The beauty world — and the world at large — has changed considerably since MAC Cosmetics launched in 1984. Yet, over the past four decades, the pioneering makeup brand has managed to remain true to its core tenets.

“When you think about what MAC was founded on — sustainability, diversity, inclusion, artistry, giving back to the community — those things are as relevant today, if not more so, than they were when the brand was founded,” said André Branch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of MAC North America. “Being around for 40 years is no small feat; there are not many brands that can make that claim. And today, we’re not just surviving, we’re also driving. We’re still the number one prestige makeup brand, and we still have some of the best performance products in the marketplace. It’s been an incredible ride, and we’re committed to making the next 40 years just as remarkable as the first 40.”

MAC’s Storied Past

MAC Cosmetics was first conceived in Toronto in 1984 by Frank Toskan and the late Frank Angelo as a collection of products for professional makeup artists. The brand’s commitment to artists later deepened as MAC also grew to become an influential incubator for emerging talent and helped launch some of today’s biggest names, including Mario Dedivanovic, Patrick Starrr, Patrick Ta, and Charlotte Tilbury.

That popularity with makeup artists eventually enabled MAC to become a backstage mainstay at New York Fashion Week when The Estee Lauder Cos. completed its acquisition of the brand in 1998 and poured considerable resources into the company.

The late ‘90s is “when we really started to scale and take MAC across the world, ultimately reaching 105 territories and countries with over 2,000 doors worldwide,” said Branch.

A Charitable History 

No retrospective on MAC is complete, of course, without mentioning the brand’s charitable MAC Viva Glam Lipstick campaign. Created in 1994 at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, MAC Viva Glam launched with the “Who is the MAC Girl” campaign, introducing RuPaul as the first spokesperson for the MAC AIDS Fund — long before drag was mainstream. “Culturally, it was the lipstick bullet heard around the world,” Branch said. “It was really shocking.”

MAC Cosmetics Viva Glam Lipstick archive campaign sketch

With the introduction of Viva Glam, MAC also became the first brand to donate the entire purchase price (not just the profits) of a makeup product to charity. Since 1994, MAC Viva Glam has raised over $520 million. In addition to its existing shades — Viva Heart, an intense brownish blue-red shade; Viva Planet, a creamy pinkish-beige mauve; and Viva Glam III, a muted brownish-plum — MAC recently introduced Viva Equality, a deep neutral. In late May, MAC also named a new brand ambassador and face of Viva Glam: German musician Kim Petras.

MAC Viva Glam in Vuva Equality
MAC Viva Glam Lipstick in Viva Equality

“When we launched Viva Glam, MAC founders were very aware of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and wanted to help,” Branch said. “We haven’t changed in our commitment to that cause. But the world has changed drastically over the last three decades. So, while we’re proud to celebrate 30 years of Viva Glam, we want to address the needs of consumers today too and have broadened our charitable scope. Our expanded mission now drives equality for everyone, while continuing our long-standing support for people impacted with HIV/AIDS.”

MAC is now focused on four key pillars: supporting sexual equality, empowering gender equality, championing racial equality, and promoting environmental equality. Additionally, MAC is introducing two new Viva Glam grantees: The Trevor Project, which aims to end LGBTQ youth suicide by providing trans youth education programs, crisis prevention, and advocacy initiatives, will receive a $250,000 grant. And It Gets Better, which offers hope, support, and encouragement to individuals struggling with identity or facing challenges due to sexual orientation or gender identity, will receive a $100,000 grant.

A Covetable Collection

Of course, much of MAC’s continued success is also due to the brand’s innovative products. “When you think about the next exciting makeup trends and high-performance products, what’s great about MAC is that we’ve got artists out there across the world that keep a finger on the pulse of everything, so we know what’s happening as it’s happening,” Branch said. “We’ve got folks in art, fashion, entertainment, and media — these are the people setting trends.”

The success of that real-time pipeline has been evident in MAC’s steady stream of hit products, including Ruby Woo lipstick, which launched in 1999 and has remained a fan favorite (four tubes sell every minute across the globe). “As a universal red, it has these blue undertones that really pop on many different skin complexions,” Branch said.

Branch also points to the MAC Studio Radiance Serum-Powered Foundation that launched at the end of last year and has become a top-selling foundation product in both dollars and units. “It’s one of the most incredible foundations because it’s got everything consumers are seeking today: skincare, buildable coverage, dewy skin, shade range,” said Branch.

“Everything we do starts with the consumer; we keep a pulse on who they are, what’s changing, what needs they have,” Branch said. “We’ve got a very, very loyal consumer base that has helped us get to where we are, and they continue to show us love. As our consumers evolve and new generations have been introduced, it’s important that MAC also evolves to remain relevant. To resonate and stay competitive, you’ve got to tap into those insights.”

In addition to innovating with a slew of new products, MAC has continued to update existing bestsellers too.  “Following our latest breakthrough successes, we just remastered two of our heroes, MACximal Silky Matte Lipstick and Studio Fix Fluid Foundation, both with improved formulas,” Branch said. “And they’re now outselling the prior volume. You’ll also see more reinvention of icons coming soon. We’re never done innovating.”

A Bright Future 

MAC will mark its 40th anniversary with a series of limited-collection drops. “We’re going to excite MAC fans, young and old, with specialty bring-backs and new limited editions that are dropping throughout the year,” Branch said. A few examples: the recently-released MAC 40 Disney Favorites, including the popular Maleficent Mineralize Eye Shadow Duo.

Being digitally savvy, building a presence on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, investing in influencer partnerships, and launching a virtual try-on have all also helped keep MAC at the top of the heap. “You’ve got to be on the platforms where people are talking,” Branch said.

To propel MAC into the future, the brand is now working on enhancing the customer’s shopping experience. “At retail, we’re reimagining the future of shopping for makeup,” Branch said. “We’re leading the transformation of beauty retail with a new and unique retail concept that is going to combine the physical and digital worlds to offer a one-of-a-kind shopping experience you can only get at MAC. There will be a new store design that inspires consumers to express their creativity and co-create their styles with custom printing customization of palettes and AR powered virtual try-on. We’re early in the rollout of this but seeing promising results.”

All of these feats, Branch asserts, make MAC more than just a makeup brand. “MAC really is part of the culture; it has a voice,” Branch said. “It drives what happens in communities. It inspires people. MAC wrote the book on collaborative collections, and the brand has an incredible legacy of collections across the world of art, fashion, music, and pop culture. MAC is larger than trends; it’s larger than makeup. It’s about making people feel confident in who they are who they are, regardless of age, race, or gender.”