The metal detector at Ben-Gurion Airport won’t stop beeping as a young woman walks through. The security personnel, half-amused and half-mesmerized, ask her to put her Gucci bag down, but to no avail. A female inspector in her fifties comes over to try to resolve the problem. As she scans the young woman with a magnetometer, she looks up and asks, “Where do I know you from?” The 18-year-old’s lips, daubed in a bold red lipstick, break out in a smile. “Think!” she answers.
A few minutes later, we pass under a giant rendering of those same lips. They open, they smile, they lick a lollipop, they purse into a kiss. These lips don’t whisper “bon voyage.” They scream Aline Cohen.
Aline’s mother, Miri, is yelling at us too, telling us to stand under the enormous ad so she can snap some photos for a story that will later feature on her daughter’s Instagram page. Aline Cohen’s 730,000 followers must know she’s on duty. On the way to the airport’s duty-free shop, a stand features her makeup brand. For the past two years it’s been displaying her name, face and vision, all overseen by this determined teenager.
Cohen is here to check that everything’s working fine, although she really doesn’t need to. “I’ve done my part, they’ve already bought my products. But that’s not enough for me. I want to go over the items with the salesgirl. I want people to buy more.”
She won’t reveal how many of her goods the store bought in advance, but does say her brand is a best-seller here. “Two years ago, they thought I was a passing fad who’d attract more people to the duty-free store. But then they saw that I’m not just another star with a brand name; that I’m really well-known, that the quality of my goods is not inferior to Chanel or Dior, and that these products belong here. I’m not an off-the-shelf product; I have my own stall. Every inch of floor space here costs money.”
When it’s pointed out that this particular display must have cost her a fortune, she responds: “Make no mistake, I’m not paying for all of this.”
Between the Revlon, L’Oréal and MAC Cosmetics stalls, Cohen stands beside her own, which carries dozens of products adorned with her face. A pink poster advertises her new “I’m Legal” collection, launched in honor of her 18th birthday.
An eclectic crowd of women gathers around, pushing aside the salesgirls working for competing brands. They hold up their smartphones, trying to capture the scene as Cohen paints eyebrows on a 60-year-old woman in a flowery shirt and sports shoes. “It’s perfect for you!” gushes Cohen. “This hue makes you look at least 20 years younger.”
A man asks Cohen to pose for a photo with his two daughters. She hugs them, pouts at the camera and then suggests a mascara for them — which they immediately take, along with an eyeshadow and bronzer. A group of girls tell her they’re on their way to Uman, Ukraine. “I don’t believe it,” shouts Cohen. “I want to go there too!” She sends them off to the tombs of the righteous with some matte purple lipstick.
She stands there in her stilettos for over two hours, selling her products to an enthusiastic crowd as their smartphones record everything. Those on the periphery ask if free samples are being handed out. Even when they realize that they aren’t, and that a lipstick here costs 89 shekels (about $25), they still wait until they can wriggle into the inner circle where Cohen is applying makeup and dispensing advice.
Crates arrive holding more products. Amid all the turmoil, Yoram Cohen (Aline’s father) goes over the stock, declaring that his daughter “has sold more than $3,000 worth of goods in two hours. That’s how it is every time she shows up.”
I ask Miri, who doesn’t really blend in here with her carefully crafted look that includes a long black dress and Louis Vuitton handbag, whether we should get Aline a coffee before she faints in a cloud of powder. “She doesn’t drink coffee,” she replies. “Only Coca-Cola Zero or warm milk — she’s still a girl.”
Meetings over dating
Aline Cohen doesn’t really fit the definition of a girl — at least not for the last two and a half years, after she was transformed from just another online name into a makeup empire making a ton of money.
She became famous at age 13 after appearing in a reality show on a children’s TV channel. That exposure brought her admirers, who subsequently became Instagram followers. A YouTube channel followed: Its makeup clips and heart-to-heart monologues turned Aline into someone young girls can really identify with. Cosmetic firms realized the commercial potential and started offering her deals.
At 15, after a few collaborations with brands like Mac, Il Makiage and L’Oréal, this native of Givat Olga (a beachside neighborhood about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, north of Tel Aviv) decided to produce five of her own lipsticks. She was seemingly the only person who believed that in a couple of years she’d be splashed over billboards and on the faces of women of all ages, invited to the front rows of big fashion shows and selling her products in major Israeli chains. At 18, she has already reached the stage where she can legitimately be called a one-girl enterprise — one providing her entire family with a living.
