KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Sooner or later in late 2019, longtime associates Desiree Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack discovered themselves in a room ready. They have been ready to see in the event that they’d gained an public sale to purchase an organization.

DESIREE ROGERS: And in order you may think about, extraordinarily nerve-wracking, you recognize, the place you need to simply put in your greatest bid – you recognize, sealed envelope type of a factor.


This wasn’t the frenzied public sale you have seen within the motion pictures. There have been no individuals elevating their paddles, bidding in opposition to one another as the worth goes up and up and up. Right here, you do not know who you are bidding in opposition to, and you haven’t any clue what their motive could be.

ROGERS: It was a blind bid, and so it is attorneys in a room opening envelopes.

GRIGSBY BATES: Cheryl Mayberry McKissack says the quiet made it really feel intense.

CHERYL MAYBERRY MCKISSACK: You are in principally a convention room along with your attorneys. And, you recognize, you set your bid in, and the highest two bids really get a chance to bid in opposition to one another. And in case you do not win these prime two bids, you are type of out of there fairly shortly.

GRIGSBY BATES: It had taken quite a bit for these two ladies to get right here. They’d raised hundreds of thousands of {dollars}.

MCKISSACK: It is all non-public data. And you set your bid in, after which they take it to whoever the opposite bidder is. And then you definitely trip, backwards and forwards. And then you definitely get silence, and you are like, OK, what occurred?

BERAS: And each time a brand new envelope got here again, it simply ratcheted up the anxiousness stage slightly bit extra. Possibly all this was going to be for nothing.

GRIGSBY BATES: All that work and what?

MCKISSACK: Yeah. It was like – and Desiree stated, you recognize, I do not suppose we’ve it. I imply, we’ve not heard something. After which, you recognize, about an hour later, they got here in and stated you gained the bid.

BERAS: For $1.85 million, what they’d gained was a make-up firm. But it surely wasn’t simply any make-up firm. It was Vogue Honest.




GRIGSBY BATES: Almost half a century in the past, Vogue Honest modified all the things for Black ladies and cosmetics. It had been a one-of-a-kind model. And Desiree and Cheryl have been betting it might be once more.

BERAS: Good day, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I am Erika Beras.

GRIGSBY BATES: And I am Karen Grigsby Bates from Code Swap, NPR’s podcast about race and identification.

BERAS: At present on the present, ladies of colour spend billions on cosmetics. It is a very coveted demographic, and nearly each model is attempting to get into these ladies’s make-up baggage and on their faces. But it surely wasn’t at all times that manner. That is the story of how Vogue Honest Cosmetics pioneered an trade after which blew it and what they’re attempting to do now.


BERAS: Vogue Honest, this firm that Cheryl and Desiree purchased in late 2019, was rooted within the Fifties. Again then, couture was not accessible to the lots the way in which it’s now. Designers had trunk exhibits, however that was primarily to point out their wealthy purchasers a few of their greatest garments.

GRIGSBY BATES: However then the Ebony Vogue Honest began, a touring vogue present that went from metropolis to metropolis the place common individuals may see couture up shut. You could possibly see how a hand-stitched cape swirled. You could possibly see a coat lined in badger, a glittery gown with intricate beading.

BERAS: The present arrived in cities full with a musical director and units and fashions, just about all of whom have been Black.

GRIGSBY BATES: Audrey Smaltz was the announcer for the present. She was six wonderful ft of unadulterated magnificence.

AUDREY SMALTZ: Once I would come on stage, I might say, Audrey Smaltz is my identify, and vogue is my sport. Women and gents, welcome.

GRIGSBY BATES: (Laughter).

BERAS: Karen, you used to go to those exhibits?

GRIGSBY BATES: I did, Erika, and folks dressed to the nines. It was a see-and-be-seen type of occasion. I keep in mind going one 12 months in my teenagers in what I believed was an particularly stylish black-and-white outfit. It was held in my highschool auditorium, which held greater than 500 individuals. And also you got here in from the again, the foyer, and simply waded by this sea of Black glamour to get to your seat.

