The colour of

Believe it or not, this image is historic. May 2015 marked the date that Rihanna was named the face of Dior.  In the viral video advertising campaign, a glamorous, majestic, and glittering icon sweeps through the chateau of Versailles.  As she turns to face the camera you suddenly realize who she is and then it hits you…she’s black. This is truly groundbreaking imagery. It’s the first time a black woman has represented the brand to date.

By Mika Holborow

Dior, like many established cosmetic companies, has long been seen as a brand that is marketed towards a general Caucasian audience. In fact, most brands have a clear focus on providing foundations from fair to medium coverage, but almost never venturing beyond a “tanned” Caucasian skin colour. “Medium melted caramel” is usually the most far reaching skin tone.

As a “medium melted caramel” person (or mixed race for an easier term) who is married to a “deep mocha” man (Nigerian) and blessed with a “hazelnut honey” mixed race baby, I have first handily  experienced the frustrations that black women deal with when it comes time to selecting makeup. The beauty world is still very limited in its representation of black women and that begs the question of whether or not these attitudes could be interpreted as discriminatory.

Makeup brands such as MAC, Make Up For Ever, and Face Atelier have long been riding on the “all races” surfboard and are often upheld as the go-to brands for black women all over the world. In the last 5 years, both Lancôme and Chanel have made strides to offer more colour ranges in their foundations.  However, this forward thinking movement is still not being universally adopted by the beauty industry in an age where we are encouraged to embrace and celebrate our differences and uniqueness. The challenge is that brands are often most successful when packaged and sold to specific markets.

In France, the number one selling ethnic brand is BlackUp,  which is targeted to black women. The key to the brand’s success is that it answers the specific needs of dark skin and addresses the inherent complexity of shades and tones. Speaking as a makeup artist, this is crucial. The problem most black women face once they have found a brand that offers dark foundation is experimenting with the undertones within their shade.  It’s no longer enough for a brand to provide only a mere sample offering of black foundations. They should cater to all the cool and  warm tones within the wider category of dark skin tones.

On a much wider scale, industries brand leaders, such as MAC, Bobbi Brown and Nars offer a single foundation in as many as 50 shades and capture a very broad spectrum of the world’s population skin colour.  These brands demonstrate a true representation of how ethnically integrated the Canadian population is becoming.  In fact, 19% of the population identified themselves as a visible minority group. It seems that some brands did their research.
Black women spend considerable money on cosmetics and have been found to spend 80% more on their beauty products (proving their ultimate ‘consumer power’). Trying an endless array of brands in the quest for finding a ‘perfect tone that doesn’t look too ashy ’ is costly.  Yet, many brands are reluctant to take steps forward to use black celebrities to endorse and market their products which would provide them access and credibility within this significant market.

It was just over 20 years ago that Cover Girl signed the first black model to represent the brand.  Lana Ogilvie was the first black model to front a cosmetic company that was not a brand specifically targeted towards ethnic people.  This opened doors for others such as Halle Berry for Revlon, Beyoncé and Kerry Washington for L’Oréal, and Rihanna, Tyra, Brandy and Queen Latifah for Cover Girl.  These are bold public statements that not only increase brand awareness but also align the brand with current, changing racial demographics and cultures.

The shift has started.  The dawn of major long established brands now mirroring these diversities will power a much needed beauty revolution. If  brands are the vehicles through which the industry speaks, then let it now say that beauty is in all colours.


Written on: September 3, 2019