade and blew out the interior to create an open feeling, like a loft. All the electronics were updated—now you can order an espresso from an iPad—as well as all of the lighting. The hair and makeup rooms have really amazing new lighting, and the makeup artist gets to change the temperature of the lights. Now we have lights coming from the top, because before the makeup would be lit up from the front but the rest of the head would be dark and the hairstylist would be spinning people around and could never get a grip on the best way to do it.
We worked with many makeup artists and stylists and they guided us. We got in those rooms and really went through everything, from the way you put the curling irons on the table to LED lights that don’t get hot so they won’t melt the makeup.
When it comes to innovation at Smashbox, which comes first—the studio or the makeup?
The studio drives the cosmetics, and the cosmetics are an amazing complement to the studio. I shoot there. Lori [Taylor-Davis, global pro lead artist] shoots there, we do makeup there, and we’re still coming up with things on our shoots to make them better and look prettier. I tried to lighten makeup up. That’s why women loved it, because it was so light to wear, and at the time there was a lot of heavy makeup and makeup that dried your face out. That’s how Smashbox translates to the consumer, because it feels good.
As you continue to evolve, where do you want to take Smashbox?
We went from photo studio to beauty agency that represented hair, makeup, and stylists to cosmetics company that has grown into an international powerhouse. Now I’m looking to expand the studio business into different countries. I would like to have studios in different parts of the world and freestanding stores popping up all over the place. The freestanding stores are already happening, mostly in Europe and the Middle East. Innovation will never end and new products will never stop.
Max Factor was also known as the first person to use celebrities as models in advertisements. You guys have collabed with a lot of artists, but why doesn’t Smashbox have a celebrity spokesperson?
With a company our size, we can’t afford to spend millions of dollars on an endorsement deal with a celebrity. We have to be more creative with our money, and it gives us a step up on ideas that are out of the box, like working with Donald Robertson at Art Basel. We are able to maximize our dollars by reaching people in a different way. I always say, what is one of the things in Hollywood that celebrities have in common? It’s Smashbox. They’ve all been shot in the studio before, so they already know about it. There’s a battle for sponsorship, and I don’t want to fight for sponsorship because our makeup stands on its own without celebrity endorsement. So L’Oréal or whoever can buy the sponsorship for the Oscars—we could never afford that. But we really are the studio that’s here in L.A., that is doing the makeup, with our artists, on these people.
What are some of the out-of-the-box collaborations that you have on the horizon?
This summer, we are introducing five matte lipsticks and six gel liners. It’s the most amazing technology—it’s rubbery and once it’s on, it’s on. Donald Robertson partnered with us for Sephora and created sleeves for these products, and he sets them up like a mini art show. For holiday, we’re working with this incredible artist Yago Hortal, and he collaborated with us to create a brush kit and all of these palettes. For us, these types of collaborations are more impactful and interesting than just partnering with a celebrity.
Next week, we’re shooting Nicky Hilton, who is one of my great, oldest friends. I love Nicky so much and I just wanted to do something with her. She loves the cat-eye—she thinks she’s a cat. She’s a jet-setter and spends her time in L.A., New York, and London, and we created three different looks and three different cat-eyes based around these cities—London being trendier, L.A. being natural, and New York being a little more classic. We’ve always had this mutual respect for each other because we’re in the industry, and she’s so freaking smart.
You come from a family with a huge legacy in cosmetics and Hollywood. What place does Smashbox hold in Los Angeles?
We are the premier studio in L.A. We’re the most famous studio in L.A.—even when we were closed, we were the most famous studio in L.A.! We are the leading cosmetics brand in Los Angeles that was born here, from a legacy of the family that invented makeup. We’re changing technology because of what we see on TV and what we see in photographs, because we want you to be ready for your close-up, as cheesy as that sounds.
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