BERAS: What Karen did not know then was that whereas these fashions have been strutting on stage in fancy garments, backstage the scene was chaos. You’d have one mannequin urgent a scorching iron to her hair whereas one other one was getting sewn right into a gown. Another person was monitoring down the mate for, say, I do not know, a cream-colored heel. After which there was make-up. The fashions needed to create their very own.

SMALTZ: They might mix it themselves. They used no matter they might. You realize, they’d go to the five-and-ten and blend it up till they acquired it the shade that they needed for themselves.

GRIGSBY BATES: Within the Nineteen Sixties and early ’70s, there actually wasn’t a nationwide make-up model that catered to ladies of colour. There have been some regional and smaller manufacturers. And in case you had cash, you might go to the large cities for customized blends. However who had the time or cash for all that? Right here, backstage, Audrey says it was…

SMALTZ: Just a little little bit of this, and slightly little bit of that.

BERAS: The ladies right here have been shopping for powder basis made for a lighter complexion, then mixing in crushed up eye make-up, like an eyeliner. It was like making spice blends at a kitchen counter and placing that on their faces.

SMALTZ: And I had some very darkish ladies – slightly little bit of this and slightly little bit of that (laughter) until they acquired it proper.

BERAS: And if these fashions could not discover make-up, what did that imply for all the opposite, like, common Black ladies on the market?

GRIGSBY BATES: And keep in mind; this was a really totally different time. The Civil Rights Act had handed lower than a decade in the past. So in idea – in idea – all the things was open to everybody. However because the present traveled from city to city, numerous locations nonetheless had their very own guidelines, like eating places.

SMALTZ: Now, we could not eat in all places, so then we’d ship the very fair-skinned ladies to go get us some meals.

GRIGSBY BATES: The locals would assume the very fair-skinned ladies have been white. In these cities, do not ask, do not inform acquired everyone dinner.

BERAS: The Ebony Vogue Honest was placed on by the Johnson household. They revealed Ebony and Jet magazines, they usually owned a bunch of various ventures. And so they used the exhibits to boost cash for charities just like the NAACP, neighborhood facilities, and to fund scholarships at Black faculties and universities. The Johnsons have been rich, like having an actual Picasso in your lounge type of rich, like flying to Paris to spend $1 million on hats, attire and day fits rich.

SMALTZ: They’d the cash to do all the things, you recognize? When you’ve gotten the cash, that is what – it takes a number of capital to get began. And so they had the capital.

GRIGSBY BATES: The Johnsons had been believers that Black ladies have been lovely earlier than Black is Lovely turned a slogan. And so they understood there was a necessity. Bear in mind these fashions backstage mixing slightly little bit of this and slightly little bit of that? They thought that want might be become a enterprise.

BERAS: In 1973, they began a cosmetics firm and referred to as it Vogue Honest. And to start out a complete new model, they wanted to make merchandise and get individuals to purchase them. Audrey Smaltz wasn’t simply the style present announcer. She additionally labored for the Johnsons on Vogue Honest. She says they began by hiring a chemist to make shades of basis and lipstick that appeared good on darker pores and skin.

SMALTZ: We might attempt all of the cosmetics on everyone who labored within the Chicago workplace. We had all shades of colours there, and we tried it on the darkest woman and the lightest woman…

GRIGSBY BATES: Oh, that is nice.

SMALTZ: …And all the things in between.

GRIGSBY BATES: So you might type of tweak as you went alongside?

SMALTZ: Yeah, we’d apply on our personal (laughter) workers.

GRIGSBY BATES: That is how Vogue Honest created and examined their make-up strains, just like the Chocolate Raspberry lipstick or the Bronze Blaze basis.

