It was the early ‘90s and I was working for MAC, first as a retail manager in Connecticut and then in New York City where I became operations manager for the city. It was an amazing time for MAC. The company was the most talked about brand in beauty. Everyone wanted a piece of the MAC pie. Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo — the founders of the brand –could have easily coasted on their huge wave of success
forever. But they cared too much about people to do that.
While it was a big time for the brand and a time when NYC was overflowing with creativity and artistry, it was also a time when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing. At that time, finding out you were HIV+ was seen as, and treated as, basically a death sentence. The stigma attached to being HIV+ was real. No one wanted to talk about it. Not politicians, not the community at large and certainly not businesses.
Well, except for MAC.
The risk to the business overall that Frank and Frank took by taking a stand to support those living with HIV and AIDS can not be easily understood today. The level of ignorance and uncertainty around the disease was huge. The idea that a beauty brand would speak about such things to their employees, retail partners and customers was unheard of.
It was a huge risk but an important one to take — it opened up the conversation and it saved countless lives. MAC was the original “disruptor” of the beauty industry and Viva Glam was the disruptor of all disruptors — right down to the first spokesperson for the campaign — Ru Paul. When Frank and Frank did something, they did it right.
MAC didn’t shy away from being unique with their choices for future spokespersons for the Viva Glam campaigns either. From the first drag queen to ever represent a cosmetics company they went on to continue to make unexpected, and headline making, choices for spokespersons for the Viva Glam campaigns. There was K.D. Lang, the first out lesbian to become a spokesperson for a makeup line, to Ricky Martin,
the first male to do so. The company knew how to get the cause the attention it deserved and in the process raised millions for those around the world living with HIV/AIDS.
Other powerhouse talent who were including in campaigns are Lady Gaga, Sia, Miley Cyrus, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Shirley Manson, Cyndi Lauper,Chloe Sevigny, Eve, Fergie, Dita von Teese, Lisa Marie Presley, Christina Aguilera, Tahari P. Hensen, and Debbie Harry.
Celebrating 25 years of Viva Glam by working with model, and spokesperson for the skin condition vitiligo, Winnie Harlow, to reboot of the iconic image of Ru Paul spelling out Viva Glam with her body is the icing on the Viva Glam cake.
This diverse range of famous faces helped the company to drive sales of Viva Glam lip products, with 100% of sales going toward the funding of HIV/AIDS programs around the world. Twenty-five years later, VIVA GLAM has raised $500 million for the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
That’s 9,713 grants to over 1,800 groundbreaking and innovative programs and organizations around the globe, including God’s Love We Deliver, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Open Hand/Atlanta, Inc. and Maison Du Parc.
“Viva Glam is truly the heart and soul of MAC Cosmetics and it all started with a lipstick and focused mission to end HIV/AIDS,” said John Demsey, Chairman of the MAC AIDS
FUND and Executive Group President, The Estee Lauder Companies. “This milestone marks a quarter century of unmatched purpose and passion for our employees, artists
and partners around the world. Our 100% giving model is among the first in the world and allowed us to create change at a scale we never could have imagined.”
While today, the HIV epidemic looks very different than it did in 1994 when MAC launched the Viva Glam campaign. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 50%, over 21.7 million people have access to medication, and there are 47% fewer new HIV infections globally. As the HIV field continues to make incredible advances, MAC continues to support the most vulnerable, underserved women and girls and LGBTQ communities that resonate with its consumers and the MAC Family through the Viva Glam campaign.
In honor of this anniversary MAC will honor 10 heritage grantees that have been Viva Glam grantees from the beginning with $25,000 each, along with three large grants
as part of Viva Glam’s expanded vision to support the work of Planned Parenthood, GLAAD and Girls, Inc. totaling $1.3 million to further their work in the areas of sexual health, LGBTQ rights and girls’ development respectively.
Every cent of the selling price of the Viva Glam II Lipstick, Viva Glam III Lipstick and the new, limited-edition 25th anniversary Viva Glam 25 Lipstick in the original Viva Glam I shade, will be donated to organizations supporting health and rights for all ages, all races, all sexes.
I am so proud to have played even a small role in the early days of this iconic program and to have been there to witness first-hand the difference that the funding provided by
MAC has made to organizations in need and those living with HIV/AIDS. Congratulations to MAC for continuing to make such an impact on the world today.
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos Courtesy of MAC