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Take a Look at the Black Women Behind Fashion Fair’s Epic Rebirth

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Makeup & Nails

Fashion Fair was the dominant dark-skin cosmetics label before Fenty Beauty and Uoma Beauty. The Black-owned brand, started in 1973 by Eunice Johnson, shattered cosmetic industry norms with its inclusive colors for Black and Brown skin tones.

Fashion Fair's items and events in various American locations made it a global hit. Pat Cleveland, the original Fashion Fair model, and Aretha Franklin supported the company.

Johnson Publishing (which publishes Ebony and Jet) found it tough to compete with the market's beauty titans. New owners Desirée Rogers, a former Johnson Publishing CEO, and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack revived the brand in Sephora last fall.

The partners revived a Black-owned brand before. They revived the mass-market beauty brand BLK/OPL in 2019. Celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine and dermatologist Dr. Caroline Robinson helped modernize Fashion Fair products with clean, effective skincare components and more inclusive color ranges.

The pair outlines how Fashion Fair 2.0 will fit into the cosmetics industry in 2021 and beyond.

Why did you revive this venerable brand?

Fashion Fair, founded by a Black couple, is one of the most renowned American companies. I thought preserving this brand was crucial. I thought this was a great, though humble, opportunity, so we bid on the brand. Cheryl and I knew the brand inside and out and what buyers might expect. It's a North Star for people of color in the beauty industry, therefore we tried to grab it before going on.

What was your childhood relationship with the company?

Desirée: It was the first cosmetics I used in high school, and my family loved it. Growing up, I often saw pink Fashion Fair boxes at my house and my relatives'. My mother was asked to model at the first New Orleans Fashion Fair, but she declined.

Cheryl: Desiree's story differs from mine because she grew up in New Orleans, not Seattle. I admired Fashion Fair. My mother didn't use many things, but she had those pink boxes. These boxes were off-limits. My mother could know if you touched a certain region with your finger. She forbade touching the packages. As a teenager, using a famous family product was a rite of passage. I had prohibited fruit.

Desirée: People dressed up for fashion displays, and they sold products.

Cheryl: When I was younger and in California, I attended my first fashion show. It was unreal.

How did you modernize the company while still recognizing its history?

Desirée: Making sure our past clients are happy and satisfied is very important, but we also need to be inventive and leading among businesses that serve people with darker skin tones. We worked with a dermatologist (Dr. Caroline Robinson) to make sure every product is both beautiful and healthy for the skin.

We changed the shade names so people wouldn't think "Tawny" is the same as before, since the compositions are different. People are encouraged to coordinate their hues; this will be feasible virtually someday.

Cheryl: BLK/OPL taught us to listen to the client. We've done this through research, focus groups, and retail situations. We organize shade-matching events at Sephora and listen to customer feedback. Since consumers were worried about product ingredients, new formulations use cleaner substances. Several original formula ingredients are no longer available.

What should you try?

Desirée: The lipstick shines. It's selling well, and we know that not just people of color are wearing it because others post with the colors on their clothing. We showed contemporary colors and a nude palette. It hydrates, is long-lasting, and has wonderful hues.

Cheryl: I'll feature our new Fabulous Face Priming Serum along with our foundation sticks. It feels great on your skin before makeup. It's also natural. It's for Fashion Fair customers who seek something new. Due to the range of powder colors, setting powders have been renamed contouring powders.

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