Behind the Scenes at Smashbox

At the L.A.-based brand’s newly revamped photo studios, makeup launches are tested till camera-perfect

A space in the revamped Smashbox Studios

A space in the revamped Smashbox Studios

Long before beauty vloggers and Insta-obsessives get their hands on a Smashbox lipstick, it must survive the scrutiny of the brand’s own close-up lenses. “We’ve always been about the camera. We don’t create a product unless we have a need for it in the Studios,” says Lori Taylor, the company’s exuberant global pro lead artist.

She means Smashbox Studios, L.A.’s storied backdrop for celebrity shoots since 1990 (Demi Moore’s bared-belly cover for Vanity Fair was snapped there). The space was co-founded by star photographer Davis Factor, great-grandson of Hollywood makeup legend Max Factor, and is where Smashbox Cosmetics began as an offshoot in ’96—making it the only beauty brand born in a photo studio.

The space is still Smashbox’s real-life product testing lab, and early this year, it revealed a multi-million-dollar overhaul, reopening as a sleek 25,000-square-foot facility. And through a first-of-its-kind program called Made at Smashbox, announced in March, social media stars and other digital influencers can now apply to get free studio access for shooting their fashion, beauty or lifestyle content.

Smashbox Founder Davis Factor with editor Wing Sze Tang

Smashbox Founder Davis Factor with editor Wing Sze Tang

Among the studio’s high-tech upgrades: perfecting the lighting in the makeup rooms to match the lighting being used on-set. It seems like an obvious feature, but according to Taylor, it’s rare. “Normally, in other studios, lighting in the makeup room isn’t great,” she says, “so you would have to put the makeup on and do a couple test shots, then tweak the look a bit more.”

The studio’s artists weigh in on product development even at the brainstorming stage, when they’re trying to pinpoint trends or on-set needs. “It’s almost like when mom and dad think about having a baby, that’s kind of where it starts,” says Taylor. Then she’ll begin dabbling with samples one or two years before the consumer sees the launch, giving feedback to fine-tune the formula.

Smashbox Global pro lead artist Lori Taylor

Smashbox Global pro lead artist Lori Taylor

For the recent making of a contouring stick, the shade for deeper complexions wasn’t quite right, so Taylor got into the mix with the chemists. “We test it until we get it right, and if we can’t get it right we don’t launch it.” Prototypes will also go to a select number of top Smashbox-trained beauty advisors and field staff for feedback. “They’re the people using the product in a store environment, selling it to everyday women.” An invention is a winner when it works on models and non-models alike.

As any photographer knows, it’s always all about the lighting, and a quintessential Smashbox product is designed to conjure that perfect glow, both on and off camera. The new-for-spring cream cheek chubby, L.A. Lights, for instance, melts into skin to give that softly diffused “lit from within moment,” says Taylor. The effect is akin to being outside in that brief window when the sun is just about to rise or set—warm, golden and gorgeous. “It’s almost like the magic hour.”


New For Spring

Smashbox x Flare x  Donald Robertson be legendary lipstick in Canadian flare, $23

Smashbox x Flare x Donald Robertson be legendary lipstick in Canadian flare, $23


Coming to select Sephoras in Canada on May 21: this lipstick collaboration between Smashbox, our sister magazine FLARE and illustrator extraordinaire Donald Robertson (Instagram-famous as @drawbertson). Originally, FLARE’s plan was to match the exact Pantone colour of the Canadian flag, but global pro lead artist Lori Taylor knew better. “The original hue contains more orange, which can be hard to wear,” she explains. “We’ll add a bit more blue for a true primary red that will suit all.” Robertson himself will be in Toronto on June 4, 2015 at Sephora Eaton Centre (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) to launch the limited-edition shade, dubbed “Canadian Flare.


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Cosmetics magazine. For more, download our iPad edition.