Amazing things could happen at brunch. An innovative beauty brand could be born while ingesting overpriced avocado toasts and fancy lattes. Take it from Lora Arellano and Dana Bomar. Back in 2012, that seemingly hypothetical situation actually happened to them. The menu might have been a bit different, but Melt Cosmetics was truly ideated over brunch.
“Lora had always wanted to start a makeup line and starting a lipstick line was something I had always thought about doing,” Bomar tells me over the phone from Los Angeles. “We decided right there at brunch to start working on it. We started scheduling appointments with labs and getting the paperwork together. It was really fast. There wasn’t a lot of should we should, should we not, I don’t know. It was like, If you’re serious, and I’m serious, let’s just run with it. We didn’t know what we were getting into. It just seemed fun and exciting. We just took that enthusiasm and started making it happen.”
We figured if we didn’t make our money back online, we’d end up
selling it, Mary Kay status: We’d sell it out of our cars, knock
door-to-door on houses.
Bomar and Arenello ended up creating a line of intensely pigmented matte lipstick in bold shades like blue and gray before every popular drugstore and prestige beauty brand did. The day Melt Cosmetics launched, every single lipstick sold out. Bomar and Arenello have since created stackable eye shadow palettes, cult-favorite liquid lipsticks, and blindingly radiant highlighters. All have taken Instagram by storm.
“Honestly, we were hustlers,” Arenello says. “We sold makeup for a living, so we figured if we didn’t make our money back online, we’d end up selling it, Mary Kay status: We’d sell it out of our cars, knock door-to-door on our neighbors’ houses. I was willing to do anything to at least make my money back.”
Before that fateful brunch, Arellano and Bomar met while working at the makeup counters at Nordstrom. Arellano managed the counter next to Bomar’s. Arnello started out there after going to makeup school. She decided to go after reading Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces in high school. “Once I saw that book and realized how much of an effect makeup has and how much you can change a face with makeup, it really inspired me to pursue that career,” she explains.
Bomar, on the other hand, skipped makeup school and went straight to the makeup counter after turning 18. “It was sink-or-swim,” she says. “They threw me out onto the floor, and I had to learn from all of my clients and touching so many faces every day.” She grew up learning how to do makeup from her older sisters who often experimented with the craziest beauty trends of the ’80s and ’90s. “My first experience with makeup was them painting me like their little doll with crazy colors,” she adds.
Similar bold looks are what helped Bomar and Arellano build Instagram followings before launching Melt. As a manager, Arellano rarely got to work hands-on with clients and makeup. “I would wake up an hour early to play with makeup and do the craziest makeup I could on my face,” she says. Then, she would post her looks on Instagram, where she racked up about 30,000 followers.
All the while, Bomar and Arellano fell in love with matte lipstick. They could never find the right ones, though. Before this popular finish was a staple in every brand’s lineup, Arellano recalls that bright lipsticks existed, but they were never bright and matte, or pigmented enough. “If you found a really bright color, it was sheer or in a gloss form,” Bomar adds. “It wasn’t an opaque, true matte lipstick.”
This is precisely why the founders of Melt Cosmetics decided to make lipsticks first. “We wanted to create something that was missing in the market: bold lip colors with an ultra-matte formula,” Arellano says. (As someone who owns more lipsticks than anything else, I can confidently say Melt Cosmetics’ lipstick checks off all those boxes.)
While they were testing out new shades, Bomar and Arellano would post their typical full face of makeup looks and tag all the products they used except for their lipstick. They also started an Instagram account for Melt Cosmetics. “People on Instagram started putting it together — the Melt page was completely blank, no pictures, no information, no nothing, but they started finding it, and we had a bunch of followers,” Bomar explains. Prior to officially launching, the page accumulated around 20,000 followers. (Today, it has 2.7 million.) “We didn’t know what all of those followers meant because this was before people had social media brands or any kind of direct-to-consumer retail store.”
It’s so funny to see gray is normal now. Blue lipstick is normal. But at the time, when we were doing it, it definitely wasn’t normal.
All the Instagram hype meant, as mentioned earlier, completely selling out of their first lipsticks and Bomar quitting her makeup counter job. (Arellano left a few months before to focus on being a freelance makeup artist.) One of the most popular shades from their first line of lipsticks was a navy blue called DGAF. “We were terrified to launch it at first,” Arellano says. “We were like, who the hell is going to buy blue lipstick, but it was the best thing we ever did.” Bomar adds that even the lab that helped them create it told them they were crazy for wanting to make a blue lipstick. “Even when we wanted to make gray, they were like, ‘What? Why?’ It’s so funny to see gray is normal now. Blue lipstick is normal. But at the time, when we were doing it, it definitely wasn’t normal,” she says. Although it has now been discontinued due to production issues, its existence back in 2012 helped usher in today’s normalization of the bold shade.
Now that blue, gray, and even green lipstick is incredibly accessible, Bomar says, “Everything we come out with in the future — even if it’s crazy — we are going to show you how to wear it normally. I think that’s always worked for us, and we’ll continue to do that. We don’t really look for trends from other places. We try to think about what we think is beautiful.” To that Arellano adds, “We challenge ourselves to make it a trend, make it cool.”
We don’t really look for trends from other places. We try to think about what we think is beautiful.
Arellano is also behind another major trend of the moment. Remember that iconic draped blush look Rihanna wore had at the Met Gala this year? That was all Arellano. She’s been working with the singer for the past couple years. The blush look was a collaboration, she tells me. Taking cues from Rihanna’s gorgeous Comme des Garçons dress for the night and the runway look from the Kenzo Spring 2017 show, Arellano covered Rihanna’s face in products from Fenty Beauty. The look has since inspired a handful more runway looks and even a couple Allure editors to try the blown-out blush look for themselves.
“I was honestly scared of what people would react with,” Arellano says, “but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Rihanna. She would be the one to pull it off. I was shocked that everybody loved it so much.” I asked her if she had any tips for recreating the look at home. She said to focus on softer hues. “People tend to go with the brighter colors, but layering softer, frosted hues first and then going in with the brighter matte pigment creates that diffused look,” she explains. The application is key, too. She suggests starting out with the outer corners of the cheekbones and temples before moving inward toward the eyes. Noted.
So next time you’re sipping mimosas and downing eggs benedict with your friends, maybe ask them what their hopes and dreams are for the future. You may end up collaborating on something incredible and eventually working with Rihanna. Just a thought.
You can catch Melt Cosmetics’ Lora Arellano and Dana Bomar on Lipstick Empire, with new episodes airing every Tuesday and Thursday on Stage13.com.
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