Her mother put aside her career as a makeup artist in order to manage her daughter’s career, while her father, a lawyer by profession, is her legal counsel and draws up her contracts. While one brother oversees supplies and shipments, another is logistics manager. A younger brother has yet to be incorporated into the family business.
Today, the Aline Cohen brand includes 70 products — from lipsticks and glosses to makeup and eyebrow gels — which Aline avidly promotes to her 1.5 million online followers (including 780,000 followers on TikTok and 127,000 on her YouTube channel). One video shows her dancing in tight clothing, sporting red fleshy lips — her trademark look and the logo of her brand. She promoted one of her powders with an image in which her lips are being bitten by another young female star, Gal Gvaram, with both their upper bodies bare.
It’s clear that behind Cohen’s insane drive to succeed lie talent, ambition and a passion for what she does. But in conversations with her (including the online ones she holds with tens of thousands of followers), you sense that there were two key incidents that shaped her life and turned her into the phenomenon she is today.
The first was a serious accident at age 8, while she was riding her bike without a helmet. She flew off the bike and hit her head on a utility pole. The hospital found bleeding in the brain, which required difficult surgery from which the doctors weren’t sure she’d recover. After two days in a medically induced coma, she woke up with no memory.
“I knew my name was Aline and that I was 8. I identified my family, but other than that I remembered nothing,” she recounts. “They sawed my skull, I was swollen. I was in hospital for a month, followed by a year of rehabilitation that included daily physiotherapy and talking to a therapist. It was a year of suffering. It was hard for me to like myself. I wanted to be the girl they told me about, but I couldn’t. I saw my family collapsing. My father didn’t work and my brothers barely studied. My mother was a wreck and with a 1-year-old baby.”
She continues: “After a year, I concluded that only I could pick up myself and that I was responsible for them too,” she says of her family. “That’s what I did. To this day, I contend with the results of that injury. My left side is much weaker than the right side, and I have daily headaches and dizziness.”
How do you function with such chronic pain?
“Painkillers. I’m used to pain. I don’t remember things for long. Last week, I fainted at home, I had seizures and was in hospital for two days. I don’t wish on anyone what I and my family are going through, but I’m thankful that my accident shaped me. I have a huge scar on my head, which I really hate. But I also love it. When I tried to hide it as a girl by not gathering my hair, I discovered my love of makeup.”
The other formative moment came after seventh grade and she starred in a TV reality show during the summer vacation. She returned to dancing class at her art school in Hadera, only to discover that her peers were not enamoured by her newfound star status.
“No one wanted to be with me when we paired up in class. I sat alone at recess, ostracized by my previous best friends,” she recalls. “I was very hurt, knowing I’d done nothing except be good at what I did. I stayed home for weeks, and when I did go in I came home crying. I posted a YouTube clip in which I talked about the ostracism, and every day I get at least 10 messages from girls who say I gave them strength.”
Cohen decided to change schools and at the new institution specialized in marketing, “doing the best final project in the country.” The subject? Her own brand.
Asked what affected her more, the accident or the ostracism, she’s in no doubt that it was the former. “It makes you understand the value of life. Girls my age don’t think about the future, only the next party. Girls love me because of my life story, not my looks or my makeup. I convey messages; my brand isn’t a passing gimmick.”
This is not some outlandish claim. Aline Cohen is selling not just a product but a story, an inspiration, an agenda. She’s family-oriented and sociable, sharing stories about her ostracism, calling for an end to bullying and boycotts. She projects female empowerment through her meteoric success, and she wears it well.
The Israeli Kylie Jenner
Her striking (some would say strident) style, along with her commercial success, has led many to label her the Israeli Kylie Jenner — referring to the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star who also heads a makeup empire and is reportedly the world’s youngest billionaire.
Yet behind the provocative brand image of Aline Cohen is a teenager who prefers water with lemon to cocktails and business meetings over dating — something that made her declare in a TV interview earlier this year that she’d never been kissed (although that has since changed).
