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Agent Carter and Bésame Cosmetics, or How to Win at Licensing

Agent Peggy Carter

I consider myself something of a merchandise snob. As someone who is allergic to t-shirt sleeves and is extremely picky about her home decor, merchandise has to make sense for me to pick it up, both as a decision for myself and as a licensing opportunity.

(No one has gotten back to me about my great Silicon Valley stationery idea, which is rude, even if I didn’t actually send it off to anyone. Rude!)

And this extends to cosmetics. Licensed cosmetic collections are on the rise, from OPI’s movie collections to ColourPop’s recent Disney palette, but these collections often feel a little disconnected from their source material.

The same cannot be said for Bésame Cosmetics. When I found out founder Gabriela Hernandez would be discussing her brand’s relationship with Marvel and Peggy Carter at New York Comic-Con, I moved heaven and earth to be there. (No small feat, given the disproportionate amount of people compared to elevators in the Javits Center.)

The panel, hosted by the effervescent Peggy Pincurls, featured Hernandez, Bésame Cosmetics’ Nick Hernandez, former Marvel employee Cynthia Foley, and comic book historian Jessica Tseang, shed some fascinating light into the relationship between Bésame Cosmetics and Marvel that resulted in the 1946 Agent Carter collection.

It really began quite organically. Hernandez is widely recognized as an authority on period makeup, and her book, Classic Beauty (available at Bésame Cosmetics’ website, wink wink), is in constant use as a resource for makeup artists working on period film and television. And given the fact that Bésame Cosmetics’ only brick-and-mortar shop is in Burbank (and hosts its own cosmetic museum, which is just too cool), it makes total sense that the production department for Agent Carter asked Hernandez for a period-appropriate lipstick and waltzed out with a tube of Red Velvet.

What really kicked things off, according to Hernandez, was Captain America and Agent Carter actress Hayley Atwell tweeting out Peggy’s lip color. Already popular in the pin-up community, Bésame’s dedication to historical accuracy and reproductions of vintage lipsticks (but, y’know, without all the toxic chemicals of the time period) were exposed to a whole new audience: geeks like us. And when geeks like us get involved, a market develops.

It’s a market that Hernandez and Cynthia Foley, then senior manager of licensing at Marvel Enterprises, Inc., knew they could serve. I really want to highlight Foley’s contributions to this process. As she discussed at the panel, licensing tends to focus on characters like Cap, Tony, Thor, and Spider-Man; definitely not a character who no longer had a “live” property attached like Peggy Carter. Foley really went to bat for both the idea of licensing a Peggy Carter product but also the idea of it being a makeup collection that involved, essentially, an alternate reality game.

You see, the 1946 Peggy Carter collection puts you in Peggy’s position. For the many fans who draw strength and encouragement from Peggy as a femme fighting against the patriarchy as a mid-century superspy, that was a major sell, and the decoder included in the compact allowed fans to solve a puzzle ultimately resulting in a secret message from Howard Stark himself.

It’s that element that sets both this collection and Bésame Cosmetics apart, because it tells a story. Which, essentially, is what makeup does generally and what Hernandez strives to do with Bésame Cosmetics specifically. It’s what the best licensing, the kind Foley characterizes as “lightning in a bottle,” should do: connecting you to that character (or film; Bésame Cosmetics also put out a 1937 Snow White collection) in a real and organic way.

When asked if there was any other character she’d like to design a collection around, Hernandez immediately answered “Tiana,” given the character’s setting and beautiful style. I, for one, hope Hernandez has a chance to stun us with a Tiana collection the same way she’s stunned us with the Peggy Carter collection.

(Agent Carter Collection at Bésame; The Besame Red Velvet lipstick is also available at Sephora; images: Marvel/Bésame)

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