The Story Behind the Rise and Rise of KIKO Milano
When it comes to cult makeup, Italian brand KIKO Milano is now up there with the most successful. Boasting a team behind the scenes who have their fingers firmly on the pulse, it’s always one step ahead in the makeup game with products that, according to their sales, never fail to hit the mark.
But what is the story behind KIKO Milano? How did it go from having one stand-alone store to now being the number 1 makeup brand in Italy? And who else can say there is a Tik Tok voiceover dedicated to them saying “run to KIKO, don’t walk”?
I recently spoke to KIKO’s managing director for North America, Shelagh Wong. Not only does she champion this affordable, game-changing makeup and skincare brand. She also offers tips on how to choose quality products, why social media can be a positive place for cosmetic lovers (and creators), and what’s next for makeup.
From Milan to the world
It’s 1997 and Stefano Percassi, with the support of his father Antonio Percassi, launches KIKO Milano in a small store in Milan. “Stefano’s primary drive was to offer people all the possibility to express who they were,” Shelagh explained. “The brand’s first tagline was “Be What You Want”, which is still at the core of our pursuit of offering the possibilities of personal expression.”
Stefano used the fashion world as an inspiration for the brand going forward, meaning they would launch limited edition exclusives but still have a core, baseline collection that was ongoing too. “This concept was in its time revolutionary and even now, we launch up to seven limited edition collections per year,” said Shelagh.
Another important aim for the brand was to make it affordable. “Making sure we offered high quality products at highly competitive prices became a staple of who we are,” she said.
So how long did it take for Stefano to notice he was doing something right? “The brand really accelerated after the turn of the millennium,” said Shelagh. “We’ve gone from one stand in a store to over 1,046 full standalone stores in 63 countries around the world.”
This is amazing when you think they’d only launched three years prior. But I wanted to dig deeper into what the pivotal moment was when the team noticed KIKO was becoming a cult makeup brand. Was it a particular product selling out or something else that made everyone sit up and realise they were onto a good thing?
Run, don’t walk
“Between 2015-2016, the tell-tale signs of this success was when customers across Italy would literally run to the stores before a limited edition would sell out,” Shelagh explained. “And “Run to KIKO, don’t walk” has become a typical Tik Tok voiceover for many customer videos when we do product launches that capture their imagination or many times when we restock a favourite!”
It’s no surprise then that KIKO Milano has been on the rise ever since and still carries that momentum for customers, old and new. The brand is having a huge surge in popularity at the moment which Shelagh says is probably down to “a mix of wider global recognition of our quality and affordability, impressive growth across social media, extending our already impressive assortment with near 1000 products instore and building our skin care category with top notch products.” Because when you’re the number 1 makeup brand in Italy, why wouldn’t you launch a skincare line too?!
It takes a village to create such a success but Shelagh says a lot of it is down to the impeccable taste of the team behind the scenes. “KIKO Milano is Italian to its core,” she said. “Good taste is part of the Italian DNA coupled with a willingness to venture into new territory because they believe in beauty, art and joy as a lifestyle. It’s really something to see that come to life, not once or twice a year, but every single new launch.”
Cost of living
In the current cost of living crisis, one of the most important things when shopping for our makeup products is that they work for their money. “Buying a product that has high quality is important because your makeup will actually last longer and re-applying is less necessary,” Shelagh explained.
So, what advice would she give on shopping for high quality makeup that’s also affordable? Because the two don’t often come hand in hand.
Shelagh explained it all comes down to experimentation. “Try a variety of different textures and formulas in each category and go from there, because everyone has their own preference for what makes them feel the most confident.”
And don’t be fooled by pretty packaging. “It can be more or less attractive and creative, but testing the products themselves on your own skin will always be the ultimate test,” she said. “If the product feels easy to use and has a texture that you like, then it’s likely to be a winner!” So, experiment, experiment, experiment! After all, we often see videos online of even the experts testing products out live on camera, so why not take Shelagh’s advice and become your very own influencer?
The power of publicity
And while we’re on the subject of social media, I wanted to hear her take on how it impacts the world of beauty, particularly makeup, both from a brand’s point of view and that of the consumer. “It’s a key sales driver for us, with both Instagram and Tik Tok being very powerful tools,” she explained.
In 2023 alone, #kikomilano on Tik Tok has gone from 300 million views to 1.4 billion. The local Kiko Instagram accounts now collectively have nearly 8 million followers, whilst the global account has 5.8 million. “[Social media] allows people to see different possibilities of expression and it also provides important product usage education both from us and from the customers who post their experiences,” Shelagh said.
“Social media seems to play an informative role and provides valuable tutorial information on application, so I believe it’s a category where it is positive,” she added. So, not only can social media be useful for consumers to learn about new launches, see how they look on application and how to use them, it can also be a way for brands to learn what’s working for their customers and what isn’t.
Finally, I asked Shelagh what was coming up next for makeup. “90s makeup is making a comeback, as are more luxurious makeup looks,” she said. “The near nude look that was a huge trend a few years back is taking a breather right now. But in beauty, trends are usually seasonal or temporary.” And it would appear that KIKO never stops!