Smashbox Founder Davis Factor On The One Product Everyone Needs To Be Camera Ready

By Ashleigh Cometti
It's been more than three decades since Davis and Dean Factor launched Smashbox Cosmetics, but this one product remains a best-seller. Photo / Supplied

Leave it to a celebrity and fashion photographer to know how to make makeup translate on screen (and in real-life).

It’s the insurance policy of the makeup world.

This invisible step can sometimes mean the difference between foundation that stays all day, or makeup that melts down when humidity hits

It won’t lend colour to eyes, lips or cheeks, but it will lay a smooth foundation for base makeup, blur imperfections and fill in lines and wrinkles.

I’m talking, of course, about makeup primer.

In 1996, after becoming increasingly frustrated with makeup looks translating poorly on camera while shooting at his Los Angeles-based studio, celebrity and fashion photographer Davis Factor found his niche — a product that could help makeup withstand glaring studio lights.

Despite working with the world’s top makeup artists at the time, Davis says: “Most the complaints I heard on set were that things weren’t moving fast enough, because we were always breaking to fix makeup or add powder.”

“So, I sought out to develop something to make the photo shoots smoother and move faster.”

The concept was simple: a product to use before you start your makeup routine, which could help makeup look better and last longer.

Together, with his brother Dean, Smashbox Cosmetics became the first beauty brand to invent primer.

The now-iconic Smashbox Cosmetics Original Photo Finish Foundation Primer, $79, remains a best-seller today, a product Davis says bridges the gap between the artist and the consumer.

“It had to be easy to apply in a professional sense, but also for the consumer to use. It’s the product that works for everybody,” he explains.

Think of primer like a beauty bag problem solver, an all-rounder of sorts, with solutions to suit skin that’s prone to acne, rosacea, enlarged pores or oiliness.

“We’ve created all different types of primers to not only fix things, but to improve the ease of makeup application,” Davis says, adding Smashbox Cosmetics now has seven different products in its primer stable.

More than this, each formula highlights a blend of skin-caring ingredients, meaning it serves double duty in makeup routines.

“It makes your makeup last that little bit longer, but it’s also not messing with your skin. We’ve always wanted to be skin friendly,” Davis says.

“With technology as developed as it is now, we can use active ingredients in our makeup formulas. We’re committed to creating makeup products that’s as good for you as much as we possibly can, and we’ll work on products that do multiple things forever.”

Smashbox Cosmetics founder Davis Factor has spent more than 30 years in the fashion and beauty scene. Photo / Supplied
Smashbox Cosmetics founder Davis Factor has spent more than 30 years in the fashion and beauty scene. Photo / Supplied

With his roots in photography, Davis says he and Dean never set out to wind up in cosmetics.

Which is funny, really, considering they’re the great-grandsons of iconic makeup artist Max Factor, who pioneered makeup in the early days of cinema.

“I’m a photographer, Dean’s in business. My brother had the foresight to structure the business properly, whereas I just started inventing things. At the time, it was easy to do it because much of the stuff we were creating didn’t exist,” Davis says.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I would start a cosmetics brand, but I do believe that passion for innovation was passed down in our DNA from my great-grandfather.”

Three decades later, Davis says he still feels energised by the brand and continues to run both businesses in tandem — photographing campaigns and celebrities at Smashbox Studios, while acting as the chief of creative for Smashbox Cosmetics.

He’s shot every makeup campaign for the past three decades, some of which were published last year in his first book by Rizzoli, Make Shit Happen.

“I’m determined to continue my family’s legacy, to challenge myself and my team to create innovative products that are both easy for the artist and the consumer to use,” he says.

If walls could talk, there would be no shortage of stories Smashbox Studios could tell. Some of Davis’s earlier work featured in the likes of Maxim and Playboy.

He’s captured Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson, Farrah Fawcett, Angelina Jolie, Idris Elba, Willem Dafoe and countless others, but his favourite subject? Robert Downey jnr, who Davis counts as one of his best friends.

As recently as March this year, the pair were up until the wee hours of the morning to celebrate the actor winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in Oppenheimer at this year’s Academy Awards.

“Robert is like my brother. When he won his Oscar, we were running around the Beverly Hills Hotel with our shirts off. We’re that close,” Davis says.

“We’ve known each other since the late 80s. I don’t even think of him as a movie star anymore.”

From family photoshoots and Oscars snaps through to shoots for Robert’s latest product venture, Davis says working together gives them a moment to connect their work with their private lives.

Today, Smashbox Cosmetics (which was purchased by Estee Lauder in 2010) continues to drive multi-purpose products, including its two recent additions — the Halo Healthy Glow 4-in-1 Perfecting Pen Concealer, $54, and the multi-use Halo Sculpt + Glow Face Palette, $84 — which fall under what Davis calls the “moisturising franchise” thanks to their inclusion of hydrating ingredients like vitamin E.

“I wanted something to create a dewy makeup look. These are extensions of our Halo franchise, which we’re always pushing and pivoting with so the category stays sharp,” he says.

And staying sharp it will, and Davis says the team’s attitude towards competitor brands is what keeps Smashbox Cosmetics forging on.

“The competition is fierce, but we welcome it. It’s an important part of life,” he says.

“We’re still doing it the same way we always did it. We know who we are, and we keep making makeup. There was a time when we were the hottest brand in the world, but we’ve been around for 30 freaking years and it’s amazing we’re still here.”

Ashleigh Cometti is an Auckland-based beauty journalist with more than 12 years’ experience in the industry. After joining the Viva team in 2018 and being appointed beauty editor in 2020, Ash has fine-tuned her skills at sniffing out new fragrance launches, discovering the next generation of talented makeup artists and writing about all things that feed her obsession as a skincare fanatic.

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