Features, The Business of Beauty

Beauty’s Great Beyond

If the reports are accurate – that he intentionally plunged to his death from the balcony of his 32nd story downtown Toronto penthouse – it was a really sad, shocking end to Deciem founder Brandon Truaxe’s 40 years on this Shakespearian “mortal coil.”

Was it wholly unexpected? No, not by those close to the charismatic Wizard of Products. This manically creative individual, who’d launched 15 brands virtually simultaneously and lured Estée Lauder Cos. as an investor, had been publicly dissembling for a good 18 months before the alleged suicide, leaving a trail of corporate devastation in his wake. The Robin Report has covered Truaxe’s mental meltdown.

Was it the pressure of keeping all those brand plates spinning in the air that drove Truaxe to do what he did? Was he worried he couldn’t live up to the massive hype, and the “renegade” mythology he was increasingly saddled with? I wouldn’t even attempt to stitch together an answer to those questions.

But in Oprah-speak, here’s what I know for sure: The death toll among beauty’s brand creators is rising. Most recently, Jean Ann Ford, co-founder of Benefit Cosmetics, passed from cancer at the age of 71. In December, hair god Oribe Canales, a mere 62 years young, suffered a similar fate.

Sadly, we now have two camps of beauty geniuses who have gone to the Great Beyond: those who have committed suicide and those who left the planet too early because of illness.

Along with Truaxe, the late, great Fredric Brandt tragically belongs to the first camp. I was one of the many, many people who adored Fred Brandt – he was such a nice man, like crazy, insanely sweet – and his death by his own hands in 2015, at the age of 65, still stings, bitterly.

Had he not died of a pituitary brain tumor in 2002, this coming Valentine’s Day would’ve been makeup supernova Kevyn Aucoin’s 57th birthday. How fitting that the gentle giant, a 6’4 bundle of good vibes and positive energy, was born on the “love” holiday.

If I’m sounding a little maudlin, that’s because maybe I am. I came of age in a beauty era – the 90s – that was wildly creative. Sure, there was the whole zonked-out “heroin chic” bit, but there was also larger-than-life, supermodel hair (merci beaucoup, Oribe), molto maquillage (hats off to you, Kevyn) and Botox, baby (Fred!).

Still, it’s my role as a writer for this fine digital publication to connect some dots for our readers, and to provide insight, value and ideas for the way forward. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake? Not so much.

So, here’s how I’m infusing this morbid tale with service: by drawing conclusions as to how well the brands attached to these departed founders will fare – or have already fared – in their absence.

Working my way from the most recent death all the way back to Kevyn “Gentle Giant” Aucoin, here are my assessments.

Brand: Benefit Cosmetics

Founders: Twin sisters Jean Ann Ford (deceased) and Jane Ford

Post-Death Prognosis: The kitschy-whimsical, problem-solution makeup brand, established by the San Francisco-based Sisters Ford in 1976 and beloved for products like Bomb-Ass Brows and BADGal Bang mascara, was scooped-up by LVMH in stages, beginning in 1999. Given that Jean Ann Ford hasn’t been involved in the day to day ops for several years, her recent passing, while definitely sad, shouldn’t create any major business ripples.

 

Brand: The Ordinary (Note: The Ordinary is, by far, the most successful of the 15 brands in the Deciem portfolio)

Founder: Brandon Truaxe

Post-Death Prognosis: This could get tricky. On the one hand, Estée Lauder owns a minority stake, which would augur solid future stewardship. On the other hand, “the cult of Brandon” was pretty central to The Ordinary’s meteoric rise. Now that so many competitors have ripped-off Truaxe’s core idea for The Ordinary – of being utterly transparent about ingredients and pricing – can the OG “authenticity” brand survive?

 

Brand: Oribe

Founder: Oribe Canales, in conjunction with Luxury Brand Partners

Post-Death Prognosis: Recently sold to Kao USA for an estimated $400 million, the question isn’t so much about whether the brand will survive as it is about whether it will maintain its ultra-luxury positioning. As it was originally envisioned, this is a crème of the crop range of hair brews – incredible scents, high-performance formulas, gorgeous packaging. And more recently, the brand has expanded into makeup, skincare, body and fragrance – also pricey and luxe. Will Kao shift Oribe’s upscale-salon distribution over time? As for how Kao is handling the late hairstylist’s death, there is zero mention of it so far on the brand’s website. Fingers crossed they get to that soon; Oribe deserves a fitting tribute.

 

Brand: Dr. Brandt Skincare

Founder: Fredric Brandt, renowned dermatologist and unofficial “Baron of Botox”

Post-Death Prognosis: If any success stories can spring from the suicide of a brand founder, this is it. While I’m of course not privy to any balance sheets, I’m heartened by the continual stream of launches from this company nearly four years after his passing. And I absolutely love the way they’ve treated Fred’s legacy on the Dr. Brandt Skincare website. In establishing a foundation in his name for sufferers of depression, the brand isn’t shying away from what killed him. It’s bold, hopeful and totally respectful.

 

Brand: Kevyn Aucoin Beauty

Founder: Kevyn Aucoin, makeup artist extraordinaire and author of several splashy, confessional coffee table books

Post-Death Prognosis: When you consider that a good chunk of this stellar makeup brand’s fan base probably isn’t all that familiar with Kevyn himself (in May of this year, it will be 17 years since he passed), I think we can very safely call this another triumph over tough times. I got chills going through all the archival stuff on the website, especially the brand video. Immediately, I was right back in the room with Kevyn, laughing, dabbing the backs of our hands with blush and lipstick, and gabbing about the stuff that really matters in this world. Kevyn was a very warm, real and uplifting individual, and Kevyn Aucoin Beauty continues to do right by him. Bravo.

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