Beauty Beauty News

How #BlackUp Curiously Lost Its Black Founder Fabrice Mahabo

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Blaq Vixen Beauty researches what happened to BlackUp Cosmetics’ original founder/owner Fabrice Mahabo.

Check out my latest article “Black Beauty Brands That Aren’t Black-Owned.”

TL;DR: Fabrice Bernard Mahabo was the founder and owner of black|Up. He did not willingly sell his company.

Jean-Francois Damour is the new owner and president of black|Up

Lionel Durand is the new CEO of  black|Up

Updated 25 July 2016: On Linkedin, a Mr. Jean-François Damour has the dual title of “Owner-President” of black|Up on his profile. He is also the owner of the La Criée restaurant in Paris, France. This is the investor Mahabo named in his blog.

Updated 11 July 2016: I’ve finally included Lionel Durand’s The Decision Makers profile page along with a September 2008 website blurb introducing Mr. Durand as the new black|Up CEO.

Updated 13 October 2015: Danielle of The Style and Beauty Doctor interviewed Lionel Durand, the current owner of black|Up. Read her Q & A with the brand.

Updated 8 September 2015: black|Up is live on the Sephora website. The beauty conglomerate has not released an official statement addressing the allegations that I have brought forth in this article. Instead, Sephora has been deleting Facebook comments as the partnership is “business as usual.”

If you are one of the many customers enthused about black|Up arriving stateside on September 8, and at select Sephora locations September 15, we need to talk. I originally planned to commemorate the event by compiling a link love list of reviews and articles written by my fellow bloggers. Finally, there was a niche brand in the Scouted by Sephora initiative geared exclusively for black skin by black skin.

In 2011, I, like many in the blogosphere, thought it was a black-owned (and operated) company with stellar, orgasmic ads but horrible, condescending counter staff as reported by Yinka of Vex in the City on August 29, 2010. Then when black|Up tapped Rihanna’s makeup artist Mylah Morales as a brand ambassador in 2011 (see their Facebook exclusive album), the collaboration further piqued our interest. Despite the contentious name, black|Up had potential to be one of the top luxury makeup brands for black women worldwide.

However, there was always something about the French black beauty brand that gave me pause. For starters, at least for us here in the States, the details surrounding black|Up have always seemed dubious. When I was writing my roundup, my energy felt off because there was talk that the company was stolen from the original owner. At the time, I didn’t have a face or a name. I thought it was odd that identified Lionel Durand as the founder in their 2011 interview. However, companies such as Cocotique gets the story correct by identifying Fabrice Mahabo has the founder on their blog.

Introducing Fabrice Mahabo, Original CEO of  black|Up Cosmetics

Other publications listing Fabrice Mahabo as the founder:

From a snapshot of black|Up‘s about page on March 8, 2011, the brand offered this brief introduction about their origins:

Founded in 1999 black|Up Cosmetics is both the first makeup artist brand created and specialized for women of color, yet suitable for all women, as well as an upscale cosmetics line of unprecedented elegance and luxury, respecting the unique nature of ethnic skins and celebrating their intrinsic beauty.

Fast-forward to 2014 in which this blurb was updated with a short, nondescript reference to black|Up‘s real creator and founder Fabrice Mahabo. It’s apparent to me if the brand was actually founded by Lionel Durand, the about me page would have glowed with transparency: photos, a complete biography, perhaps a timeline of accomplishments and major events. However, none of that is extended to Mahabo:

Founded in 1999 by an African makeup artist, black|Up Cosmetics is the first dedicated upscale beauty brand to magnify black and mixed beauties. black|Up develops a true expertise answering darker complexions’ specific needs and offers products that pair professional quality and pleasure of use: velvety effects, mat or powdery finishes, perfect coverage, ultra vibrant colors, 100% non-ashy finish… Thanks to its unique offer, black|Up has become a key player in the makeup world that seduces black and mixed women as much as all the makeup addicts of the planet.

