How Beauty Products Get Picked for Your Favorite TV and Movie Characters

Mark A. Carlson

There. I press the pause button on my remote and approach my television to get a closer look at a conspicuous cornflower-blue bottle on the corner of the screen. I am watching Succession, and said bottle is perched on the bathroom countertop of Kendall Roy, the contentious billionaire fighting for control of his family’s media company in between lavish parties and private-jet excursions. 

A closer inspection confirmed my suspicions: the bottle was that of Augustinus Bader face cream. The brand, which debuted 2018, grew mostly through word of mouth among elite crowds. At $265 a bottle, it’s in the same price range as Crème de La Mer — but as TikTok creator Charles Gross mused in a recent video, while La Mer screams luxury to many, a bottle of Augustinus Bader cream whispers it to those in-the-know.

The bottle was on the screen for all of five seconds, but in that time, I learned a million things about Kendall: that wants the best, values exclusively, and might even be a little bit vain. (And if you watch Succession, you know that tracks.) The choice to place that cream on his bathroom counter was too perfect to have merely been a coincidence.

It is, in fact, never a coincidence when a character plucks, say, a Dior lipstick from their vanity instead of a Wet n Wild one. It’s the job of set decorators (if the item lives within the set, like inside a bathroom cabinet) and prop stylists (if it’s physically handled by the actor) to select beauty products that help further character development.

“It’s all very deliberate and very considered,” says Lydia Marks, a set decorator who has worked on films like The Devil Wears Prada. She considers factors like time period (if a movie takes place in the ’90s, Glossier products would be a big no-no), availability to the character (someone living in a rural town might not have access to lines sold only at department stores), and how the packaging jibes with the rest of the set.

Continuity is also key, says Joanna Leavens, assistant prop master for And Just Like That…. “If an actor is actually putting on the makeup [in the scene], we in the prop department would consult the makeup department and actually get the makeup that they used [on them],” Leavens says. (And by the way, if a character is carrying a handbag, that handbag is actually full of stuff the actor is at liberty to pull out and use at any given moment, says Leavens — so pre-packing the same shade of lip gloss they’re wearing is key.)

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