Fashion Fair Cosmetics, once queen of black beauty, is planning a comeback — but it will have to face Rihanna, rivals and social media realities

Corilyn Shropshire, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Growing up in Trinidad in the '80s, Patrice Grell Yursik remembers her mother smoothing on Fashion Fair face powder and popping the pink compact into her purse before leaving for work. Sometimes, she organized her mom's collection of pink-lidded Fashion Fair lipsticks lined up on a mahogany dressing table.

The lipsticks and powder matched her mother's skin perfectly, said Yursik, now 40 and a well-known beauty blogger based in the South Loop.

Back then, the iconic makeup brand, launched in 1973 by Ebony and Jet magazine publisher Johnson Publishing, was well-known as the best and nearly only option for black women looking for cosmetics made to flatter their skin tones.

Today, Fashion Fair -- affectionately known as the makeup your grandmother and mother wore -- only can be found on resale sites like eBay.

In April, Johnson Publishing went bankrupt and took Fashion Fair Cosmetics, which had struggled for years, with it.

Last month, former Johnson Publishing executives Desiree Rogers and Cheryl MayberryMcKissack, with the help of Alec Litowitz, founder and CEO of Evanston, Ill.-based hedge fund Magnetar Capital, acquired Fashion Fair for $1.85 million. They are promising to breath new life into the brand for the modern consumer.


The group already had purchased Black Opal, a mass market cosmetics brand for women of color, for an undisclosed amount in September. It is sold locally at Walmart and CVS. Rogers and MayberryMcKissack, who work out of an office in Merchandise Mart, said they plan to have new Fashion Fair products on the market by the holiday season.

But as they work to revive Fashion Fair for a new generation of buyers, they are dealing with a much-changed industry.

Women of color, and particularly black women, have an almost mind-numbing selection of makeup brands in drugstores, specialty stores such as Ulta and Sephora and on the Internet to give their lips that perfect tint and their complexions a smooth, polished look. By next year, black consumers are expected to spend $2.25 billion annually on beauty products, according to research firm Mintel.

That creates a challenge for Rogers and MayberryMcKissack, who will compete against the likes of mega-watt celebrity Rihanna, who has successfully wooed women to her high-end Fenty Beauty brand, a partnership with LVMH. Fenty turned the industry on its head in the fall of 2017, introducing 40 shades of foundation -- there are now 50 -- highlighters, lipsticks and other makeup products designed to illuminate a diversely hued cosmetics audience that was often ignored or marginalized by other beauty brands. Forbes predicted Fenty's sales would soar to more than $200 billion by 2025.


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