mac's viva glam turns 25

Winnie Harlow channels RuPaul in a new campaign announcing the expansion of the MAC AIDS Fund.

by Erica Euse
15 April 2019, 8:38pm

Image courtesy of MAC.

In 1994, as the AIDS epidemic decimated LGBTQ communities around the world, MAC artists chose to fight back using the one tool they all had — makeup. MAC launched its Viva Glam campaign fronted by RuPaul and released the original Viva Glam lipstick with the support of those like Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood. All the proceeds from the bold brownish red-blue lipstick were donated to the newly established MAC AIDS Fund.

Now, the charitable fund, which has been fronted by everyone from Chloë Sevigny to Rihanna has raised over $500 million. While the number of AIDS-related deaths has fallen, the beloved cosmetics brand has announced that, in honor of its 25th anniversary, it is expanding the fund to reach those who still need it most, with contributions to organizations like Planned Parenthood, GLAAD, and Girls Inc.

The announcement comes alongside a new campaign fronted by Winnie Harlow, who pays tribute to the iconic images of RuPaul used for the inaugural launch in 1994. Harlow in fact took it upon herself to recreate the iconic work of Mama Ru in honor of the anniversary, and the results are uncanny to say the least. MAC is also releasing a limited-edition of Viva Glam I, the lipstick shade that started it all.


To learn more about the life-saving campaign, why we should shop for a cause, and the future of Viva Glam, i-D talked to Nancy Mahon, the Global Executive Director of the MAC AIDS fund.

How did the Viva Glam campaign get started 25 years ago?
The founders at that point were like our makeup artists our dying, our friends are dying. What was incredible with the 100 percent model is that as the brand kept growing the funding kept growing. With one lipstick at a time we have raised half a billion dollars.

What was the idea behind the original campaign?
When it was initiated, we used RuPaul as a spokesmodel, a drag queen in stiletto boots in red patent leather. It was super disruptive. It was joyful, playful, and sexy, and that is what we needed to do to have people pay attention and raise money.

How have things changed since the charity started?
Half a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but sadly it hasn’t ended the epidemic. What we are seeing is that we have had incredible advancements in treatment and testing. The number of AIDS deaths have fallen by half, the number of people being infected has fallen by half, and we have around 21 million people globally on HIV medication. But, what we are seeing is a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. What we want to focus on is the inequality and lack of access that is making people vulnerable to HIV.

Why is now an important time to expand the fund?
The history of the world is the history of wealth and poverty and fairness and unfairness, we are living in a very polarized time and there is a lot of inequity. We feel, as we did 25 years ago, that it is very important for us to use our corporate voice. We are a makeup company, we don’t have anything to gain from people having access to HIV medication and treatments. We feel as a corporate voice we need to raise our voice louder around inequities around gender and inequities around LGBTQ people.

Why do you think makeup is good way to spread this message?
Makeup is sexy, and fun, and joyous. We want to have some fun too. That is what the campaign has always been about, it's about using our organizational microphone, it's about encouraging people to speak out and celebrate themselves and their communities, and at the same time really take care of themselves.

How can we better support companies with a mission?
I really encourage readers to reach out to companies, and buy their products or don't buy their products, depending on what you believe in. If you do believe in it, write them letters, we are listening. This is a really important time in the history of the world and we matter in a really profound way, both companies and consumers.

Planned Parenthood
winnie harlow
viva glam