The legendary Black-owned makeup brand is back — and better than ever.
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BEAUTY BOSS: Fashion Fair/Desiree Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack
Credit: Courtesy of Heather Houston

Before Fenty Beauty and Uoma Beauty, Fashion Fair was the premiere cosmetics brand tailored to dark skin tones. Founded in 1973 by Eunice Johnson, the Black-owned brand broke barriers in the beauty industry with its range of inclusive shades for Black and Brown skin tones.

Fashion Fair became a global phenomenon, not just for its products, but the fashion shows it held in cities across the U.S. Not to mention, the brand counted legends like Pat Cleveland, the original Fashion Fair model, and Aretha Franklin among its loyal fans.

While the brand was a success, its owner, Johnson Publishing (the parent company of Ebony and Jet publications) struggled to keep up with the large beauty conglomerates dominating the industry. Fast forward to 2021 and the brand relaunched in Sephora this fall under new owners, Desirée Rogers, former CEO of Johnson Publishing, and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, a former colleague from the publishing company.

This isn't the first time the business partners have revived an iconic Black-owned brand. In 2019, they bought and relaunched mass market makeup brand BLK/OPL. With Fashion Fair, they partnered with dermatologist Dr. Caroline Robinson and celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine to revamp the brand's products with clean, efficacious skincare ingredients and even more inclusive shade ranges.

Ahead, the pair share their vision for Fashion Fair 2.0, and its place in the beauty industry in 2021 and beyond.

What inspired you to acquire and relaunch this iconic brand?

Desirée: Taking a step back, I think Fashion Fair is one of the most iconic American brands to have ever existed and it was founded by a Black couple. I thought it was paramount that we not allow this brand to fall to the wayside. The brand was at auction, so we put a bid in; I thought this might be a great opportunity, albeit a humbling one. Cheryl and I had worked there before, so we knew the brand from the inside out and what consumers expected from the brand. But first and foremost, it's a North Star for people of color in the beauty industry, so we took a chance to see if we could get it, and then went off to the races. 

What was your relationship with the brand growing up?

Desirée: It was the first makeup I used as a young girl in high school, and it was certainly beloved and used by all of my relatives. I saw those little pink Fashion Fair boxes around my house and family members' houses growing up. A fun story about the brand: the first Fashion Fair show was done in New Orleans and my mother was recruited to be one of the models, but she chickened out and didn't do it.

Cheryl: Desiree's story is a little bit different than mine because she had more diversity growing up in New Orleans than I did in Seattle, Washington. So for me, Fashion Fair was really sacred. My mom didn't use a lot of products, but she had those little pink boxes and kept them in a special place. It was known that there were certain things you do not touch, and those boxes were one of them. My mom had an eagle eye and she just knew if you put your finger in there. She didn't even want you to think about touching those boxes. So when I had an opportunity as a teenager, it was a rite of passage to be able to use such an iconic product that was so special in my household. It was like I got to taste the forbidden fruit.

Desirée: The fashion shows were a big event you would get dressed up for, and the products were sold at the shows. 

Cheryl: I don't think we had the shows in the Seattle, but as a I got older and moved to California, I did attend my first fashion show with the products. And, oh my God, I had never seen anything like it. 

How did you revamp the brand to be relevant in 2021 (and beyond), while still paying homage to its heritage?

Desirée: The biggest thing is making sure past customers are pleased and satisfied, but also ensuring we are being innovative and leading when you look actress the spectrum of companies geared towards darker skin tones. We worked with a dermatologist (Dr. Caroline Robinson) to make sure all of the products are dual action, and we're happy say that each product isn't just beautiful on the skin, it's also good for the skin. 

Since the formulations are different than the original products, we changed the shade names because we didn't want people to think "Tawny," for example, is the same "Tawny" as before. We're encouraging people to go in and get shade matched, and eventually we'll be able to do this virtually.

Cheryl: The big thing we learned with having BLK/OPL is listening to the customer is key. We've been able to do that in a number of different ways, from research and focus groups, and in stores. Our retail partner is Sephora, so we've been doing shade-matching events in the stores and we're also listening to what people are saying. We knew people were concerned about the ingredients in their products, so the new formulations offer cleaner ingredients. Plus, some of the ingredients in the original formulations aren't even available anymore. 

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What are your must-try products from the line?

Desirée: I think the lipstick is the big stand out. It's doing phenomenally well and we know that not only people of color wearing it, but others are wearing it because we can see them posting with the colors on. We were able to introduce some of the existing shades, and we also added in a beautiful palette of nudes. It's hydrating, it's not sticky on the lips, it stays on, and the colors are glorious. 

Cheryl: Our foundation sticks are amazing, but I'm also going to call out our Fabulous Face Priming Serum, which is a new product. This is what you put on before your makeup and it feels so wonderful on the skin and has great natural ingredients. It's a product for someone who has been a customer of Fashion Fair before, and wants to try something new. Also, because we have such a wide spectrum of powder shades, people are calling the setting powders contouring powders, which has been interesting to see. 

Shop Fashion Fair Products

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Iconic Pressed Setting Powder

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Iconic Lipstick

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All 14 shades of the Iconic Lipstick are designed to pop on darker skin tones, but understandably, everyone falls in love with this formula. Both the satin and shimmer finishes stay put but go on smooth thanks to soothing and hydrating sunflower seed oil and rosemary leaf extract. 

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Fabulous Face Priming Serum

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Crème to Powder Skin Foundation

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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