Now streaming on HBO Max, The beauty of darkness wastes no time getting straight to the point: thirty seconds into the documentary, Desiree Rogers, the current CEO of Fashion Fair, the legendary line of cosmetics geared towards meeting the needs of black consumers, clearly states that it is “one of the our most precious Americans, iconic brands. ”And over the course of the next 70 minutes, the film reminds us why Rogers is right.
There’s no doubt Rihanna ushered in a new, more inclusive era in cosmetics when she launched Fenty Beauty, which offers 40 industry-standard foundation shades, in 2017. But what the Gen Z crowd may not know is long ago. Rihanna is even born, Fashion Fair revolutionized the industry at a time when even a black woman with a lighter complexion like Lena Horne’s couldn’t find her foundation shade on store shelves.
Using archival footage and interviews with notable figures like legendary model Pat Cleveland, singer Kelly Rowland, global makeup ambassador Sam Fine, former Ebony Fashion Fair commentator Audrey Smaltz, and historian Tiffany M. Gill, The beauty of darkness tells the lasting impact and emotional connection of Fashion Fair with consumers. Fashion Fair didn’t just sell makeup, it created memories, instilled pride, and featured a population of women who felt invisible at the makeup counter. “It’s more important than ever to share our story with a wide range of people,” Fashion Fair President Cheryl Mayberry McKissack told Oprah Daily. “Ms. Johnson’s story is unique; no one will ever duplicate it.” Rogers was also thrilled to take the opportunity to celebrate the pioneering founder. “It is so exciting, as two black women, to document our African American history through the lens of what Mrs. Johnson has created. ”
Change the game
The revolutionary brand was created in 1973 by Eunice Johnson, the founder of Ebony And cast magazine. Johnson also produced the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling show that included live music, dance performances and a diverse range of models that showcased designer fashion straight from the runway. Johnson had an aha moment when she realized that most of the women on the show had to mix multiple shades of foundation to get the right match. By launching Fashion Fair, Johnson could do two things: fill a giant void in the market And they offer an alternative to major cosmetic companies that put fair-skinned women on a pedestal while ignoring everyone else. Instead of promoting Eurocentric beauty goals like “brightness,” Fashion Fair sent a different message to black women: you are as beautiful as you are.
The beauty of darkness delves into the rich history of Fashion Fair, from the brand’s historic launch from Bloomingdale’s to filing for bankruptcy, while also following Rogers and McKissack as they prepare for a lively relaunch. Both women are former Johnson Publishing Co. executives, and their decision to take over Fashion Fair began with a simple text message Rogers sent to McKissack: “Are you there?” The documentary doesn’t reveal exactly how McKissack responded, but it’s safe to say she got a thumbs-up emoji involved – the couple made a bid for the Fashion Fair name at an auction in November 2019 and won. .
“I felt so strongly that we were the right people, at the right time, to rebrand with the right love,” says Rogers. “I didn’t know how, but I knew we could do it.” In the movie, we watch as they find out. We’re flies on the wall as they attend meetings with Sephora (their retail partner), worry about production delays, pick women’s brains during a focus group, and browse their first ad campaign photoshoot, featuring Cleveland and actress Kiki Layne.
Now that Fashion Fair is back (after two years out of business, the new iteration arrived in September 2021), the big challenge for Rogers and McKissack is to make it stand out in a much more competitive beauty landscape than it was during its heyday. of the brand. Nowadays, black-owned beauty brands that cater to dark skin are plentiful, even in the luxury space, which has been devoid of diversity for decades.
This is great news for shoppers, but it means Fashion Fair will have to rely on more than just nostalgia to compete. “Yes, now there is more competition. Yes, there are more general brands in the market that didn’t make the colors for us in the past that they do now. And yes, there are many emerging brands owned by blacks, “says Rogers.” But every day we hear women telling us. still have trouble finding products for their complexion. McKissak agrees: “Not all problems have been solved. Some of the new brands don’t have a strong retail presence. There is still a lot of work to be done. We won’t be the only option, but we think we can be one of the first. “
The favorites of the fashion fair
Both women admit that the stakes for the raise are high, not only because of their investment but also what failure could mean. Will the same consumers who cheered on the return of Fashion Fair put their money where their mouths are? It’s too early to tell, of course, but in the meantime the two co-owners hope that Fashion Fair will inspire feelings of pride and unity among “the majestic melanin”.
Says Rogers: “This is what Fashion Fair does. It brings the generations together “.
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