BERAS: However when the Johnsons tried to promote their new make-up line to established make-up firms like Revlon, nobody needed it. Possibly the large firms handed as a result of there have been already smaller manufacturers. Or possibly they weren’t certain that you might earn a living promoting make-up to Black ladies. The Johnsons thought these firms have been mistaken, and they also took a threat and went at it on their very own, which meant subsequent, they wanted packaging. They settled on pink.

SMALTZ: Eunice got here up with pink as a result of Estee at the moment was blue. Every part Estee did was blue, so Eunice stated, effectively, I will do pink. That is how we acquired pink.

BERAS: And I keep in mind these compacts. I grew up with them. They have been, like, this little pale marbleized pink. Once I was little woman, all the women I knew carried them round.

GRIGSBY BATES: And it was a standing image. Pulling out that compact meant you cared about individuals caring about the way you, as a Black lady, appeared. No extra making do with a shade near what you wanted.

BERAS: Now, as soon as that they had the little pink compacts and lipsticks, that they had to determine how one can promote it. Within the Nineteen Seventies, that meant establishing store in department shops. The Johnsons needed to personally go to shops like touring salespeople to ask for area on the cosmetics ground. The primary few firms they requested have been the large boys – Marshall Subject and Firm in Chicago, A&S in Brooklyn and Bloomingdales in Manhattan.

SMALTZ: I knew who was the top man over there for cosmetics – Lester Gribetz. And so I referred to as Mr. Gribetz, and I stated, I am working for Ebony Journal, and we’ve a beauty line, and might we come see you tomorrow? – as a result of Mr. Johnson was going to be on the town the following day. He stated, oh, after all, Audrey. We made that appointment, they usually needed the cosmetics instantly.

GRIGSBY BATES: These shops have been in. All they needed to do was give them some area on the ground. In the meantime, these touring vogue exhibits – they have been nonetheless going, visiting dozens of cities yearly with hundreds of individuals attending. And now these exhibits have been a type of showcase for the brand new make-up model.

SMALTZ: What I might do – we’d have slightly part. And they’d come on stage, and I might say, this woman is on this shade of colour, and this one is in that. And I might inform them in regards to the numerous shades that three or 4 of the fashions had on, and they might perform a little skit on the stage.

BERAS: Audrey would stand subsequent to the mannequin and level out the shade every lady was carrying – the Chocolate Raspberry lipstick or the Honey Glow basis. It was like a reside industrial with in-person influencers.

SMALTZ: After which when individuals got here to the present, naturally they needed to go to that retailer or a retailer close by to get to Vogue Honest cosmetics so they might look as fairly because the fashions did.

GRIGSBY BATES: The record of shops carrying Vogue Honest cosmetics stored rising – just a few hundred extra right here, just a few hundred extra there. They made extra merchandise, like nail polish. And all through the ’70s and ’80s, the model’s recognition simply stored rising.

BERAS: Ultimately, Vogue Honest cosmetics was in additional than 1,500 department shops. These little pink compacts – they have been a staple. A number of the lipstick shades like that Chocolate Raspberry turned iconic.

GRIGSBY BATES: And Black ladies knew that in the event that they walked right into a division retailer, there was a Black lady behind a counter that was full of merchandise made only for them.

SAM FINE: The ladies who labored at Vogue Honest jogged my memory of my aunts, of my associates, of my household.

BERAS: That is Sam Positive, Southside Chicago native, make-up artist of the celebs. I will be super-cool about identify dropping, however, like, all the celebs – Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Michelle Obama, Beyonce. Additionally, like each of us, Sam has robust Vogue Honest reminiscences.

FINE: I keep in mind taking my promenade date to a Vogue Honest counter to get her make-up accomplished for promenade. It was an expertise. It was a cultural expertise. It was a spot the place you felt welcomed.

GRIGSBY BATES: When it debuted Vogue Honest had crammed a necessity. But it surely additionally confirmed different manufacturers this market they’d been ignoring.