Troubling Allegations Surrounding the black|Up Brand

Confession time: I was supposed to publish this expose days ago. However, I only found two French accounts of Fabrice Mahabo’s ordeal. One was published earlier this month over at African Aroga on August 1. The other, written by Mahabo himself on his now defunct Canalblog (see below), can only be assessed through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Fabrice Mahabo's Canalblog from March 23, 2009

Fabrice Mahabo’s Canalblog from March 23, 2009

Google Translate provided a rough but adequate narrative. Luckily for us, I’ve unearthed a list of events that allegedly transpired during Mahabo’s time at black|Up (edited for length and clarity):

From Fabrice Mahabo to Lionel Durand: Blacked Out Then Whitewashed (Part 1)

  • After graduating from the prestigious makeup academy Christian Chauveau in Paris in 1997, Mahabo has the brilliant idea to start Godo Black-Up (now just black|Up)  in 1999. He names his company after his late father Godo Zoleba Guillame.
  • He submits his idea to a partner who agreed to go into business with him. This partner is responsible for administrative and legal matters. Interestingly enough, he never reveals the name of this partner. Mahabo owns 60% of the shares while his partner has 30%. They have a starting capital of € 7,500 (this would be $8,421 now)
  • On December 31, 2009, the company grossed €3.77 million (or $4.15 million today), with a net turnover of over €3.58 million ($3.98 million). Profits increased by nearly 40%.
  • In 2001, after opening a showroom in Paris and having great success with his melanin-friendly beauty brand, Mahabo inks an exclusive, 3-year contract with Printemps department store.
  • Business is booming! After Printemps, Mahabo links up with Sephora Paris, Galeries Lafayette Haussmann and Macy’s. Macy’s is the first American department store to carry black|Up.
The article 'Black Up Comes to the U.S." in the September 12, 2003 issue of WWD Friday Beauty

The article ‘Black Up Comes to the U.S.” in the September 12, 2003 issue of WWD Friday Beauty

From Fabrice Mahabo to Lionel Durand: Blacked Out Then Whitewashed (Part 2)

  • 2004 is a bittersweet year for Mahabo. The great news is black|Up has made over 230 sales. The burgeoning beauty brand is rapidly expanding and in need for a serious loan. Unfortunately, neither Mahabo nor his partner cannot secure the money needed to take black|Up to the next level.
  • In response, the unnamed partner, who proves to be unscrupulous, brings aboard a private “angel” investor to “help.” This investor is actually a partner, unbeknownst to Mahabo at the time. He never consented to this change of events.
  • Unfortunately, artistry and management suffer due to the new shareholder.
  • Meetings are no longer held at the black|Up headquarters. Instead, the shareholder conducts his agendas at the locations of his other companies. (Editor’s note: Based on this statement, I do not think Lionel Durand is the private investor. If you take a peek at his Linkedin profile, before becoming the General Manager for black|Up, he was the European director for Valeant. Before that gig, he spent over 10 years as the Travel Retailing Director for Estee Lauder in Europe. None of the positions suggests that he has the clout needed to conduct this takeover.) See Lionel Durand’s The Decision Maker’s profile page below:
  • Mahalo is no longer invited to these meetings. Undeterred, he continues to submit his ideas to the new shareholder. The new CEO is not interested as he has a new team.
  • black|Up’s atmosphere deteriorates. Mahabo’s staff becomes hostile towards him.
  • Mahabo is demoted from General Manager to employee status.

2007: The Beginning of the End

  • Mahabo is wrongly terminated from the company in 2007. Shortly after, he is arrested and detained by police for 24 hours without probable cause.
  • He receives a final settlement of €620, which he refuses to cash as he never signed over ownership. He is banned from future black|Up sales and offices. Although he is forbidden to participate, he still receives minutes (?). Someone is forging his signature.
Lionel Durand is Recognized as the New CEO of Black Up Cosmetics in September 2008

Lionel Durand Recognized as the New CEO of Black Up Cosmetics in the September 2008 Grioo Pour Elle entry.

  • During this time, the company still uses his likeness and name up until February 2009. During this time, he is completely erased from black|Up‘s history as the brand’s original founder.
  • His shares are diluted from 60% to 3.8% of the share capital.
  • Mahabo valiantly initiates legal proceedings against his “partners.”  He is met with intimidation, threats, and blackmail. Outnumbered and without the far-reaching power needed to triumph, justice eludes Mahabo.

Mind you, this is a very condensed version of events. There are still details I need to decode in order to provide a better picture. In fact, this is what initially stalled my progress. Yet, I knew Mahabo’s story needed to go viral soon to make an impact. I hope over the next few days (hopefully September 15) I can add more information so you can make an informed decision.

In a nutshell: Lionel Durand replacing Fabrice Mahabo as black|Up‘s General Manager and consequently as the CEO/founder was not a voluntary transition.

Fabric Mahabo: Revelations from Facebook

I dissected my next source: Fabrice Mahabo’s Facebook page. He wrote the following message on September 1, 2010:

c est la verite je n ai jamis vendu black up c est une ruse pour mes associes et mon bureau c est la stricte verite merci pour tout vos soutients et bon ramadan a tous merci

The truth is I haven’t sold black|Up. [It] is a ruse to my associates and my office. [This] is strictly the truth.