“I’m legal now and can get drunk and do what I want, but I’ve never tasted alcohol or even smelled it,” she tells Haaretz. “I’ve never smoked, not because I’m afraid to but because I was brought up that way. I’m from a Moroccan family and was taught to respect myself. No one told me this, but from a young age I decided I’m not interested in boys or alcohol. I was always a good girl, not a foolish teenager. I never partied, even when girlfriends invited me to. I always told them I wanted to see how the business was doing or to work on a video. I want to do things that will be useful for my future.”
All of this can create a confusing dissonance. Her parents are now her employees and her demeanor is calculated and businesslike. Her life is not just that of an ambitious 18-year-old, but a reflection of a culture, a generation, a marketing creation with no room for spontaneity. “I work 24/7, and that’s my choice,” she says. “Business is something that flows in my veins. I don’t want to be just another online star who posts pretty pictures on Instagram, getting money for that. My goal is to do business.”
Like Kylie Jenner?
“Like Kylie Jenner, or Kim Kardashian. Like Mark Zuckerberg, or Ronaldo. Like my father.”
I like that you put your father alongside Ronaldo.
“What do you mean? He’s my king and I’m his princess.”
And who’s the boss?
“A combination of me and him.”
Who has the last word?
“I do. At first my family said I couldn’t do the logo [a green eye inside luscious red lips]. The lips with the eye were creepy, they said. I said: ‘Great! That’s just what I wanted to hear. People will talk about it.’”
How does the business world relate to your age?
“At first they said, ‘You’re a child, how much can you know about business, money, annual turnover?’ There was a sense of, ‘Who are you anyway?’ I’ve sat with some powerful businessmen — but when I opened my mouth the stigma disappears. In my first meeting with the Be [drugstore] chain, its CEO, Ori Watermann, asked me to tell him why I should be included in his chain. I told him, ‘Look, you asked me to this meeting. You tell me why I should be part of your brand.’”
“He told me that as soon as I said that, he wanted me as part of his chain.”
And you signed a deal?
“Like a boss.”
Cohen drives into a parking lot in Netanya’s old industrial zone in her shiny white BMW, a present for her 18th birthday in August. (“They bought it with my money,” she says of her parents. “I was never a spendthrift, so now I have an amazing car.”)
She has just finished some meetings with her mother and is on her way to a private acting class. First, though, they have a meeting with her father and two brothers at Hameshakem — a company devoted to the integration of people with disabilities into the workplace — where her brand has been packaged since December 2017 after she received her first order.
“We packaged the first collection at home,” recounts Cohen. “But when the store ordered tens of thousands of products, we realized we needed a factory. Every day, I go to one of my factories to see if everything is on target. I have one that produces formulas; another for packing; one for making the packaging. I never tell my father to go on his own. It’s important for me to be there, to see how things are operating. I don’t just sign my name on a product, I do everything. I shoot the videos and edit them myself; I’m involved in packaging to the level of the graphics. I work all day. I have no personal assistant — it’s all me and my parents.”
Do you make everything in Israel?
“Yes. It costs more and the profits are smaller. [But] it’s a deliberate decision, as is the choice of Hameshakem. I could have chosen many other companies that do it faster. There, the packing is slower, but I feel it’s an honor and privilege to give these people a livelihood. They give me a boost. This is real life.”
Cohen recently bought her first home, making her the rarest of teenagers. “I bought it as an investment — I waited until I was 18 for investing in real estate,” she says. Pressed on where she bought, all she is prepared to say is that it’s somewhere “in the center” of the country.
She is also reluctant to reveal how much her brand is worth, simply saying, “Thank God it’s making money — but I won’t mention numbers. I don’t like it when people go into my pocket. I make my money, and I’m happy to inspire other girls my age and show them you can aim for the highest goal and make money. I feel I have the privilege of inspiring other women.”
Do you define yourself as a feminist?
“Yes and no. It’s important for me to encourage women to rise and fulfill themselves and their dreams. But I am someone who’ll want to pamper her man and let him be king.”
That isn’t a contradiction.
“Some feminists tell their man to do the cleaning. I’m not one of those.”
Do you like spending money on yourself?
“No. When I make money, I put it in a savings account. The only time I allow myself to spend money on myself is during Milan Fashion Week, when I buy a Balenciaga handbag or some other piece.”
Do you manage your own money?
“Obviously! Everything has to go through me.”
What’s the next goal now you already have a house and a luxury car?
“To make it internationally, to continue investing in my brand and in real estate. For every shekel I earn, I want another one.”