BERAS: Vogue Honest had what’s referred to as a first-mover benefit. Primarily, they pioneered a area and confirmed it may be accomplished. So different firms adopted. Many manufacturers expanded to incorporate deeper colours.

GRIGSBY BATES: However Vogue Honest had such a bedrock base that it acted like, hey, if it ain’t broke, why repair it? By way of the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s, the world had modified, however Vogue Honest had not.

FINE: It didn’t embrace youth. They didn’t embrace youth.

GRIGSBY BATES: Vogue Honest’s descent wasn’t this enormous, disastrous crash. Its fall was way more mundane. It was extra like a gradual slide into obscurity.

BERAS: Cosmetics, like vogue, is all about seasons – about what’s new and what’s recent, what colours are in. And Vogue Honest simply did not sustain. They stayed complacent. They did not change. By the mid-’90s, Vogue Honest felt like they have been caught within the late ’70s. These pink compacts that had been so of the second now look dated subsequent to all the opposite glossy matte black compacts that have been available on the market.

GRIGSBY BATES: Vogue Honest may have accomplished, I believe, some – pun supposed – beauty issues to freshen itself up, nevertheless it did not for a very very long time. The pink compacts have been round for a very long time until lastly they turned bronze.

FINE: And that was nonetheless too late. By the point the bronze had come alongside, that was nonetheless – it was too late. It was them seeking to compete and never cleared the path. And that is at all times going to be an issue in case you aren’t – in case you’re a model that does not embrace change.

BERAS: Solely altering the packaging was like previous wine in a brand new bottle, and never in a great way. And there was different change afoot, or aface (ph).

GRIGSBY BATES: When Vogue Honest began out in department shops, clients would stroll up and go to a girl behind the counter. She was, like, half make-up information and half gatekeeper. You needed to ask to attempt one thing on. Possibly you’ll then purchase all their merchandise from only one model. However the entire course of might be intimidating.

BERAS: After which Sephora occurred. Sephora, for the uninitiated, is that this retailer the place you stroll in, attempt no matter you need, wherever you need, after which simply combine and match – eyeliner from one model and a forehead pencil from one other.

GRIGSBY BATES: And buyers’ decisions have been more and more guided by the brand new gatekeeper.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I am utilizing a drugstore mascara as a result of mascaras have such a brief shelf life.

GRIGSBY BATES: They have been on social media. Influencers and celebrities and randos – that is who endorsed and bought cosmetics.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Utilizing a basis brush actually helps to melt off…

BERAS: This new grab-baggy mannequin was sport altering. It is just like the shift that occurred from butcher and bakery counters to just-grab-it supermarkets.

GRIGSBY BATES: Sephora turned a success, they usually carried numerous manufacturers, together with some fancy ones that had been in department shops, however not Vogue Honest.

BERAS: These enterprise oversights – they have been expensive for the corporate.

FINE: They actually began to take their client without any consideration, and there actually was no newness.

BERAS: Sam Positive, the make-up artist to the celebs – you recognize, Michelle, Naomi, Tyra, Beyonce – got here on to repair the issues and revamp the model. He began to work for Vogue Honest in 2011. He shortly found that they had extra issues than that they had lipstick colours.

GRIGSBY BATES: There have been issues make-up firms did to draw buzz and promote cosmetics when a seasonal line got here out, like sending a celeb make-up artist to shops across the nation to point out individuals how one can use the product or having a giant launch get together stuffed with photographable celebrities. That wasn’t occurring for Vogue Fare. If one thing new got here out, it was simply there, sitting on the division retailer counter ready for loyalists to possibly uncover it.

FINE: It was changing into clear to me that one other assortment could not merely survive on the counter and being found in that manner. It’s a must to make noise. If we’re not doing a tour and a launch, what are we doing?

GRIGSBY BATES: After solely a few years, Sam Positive left the corporate, and within the years that adopted, all these issues – the place the merchandise have been bought, how they have been marketed, and even what they have been got here to a head.

