Before Fenty Beauty and The Lip Bar, there was Fashion Fair. And if you grew up obsessed with the contents of your mother’s makeup table, you know all about the pink lipstick tubes and compacts that were proudly displayed on practically every black woman’s vanity in the 1970s and 80s.
Now, just in time for Women’s History Month, a new documentary tells the story of the iconic brand’s rise, fall and recent resurgence. The Beauty of Blackness was produced by Sephora, who partnered with Vox Media’s Epic Digital and Vox Creative and acquired by HBO Max. The film was directed by Tiffany Johnson (Black Monday, Dear White People and Twenties) and Kiana Moore (VP of Content Production and Head of Vox Media’s Epic Digital).
Fashion Fair Cosmetics first launched in 1973 as a makeup brand for women of color. Publishing executive and wife of Johnson Publishing Company CEO, John H. Johnson, Eunice Johnson created the brand and made it the first international cosmetics brand for women of color available in high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus.
But more competition in the black-owned beauty space and the death of Eunice Johnson in 2010 contributed to the brand’s decline and eventual disappearance from the market. The brand was revived in 2021 when former Obama White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers and longtime friend and colleague Cheryl Mayberry McKissack won the bid for Fashion Fair at auction. The pair already had experience bringing a beauty brand back to life after they bought the drugstore brand Black Opal and relaunched it as BLK/OPL.
This time around, Rogers and Mayberry McKissack teamed up with Sephora as they prepared to relaunch the classic beauty brand. They called on well-known dermatologist Dr. Caroline Robinson and celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine to help create a new and improved version of the Fashion Fair products for a new crop of makeup lovers. The brand relaunched with new packaging and vegan and cruelty-free versions of the most beloved Fashion Fair shades and brands. And instead of being sold in department stores, the newly launched Fashion Fair line of products is available on the Fashion Fair website and at leading beauty product retailer Sephora.
Although Rogers and McKissack wanted to give the brand a new and improved look, the pair insisted on maintaining some of the things loyal Fashion Fair customers loved, including 10 lipstick shades from past collections. “Fashion Fair was at the forefront of making sure that beauty really was something that every woman had the opportunity to experience, especially Black women and women of color. We want to keep that entrepreneurial spirit, that historical spirit,” said co-owner Cheryl Mayberry McKissack.
The Beauty of Blackness also features interviews with well-known beauty editors, models, and celebrity makeup artists who talk about Fashion Fair’s impact on the industry and what the brand has meant to them personally. Destiny’s Child alumn Kelly Rowland also appears in the film.
The Beauty of Blackness is now available for streaming on HBO Max as part of its Black Voices and Women’s History Month programming.