There was a moment, beginning on Jan. 20, 2021, when the 23-year-old poet Amanda Gorman stood on the Capitol steps in her sunny yellow coat, reading her piece “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration when the entire country seemed to swoon.
Soon after, the wooing and offers began to pour in: Would she be the face of this product? That one’s spokesperson? Would she give up her image and fame to work for a major corporation?
She told Vogue for a May cover story that she had rejected down roughly $17 million in various promotional offers just a month or so before.
She did, however, ultimately vow her troth this week. The winner is… Estée Lauder.
To be honest, the winner is also Ms. Gorman, who signed one of the most multifaceted representation deals in beauty history. As well as a slew of unanticipated winners.
Amanda Gorman will be the first Estée Lauder “Global Changemaker,” as opposed to a spokeswoman, ambassador, or “face,” though she will be all of these things as well.
That is more than just a semantic shift; it reflects a different balance of power in today’s consumer reality, in which the influence of real people can carry more weight than the purely transactional nature of the celebrity model relationship, and in which substance is especially valued, as for-profit companies feel an imperative to prove they stand for something other than — well, pr.
She will represent Estée Lauder’s flagship brand in ad campaigns and speaking events for at least the next three years, exactly like Liz Hurley (global ambassador of The Estée Lauder Companies Breast Cancer Campaign) and Carolyn Murphy (an Estée Lauder brand Global Brand Ambassador). However, she will also collaborate with the corporation on a corporate level to create Writing Change, a package of $3 million grants to boost literacy among girls and women — and hence access to equitable and social change. The initial awardees will be announced later this year. If everything goes well, the relationship may be renewed again and again.
Even after Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s joint Tiffany alliance was announced, with its $2 million to historically Black institutions and universities, that’s a significant thing in the spectrum of current brand/celebrity connections. In every meaning of the word.
Along with Amanda Gorman decision to co-host the Met Gala on Sept. 13 and her books, “Call Us What We Carry,” a poetry collection due out in December, and “Change Sings,” a children’s book due out later this month, the Lauder contract marks a new phase in her public image. One in which she employs the levers of power she has acquired, “the place I now occupy,” she explained, and which she has been planning for the long term.
“I could feel it from the moment I stepped down from the podium and looked at my phone,” Ms. Gorman explained. (Although she wasn’t precisely unknown previously — she was the first National Youth Poet Laureate — her public profile had been quite low.) “It felt like a tsunami at the time. It was difficult to comprehend the fact that what I had done had changed my life. I’m still thinking about it.”
The challenge was, how would she make the most of the limelight that had been cast on her? Because she knew she’d use it — but she didn’t say it quite that way. “All forms of light come with some form of shade,” she explained, “and that doesn’t mean you don’t want to walk towards the sun.”
To take on what may appear to many as a brand ambassadorship for a poet who sees her art as the tip of the spear of social change and has publicly announced her aspiration to be president is to potentially contaminate the purity of her own brand with the stench of commercialism. Ms. Gorman was well aware of this.
“I never donate my body or my face,” Amanda Gorman explained. “They are stealing my spirit, my breath, and my mind.” But, rather than allowing the world to tell her what she should or should not be doing, she decided, “now is my chance to tell the world what it needs to get done.” And using a big brand with a big platform to her advantage was an excellent method to do it.
Ms. Gorman expressed interest in working with a female-founded company. Not to mention a corporation with 84 percent female workers, according to the company, and a long history of female-focused charity in both health and education, as well as sales in 150 countries.
Ms. Gorman also stated, “It’s no secret that one of the ways I communicate with the world is via fashion and beauty.” When you have a speech impairment as a child, one of the first things you learn is that others will relate to you based on how you look.” And, while this is sometimes characterized as a negative, Ms. Gorman sees it as a valuable weapon.
Amanda Gorman has always been conscious of the power of fashion and how it can be used to affect others. She attended a Prada show in 2019 during her junior year abroad in Italy and wrote a homage to the event titled “A Poet’s Prada”; the year before, she was part of a Helmut Lang campaign titled “Smart People Wear Helmut Lang.”
The friendships continued, with her appearing at a Prada seminar on sustainability and reciting her inaugural poem while wearing the Prada coat. She intersperses photographs of her work and causes with her photoshoots on her Instagram, which now has 3.7 million followers.
Ms. Gorman now joins a relatively tiny list of official Lauder Global Brand Ambassadors: only 32 in the nearly 60 years since Phyllis Connors first took on the role, with only five being Black. Using a brand to promote literacy is a method to modify “how we envision beauty and power,” according to Ms. Gorman (also, perhaps, the cliché of the starving poet). “Not only in terms of what is required but also in what is possible.”
After all, “I think about what it would mean to me at 5 years old to see a dark-skinned woman with a speech impediment as a spokesperson for a cosmetics company,” she explained.