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When the door opens into an immaculate, white SoHo studio, I first notice the throw pillows. Each of them is printed with the same logo: Haus Laboratories. Lady Gaga -- and her team -- know how to set a scene.
It's a chilly, early fall morning and I've been invited to an exclusive demo of Mother Monster's new beauty line conducted by Sarah Tanno, her makeup artist and Haus Labs collaborator. As we sip cold brew (through metal straws, of course) and munch on fruit, Tanno explains how she and Gaga sought to translate some of pop culture's most eye-catching makeup looks into a line that could serve every beauty need, from natural glam to a full pop star beat.
"The last thing the world needs is another beauty brand," Gaga intoned in the Haus Labs teaser video, which Tanno plays for us. "But that's too bad." What sets Gaga's line apart from others is, Tanno insists, the pop star's obsessive input and dedication to creating perfect products she'd not only wear herself, but could apply herself (Gaga, the makeup artist reveals, technically can do her own face, she just can't be arsed). And of course, she wanted Haus Labs to be empowering -- this is after all the woman who wrote "Born This Way."
Rather than looking at other brands to decide what not to do, Gaga and Tanno focused on what they wanted their brand to be. "[Gaga] wanted it to be for everybody," says Tanno. "Not that we want you to wear a full face of makeup, or that we want you to look like her, but that we want you to look in the mirror and love yourself."
Part of that meant innovation, but it also meant high quality products. "I like nice makeup. I'm quite spoiled as a makeup artist," Tanno admits. The challenge was to create luxury products at a "much more consumer-friendly price, so more of the masses can have it." The result: a partnership with Amazon, something Gaga's fan base has been critical of considering their well-documented poor labor practices. But collaborating with Amazon "was really the best way to get it into everybody's hands," insists Tanno, who continually refers to Haus Labs as a "startup," which is technically true, despite it being created by one of the world's biggest pop stars and distributed by a multi-billion dollar company. Well, someone has to pay for the custom throw pillows.
Problematic partnerships aside, Gaga was adamant about casting a diverse group of models, including the androgynous Dupont twins and nonbinary model Fish Fiorucci, as the faces of her brand. "She was heavily involved in the casting of every single one of those people," Tanno says, adding that the pop star greeted each model with flowers and "told them how special they were. Every single one of those models told me it was the most special job that they've ever been on in their entire life, in tears, because how welcome they felt and how special it felt to be part of something like that. So that was not just a cast. That was part of our family through this incredible experience, bringing our brand to life."
When it comes to the product itself, Gaga's influence is obvious: richly pigmented Rip lip liners, high-shine Le Riot glosses, and blindingly metallic Glam Attack liquid shadows, which dry down to a powder finish. Every color and every finish are evocative of looks the artist has worn in her live performances and music videos throughout the years, all with a trademark punk edge. And, as I find out, the initial launch comes with a few surprises: an eye stencil designed with Phyllis Cohen, who created Gaga's Super Bowl crystal eye look; cat-eye stencils for those less than confident in their lining abilities, and an ultra-black liquid "eye-lie-ner." Tanno gives demos each product on a model, and when she's done I'm the first to grab the products and start applying them -- I may have pushed a girl in very cute mules out of my way.
The lip liner (in Ride) is remarkably pigmented, and Tanno notes that Gaga usually applies it to her entire lip, so I obviously do the same. Over it, Tanno swipes the lip gloss in Blaze, creating a gorgeously opaque, rose-toned nude that stays on all day -- though it did make for a messy run-in with a burrito. I apply Glam Attack in Aphrodite, the most subtle of the shades, to my eyes. This isn't Glossier's lidstar, this is a liquid eyeshadow that you can actually see. Tanno spreads the same shade onto the back of her hand, manipulating it into powder form and applying it to my cheekbones as a highlighter.
I take a few selfies, loving how the products work on my bare skin -- it's hard to pull off a full lip and glittery eye with no base, but Haus Labs have just the right combination of subtle wearability and va va voom. For the rest of the day, I feel remarkably pretty -- and especially grateful I don't have to order my own set from Amazon.