BERAS: You have been watching Vogue Honest as an outsider. Inform me what you have been seeing.

FINE: Demise.


BERAS: In 2019, with little or no consideration paid to it, Vogue Honest Cosmetics filed for Chapter 7 chapter.


GRIGSBY BATES: After the break, we see if Vogue Honest could be resurrected.


GRIGSBY BATES: So in 2019, Vogue Honest had gone into chapter 11. That meant the enduring make-up model that many years earlier had proved {that a} cosmetics firm for Black ladies can thrive was no extra.

BERAS: When issues go into Chapter 7 chapter, they are often put up for public sale. That truly occurs on a regular basis.

GRIGSBY BATES: And when it went up, Desiree Rogers was procuring. She was a longtime Chicago businesswoman. She had served because the social secretary within the early years of the Obama White Home. And for some time, she’d been the CEO of Johnson Publishing, the previous homeowners of Vogue Honest. Desiree had been seeking to get into one thing new, and she or he thought, possibly cosmetics. She referred to as her pal Cheryl Mayberry McKissack.

MCKISSACK: Desiree got here to me and stated, what do you suppose? And I stated, effectively, you recognize, I do not know quite a bit about it. I by no means purchased something out of chapter.

BERAS: Cheryl had labored at large and small tech firms, and she or he had additionally labored at Johnson.

MCKISSACK: And it was a threat we – you recognize, as a result of we did not purchase a bunch of product and a distribution or any of that. There was nothing of that left after we purchased it out of chapter. So we purchased a model.

BERAS: Desiree knew getting a model going, even one with deep roots – possibly even particularly one with deep roots – was not going to be straightforward.

ROGERS: Every part is difficult. I imply, all the things from begin to end is troublesome. The historical past offers us possibly, like, an added kick in our excessive heels, however definitely not one thing that we’re simply going to say, oh, you recognize, let’s simply do the identical factor over once more.

GRIGSBY BATES: As a result of there’s a number of competitors now.

BERAS: In 2017, Rihanna began Fenty Magnificence.


RIHANNA: This is sort of a celebration. That is like an album launch. I am so excited. It is a dream come true.

GRIGSBY BATES: Fenty launched with dozens of basis shades, from bisque to virtually black.


RIHANNA: …The merchandise, and all ladies ought to be capable to have their very own shade of basis. It is that easy. and…

BERAS: Rihanna perfected the factor that Vogue Honest did first after which some. Fenty was instantly extremely fashionable. And notably, the darkest shades bought out first. And now, nearly each single cosmetics model sells many shades of brown basis.

MCKISSACK: I do not suppose our expectation is that it should be precisely the identical because it was. You realize, when Vogue Honest first got here out, there wasn’t a number of competitors. There’s numerous competitors now.

GRIGSBY BATES: Fenty has quite a bit going for it. It has the backing of a giant multinational firm. It has an enormous celeb.

BERAS: When Cheryl and Desiree first purchased Vogue Honest out of chapter, they did not have any of these issues. What they did have was historical past and the identify Vogue Honest.

GRIGSBY BATES: So in 2019, that they had to determine who their buyer was.

ROGERS: We had a number of focus teams – customers, earlier customers, non-users, by no means heard of it ever in my life. And so we had all of this information that we went by to say, OK, we all know we’ve all these of us that actually, actually love the model, they usually’re most likely in this type of age group.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: There are some manufacturers that I solely buy these manufacturers as a result of I do know they’ve colours for my pores and skin tone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: We have been supporting white manufacturers all of our lives, and, like, why not, like, have one thing that is particularly for us that we are able to assist ourselves?

GRIGSBY BATES: That is from a latest HBO documentary, “The Magnificence Of Blackness,” about Vogue Honest. Vogue Honest loyalists have been saying one factor.

