The Beauty of Blackness, a documentary film that chronicles Fashion Fair, the first cosmetics brand created exclusively for Black women, which was created in 1973 by Eunice Johnson, the co-founder of EBONY and JET magazines, is available to stream on HBO Max. The film was created in partnership with Vox Media, Epic, and Sephora—working with its media and content partner Digitas.
The documentary features interviews with renowned experts, models, makeup artists, performers, and other prominent figures—including the iconic model Pat Cleveland, celebratory makeup artist and Fashion Fair’s creative director Sam Fine, and Kelly Rowland—who have witnessed firsthand the evolution of the category and who are celebrating and continuing to redefine beauty standards for people of color.
Directed by Tiffany Johnson (Black Monday, Dear White People, Twenties) and first-time director Kiana Moore, VP of content production and head of Vox Media’s Epic Digital, The Beauty of Blackness explores Fashion Fair’s ascension as an iconic brand and the numerous obstacles it had to overcome, including combatting the Eurocentric beauty standards within the beauty industry. Fashion Fair was the first major cosmetics line to specifically cater to melanin-rich skin. It served our community when so many beauty lines chose to ignore us and our skincare needs. It was for us and made by us, and will ways be.
While Fashion Fair revolutionized the beauty industry and became a standard in Black households during the 1970s, the brand encountered a challenging media landscape and the rise of competitors. The documentary follows the rich history of the storied cosmetics line and its ambitious new vision under the direction of its current owners, Desirée Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, who both have had C-suite leadership roles at EBONY's parent publishing company.
The pair won the luxe legacy cosmetics brand at auction after it had lost some of its luster and practically disappeared from the market after Ms. Johnson's death. The duo, who also revived the Black makeup line Black Opal, set about bringing Fashion Fair back to its former glory. They called upon industry vets the dermatologist Dr. Caroline Robinson and celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine to help give it a refresh. With newly remastered and improved formulations of fan favorites, plus a revamped look to the packaging, Fashion Fair made heralded its debut to a new slew of richly-complected beauty mavens at Sephora, the ultimate international beauty destination for the current crop. They also enlisted the gorgeous Hollywood actress Kiki Layne to be the face of the new brand.
"Fashion Fair is putting her crown back on. The queen may have taken a little break, but she’s putting on her gown and high heels, and sitting back on the throne," share Rogers and Mayberry McKissack. "We grew up watching our mothers and grandmothers wearing Fashion Fair, so this brand is deeply personal to us. With over 56 years of history, Fashion Fair is the real deal. The brand has always served our community and has encouraged Black women to feel beautiful and confident."
"Fashion Fair has always been inspired by the beauty, fashion and glamour of Black women," continues Rogers. "It gave Black women the opportunity to experience beauty in the same way other women had been doing for decades, so we understood the importance of documenting the relaunch. This documentary is a nod to the brand which was one of the first, and continues to, recognize and celebrate Black beauty."
Adds Mayberry McKissack, "Fashion Fair is a pioneering beauty brand with a unique history. It was the first prestige cosmetics company to bring makeup and skincare products for darker skin into renowned department stores around the world. This documentary captures the story behind Fashion Fair and shares details on how it became one of the first to change the way the world recognized Black Beauty. Fashion Fair was the original catalyst for women of color to embrace and celebrate their beauty."
Below, EBONY discusses with Rogers and Mayberry McKissack on what inspired them to relaunch the beloved makeup brand, their thoughts on the recent diversification of the beauty industry and their plans for introducing the classic Black heritage label to a new generation of women of color.
EBONY: What inspired you to buy Fashion Fair when the opportunity came to market?
Desirée Rodgers: Fashion Fair is one of the most iconic brands to exist in America. When Cheryl and I saw that we might have a chance to own it, we just had to try. This brand means so much to the African American community and in particular Black women.
Fashion Fair was the first major cosmetics line to specifically cater to melanin-rich skin. It served our community when so many beauty lines chose to ignore us and our skincare needs. What do you feel about the current climate of beauty brands now catering to the nuances in our skin tones with 40+ foundations and such?
Chery Mayberry McKissack: At Fashion Fair, darker skin tones have always been our focus. From testing, we felt it was important to ensure that our shades have the correct undertones, to making sure that our products solved issues specific to melanin-rich skin, such as hyperpigmentation, larger pores or the fading of spots. It is impressive to see new entrants in the marketplace. We welcome the opportunity to help create a place at the table for all of us to provide beauty and skin care options to women of color.
Thankfully, the industry has woken (or is pretending to). Moreover, now there is a community of business-minded founders of color who aren't just waiting for a seat at the table but are creating their own room—table, seats, and all. There's a slew of new brands from people of color that have launched that serve the richness and beauty of various ethnicities and complexions. What do you say to all of this? Obviously, without Fashion Fair, which was the innovator in the space, there would be none of this,
Rogers: We are very excited about the role we have played in the history of Black beauty. There will always be only one Fashion Fair that pioneered the movement! We are ensuring that all of us continue to understand the historical significance of this brand and that the story be preserved for generations to come through our new documentary, The Blackness of Beauty.
Lastly, a lot of the newer generation know Fashion Fair as a brand that their grandmother or mother used to wear. How are you making the brand relevant now for the current gen.
Rogers: We love this challenge; it is so wonderful to be able to transfer what our grandmother and mothers already know—and that is that Fashion Fair does not disappoint. We have taken the amazing 50 years of Fashion Fair's knowledge of creating makeup and skincare for people of color and modernized with the highest quality natural and vegan ingredients. All of which were done under the super-vision of Dr. Caroline Robinson. We have also reimagined the packaging giving the brand a clean, edgy, high glamour look.
Featured as part of the Black Voices and Women’s History Month curated programming, The Beauty of Blackness is currently streaming on HBO Max