The poetic justice of Amanda Gorman’s Estée Lauder contract


There was a moment, starting January 20, 2021, as 23-year-old poet Amanda Gorman stood on the Capitol steps in her sunny yellow coat, reading her work “The Hill We Climb” during the inauguration. of President Biden, when the viewing country seemed to be entering a collective swoon.

Courtesy and offers rain down soon after: Could she be the face of this product? The spokesperson for that one? Was she going to marry her image and her notoriety to a big brand?

Barely a month later she said Vogue for a cover in May, she had turned down around $ 17 million in various promotional opportunities.

This week, however, she finally pledged her faith. And the winner is… Estée Lauder.

While to be fair the winner is also Ms Gorman, who signed what could be one of the most multidimensional performance deals in beauty history. As well as a host of unexpected beneficiaries.

Here’s what that implies: Ms. Gorman will become the first Estée Lauder “Global Changemaker” – as opposed to, say, spokesperson or ambassador or “face,” although she is also all of the above.

This is not just a semantic change, but one that reflects a different balance of power in today’s consumer reality, in which the influence of real people may outweigh the purely transactional nature of the celebrity model relationship. , and where the substance is particularly prized, as for-profit companies feel pressured to prove that they represent something more than just – well, profit.

For at least the next three years, she will represent Estée Lauder’s flagship brand in advertising campaigns and conferences, as will, say, Liz Hurley (Global Ambassador for The Estée Lauder Companies Breast Cancer Campaign) and Carolyn Murphy ( an Estée Lauder brand, global brand ambassador). But she will also work with the enterprise-level enterprise to create Writing Change, a grant package worth $ 3 million to promote literacy among girls and women – and with it access. equity and social change. The first recipients will be announced later this year. If all goes well, the relationship could be renewed over and over again. (Estée Lauder declined to say how much he pays Ms. Gorman, although her salary is in addition to the philanthropic investment.)

Even within the spectrum of current brand and celebrity relationships, even after the announcement of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s joint partnership with Tiffany, with her $ 2 million to historically black colleges and universities, it’s a big deal. problem. In every sense of the term.

Along with Ms Gorman’s decision to co-host the Met Gala on September 13 (she won’t reveal what she’s wearing – “even my mom doesn’t know,” she said) and her books , “Call Us What We Carry,” a collection of poetry due out in December, and “Change Sings” for kids, released later this month, the Lauder Accord is a new milestone in its public profile. in which she uses the levers of power she has acquired, “the space I occupy now,” she said, to advance an agenda she has designed for the long term.

“From the moment I stepped off the podium and looked at my phone, I could smell it,” Ms. Gorman said. (Although she was not exactly anonymous before – she had been the first National Youth Poet Laureate – her public profile was relatively specialized.) “Back then, it was like a tsunami. It was a lot to take in: realizing that what I had done had changed my life. I am still processing it.

The question was: how would she use the projector that had been pointed at her? Because she knew she was going to use it – although she didn’t say it that way, exactly. What she said was, “All forms of light come with some form of shadow, and that doesn’t mean you don’t want to walk in the sun.”

However, a product approval, no matter how historic, is not without risk. For a poet who considers her art as the spearhead of social change and who has publicly declared it want to be president taking on what to many will appear to be a brand ambassador is potentially tainting the purity of your own brand with a whiff of commercialism. As Mrs. Gorman knew.

“I never lend my body or my face,” Ms. Gorman said. “They get my mind, my breath, my brain.” But, she said, “rather than letting the world tell me what to do” – or not to do – “I realized that now was the time for me to tell the world what to do. he should do. And arming a big brand with a big platform for its own purposes was an effective way to do it.

She (and her close-knit team of agents and managers: literary, oral, model) approached every offering with the same standard: could it be used to achieve Ms.Gorman’s stated goal of advancing literacy, l equity and access? According to Steven Malk, a senior literary agent at Writer’s House who has worked with Ms. Gorman for the past three years, she was “determined to show this on a large scale.”

Enter Estée Lauder. According to Jane Hertzmark Hudis, president of the executive group of Estée Lauder companies, she called Ms Gorman’s agent as soon as the poet left the stage, and they spoke for the first time within an hour of her appearance.

“I felt as engaged and passionate about building a partnership as I have been about anything,” Ms. Hudis said – and she’s been with the group for 35 years. “We basically came to them with a blank page because we knew we could do something that had never been done before. “

Ms Gorman said she liked the idea of ​​working with a brand founded by a woman (Lauder is celebrating her 75th birthday this year). Not to mention a group in which 84% of employees are women, according to the company, and which has a long history of women-centered philanthropy in health, education and sales in 150 countries. .

(While Lauder has made significant strides in gender equity in her workforce, like many companies in the beauty and fashion world, she needs to go further when it comes to racial equity. Currently, of the 16 members of the board of directors, only one is black; of the 15-person management team, two are black.)

Additionally, Ms. Gorman said, “It’s no secret that one of the ways I communicate with the world is fashion and beauty. When you grow up with a speech impediment, one of the things you learn early on is that people will relate to you through your appearance as well. And while this is often portrayed as a negative, in fact, Ms. Gorman said, she sees it as a powerful tool.

Indeed, Ms. Gorman has always been aware of the power of fashion and its use as a means of influence. In 2019, during her first year abroad in Italy, she attended a Prada show and wrote an ode to the experience entitled “Prada of a poet“; the previous year, she had been part of a Helmut Lang campaign titled “Smart People Wear Helmut Lang”.

Relations continued, with her speaking to a Prada sustainability conference and wearing this Prada coat to recite his inaugural poem. On her Instagram, who now has 3.7 million followers, she interweaves photos of her work and causes with her photo shoots.

Still, the Lauder Accord took a long time to come to an end. “It was like two people were dating,” Ms. Hudis said.

Now Ms. Gorman joins a relatively short list of official Lauder Global Brand ambassadors: just 32 in the nearly 60 years since Phyllis Connors debuted in the role, of which only five have been black. Presenting a brand as a way to promote literacy is a way to change “the way we conceptualize beauty and conceptualize power,” said Ms Gorman (also, perhaps, the cliché of the hungry poet). “Not just in terms of what’s expected, but in terms of what’s possible.”

After all, she said, “I think about what it would mean for me at 5 to see a dark-skinned woman with a speech impediment as a spokesperson for a beauty brand. “


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