ROGERS: They needed that precise factor again. Do not tamper with it. Do not mess with it. That is what I need. That is what I wore for therefore a few years. I do not need something totally different (laughter). And then you definitely had, after all, a more moderen group that stated, look; I am comfortable to have a look at it. I am comfortable to present it an opportunity. But it surely wants these traits as a result of that is what I am on the lookout for in my make-up.

BERAS: Cheryl and Desiree made a selection – to financial institution on Black ladies remembering the model in its heyday within the ’70s and ’80s. They have been counting on one thing referred to as the economics of nostalgia, primarily the concept that issues that have been beloved could be worthwhile. We see it on a regular basis – proper? – reboots and remakes of films and rereleases of old-school sneakers, new takes on an previous automotive.

GRIGSBY BATES: Cheryl says for the Vogue Honest loyalists, not bringing again beloved shades was non-negotiable.

MCKISSACK: If we introduced again lipsticks and did not deliver again Chocolate Raspberry, I most likely would not be right here reside telling you about it.


MCKISSACK: You realize, I imply, we knew that, OK?

BERAS: However a number of the components that they used within the unique lipstick at the moment are restricted or prohibited by the Meals and Drug Administration. So Desiree and Cheryl labored with a dermatologist to make new formulation for the OG merchandise. They needed to be, quote, “clear.”

GRIGSBY BATES: As soon as that they had the merchandise, like a brand new components for that Chocolate Raspberry lipstick and even new merchandise just like the Brown Sugar Babe powder, that they had to determine how one can bundle it. They determined in opposition to the enduring little pink compact. They relaunched with a brand new compact. It is white with a slim gold accent and a contemporary emblem etched into the highest.

BERAS: Subsequent up, the place to promote. In the summertime of 2020, they have been pitching the brand new Vogue Honest to shops. This was proper after George Floyd was murdered, and firms have been making all kinds of pledges to handle institutional racism, like Sephora stated it might dedicate 15% of its shelf area to Black-owned firms. That labored out for Desiree and Cheryl.

GRIGSBY BATES: Mockingly, Sephora, the exact same firm that had been chargeable for the demise of cosmetics counterculture, could be carrying Vogue Honest.

BERAS: And now that it is in shops once more, that is what Desiree and Cheryl are listening to.

ROGERS: One lady stated, oh, my God, Chocolate Raspberry is again. It was the colour, you recognize, I wore to my promenade. It was the colour I kissed my dad on his deathbed and left the colour on his face. Folks have every kind of tales. That is the make-up that my mother, you recognize, purchased for me.

BERAS: Now, we must always say Vogue Honest is privately owned, and so it is exhausting to see if what they’re doing is succeeding.

GRIGSBY BATES: Mainly, the query is, will Vogue Honest survive the battlefield of latest merchandise, particularly as a result of, even with all these heat reminiscences, individuals can choose and select any of the a whole bunch of manufacturers on the market?


BERAS: Huge due to Karen Grigsby Bates for reporting this story with me. Karen is normally over at Code Swap, a podcast about race and identification. Try the podcast. One in all my favourite episodes is Demise Of A Blood Sport, and, after all, there’s the one in regards to the Karens. And search for PLANET MONEY on social media. Our TikTok is fairly wonderful. We’re at @planetmoney.

This episode was produced by Emma Peaslee and edited by Jess Jiang. It was mastered by Isaac Rodrigues. Alex Goldmark is our govt producer.

GRIGSBY BATES: Because of Sarah Jindal and the makers of HBO’s “The Magnificence Of Blackness.”

BERAS: I am Erika Beras.

GRIGSBY BATES: And I am Karen Grigsby Bates. That is NPR. Thanks for listening.

SMALTZ: I keep in mind there was one specific gown. We was – it was a swimsuit with a silver fox. It had grey footwear – simply elegant. And I might say, what to put on on Sunday when you aren’t getting residence until Monday. Anyone can relate to that.

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