And on September 17, 2010:

seigneur je te rends grace pour tous surtout pour cette epreuve car tu veux me montrer ta force et surtout ton amour jesus ma forteresse et mon rempart qu il soit fait selon ta volonte je te benis et je pardonnes pour tous les mal et humiliation que je subis je pries pour mes ennemis aie pitie d eux car ils sont ignorants

Lord[,] I give you thanks for all[,] especially for this ordeal because you want to show me your strength and especially your love[.] Jesus  [is] my fortress and my fortress that it be according to your desire I will bless and I forgive for all the hurt and humiliation I suffered[.] I pray for my enemies[.] Have mercy for them because they are ignorant[.]

Fabrice Mahabo: Erased, But Not Forgotten

As a result, he has not posted anything else relating to his fate at black|Up.  He has not listed any other occupations. There has been no promising updates concerning his case or plans to start fresh, to keep creating. I have immersed myself in reading and researching these damning allegations. Now, the only logical step for me is to boycott black|Up. black|Up needs to provide answers about this controversy. I hope if you are reading, you’ll feel just as outraged, if not more, about this reprehensible situation.

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  • Heather
    January 10, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    I was just thinking about buying some of their products and decided to find out who was really getting my money. I’m not lining anymore white pockets if I can help it.

    • Blaq Vixen Beauty
      January 10, 2016 at 6:46 PM

      Thank you for commenting Heather! I’m happy to know black women are waking up and taking their support elsewhere!

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  • Do Geodude
    August 23, 2016 at 8:55 PM

    I don’t wear makeup, but if I ever decide to I know what to look out for.

  • ETB
    September 2, 2016 at 4:01 AM

    This is heartbreaking….Karma will be coming swiftly. I’m glad I did my research.

  • londonhermit
    January 16, 2017 at 10:53 AM

    Surprise a white man stole another persons idea…Stealin since ancient Greece.

  • Guyanese6ixgyal
    May 14, 2017 at 12:26 PM

    I’m SO happy I did my research before buying. The buying power from black people in North America alone is billions. We really should be taking our buying power and really giving it the businesses who are truly for us and BY us…

    • Blaq Vixen Beauty
      May 16, 2017 at 1:53 AM

      I am so happy you enjoyed the article, Guyanese6ixgyal. I agree with everything you said. Recently, I read our buying power is actually in the trillions so can you imagine what we could do if more of us shopped small and bought black? That would be amazing!

  • Melanin Mind Soul
    May 25, 2017 at 1:29 PM

    I went on a mission to consciously buy black owned brands only.

    I purchased a few beauty products from black up and I’m ashamed that I did so with the intention that I was supporting a black owned business and not a ‘black face’ business.

    The way this company was stolen and Fabrice Mahabo’s history had tried to be erased is disgusting. Cha!

    • Blaq Vixen Beauty
      May 26, 2017 at 3:23 AM

      I know the feeling! I really hate that we will never know the complete story. I just don’t feel comfortable supporting this brand when it used to be black-owned and operated and now it’s not. And it’s really frustrating to know that people still think BlackUp is black-owned rather than doing research to find the names of the current owners and CEOs. It’s more important, I think, to find out who owns the brand, rather than focusing on who founded it. It’s the same with Black Opal Beauty. We know it was founded by a black woman, but her Greek husbands owns the brand under his parent company MANA. And if you ever take a peek of MANA’s company profile at Glassdoor, then you’ll know that the CEO gives special preference to Greek applicants, not American. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure these are not black Greeks getting hired.

      • GiGi
        July 22, 2017 at 5:26 PM

        I was googling some ideas for ‘black pride” t-shirts, and happened to see this line of make-up. Because I now look to spend more money with black owned businesses, I followed your bread crumbs ( read the article) and I must say I’m appalled but not surprised. This has been going on for ages, but BLACK folks need to be vigilant in researching who we spend our money with. It’s time for us to focus on US.

  • Ayanna Barton
    December 6, 2017 at 5:50 AM

    I was also considering purchasing some of blackup makeup and i was hoping that because of the name ‘blackup’ that it was a black owned company. Was I outraged to find that it was and the circumstances surrounding why it is not anymore. I will definitely boycott this makeup brand and I am pleased that I had done the research. With everything that is happening and the current political and economic climate affecting black people across the world.I think it is important that black people support each other more so than anything else. It is very important that we as black people vote with our money because that is the only way for us to gain any economic power.

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