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."
Check out my latest article “Black Beauty Brands That Aren’t Black-Owned.”
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. Instead of releasing an official statement addressing the allegations that I have brought forth in this article, Sephora is content with deleting Facebook comments as it is “business as usual.”
If you are one of the many customers enthused about black|Up arriving stateside on Sephora.com 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. I recently read rumors about how 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 Fashionista.com 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:
- Afrik (May 26, 2002)
- WWD Friday Beauty (September 12, 2003)
- Libration Lifestyle (February 17, 2005)
- Afrikeco (December 18, 2006; listed as CEO)
- ISSUU (December 5, 2008)
- African Success (December 19, 2010)
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. I was only able to find two lengthy accounts of how Fabrice Mahabo was wrongly booted from his own company. 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. Both, of course, are written in French.
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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. However, he still receives minutes although he is forbidden to participate (?). Someone is forging his signature.
- 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 more complete 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.
Founders don’t get erased.
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[.]
Fabric 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.