the make-up of make-up artists

The Fenty Effect (or, My Disappointing Max Factor Makeover experience)

I can’t say that I have ever used a lot of Max Factor make-up. While I’ve seen a few things on their beauty counters that piqued my interest at times, I never totally found something that pushed me over the edge to actually buy (barring the one random purchase of a brow product). The sound of “The make-up of make-up artists” has never appealed – other brands always seemed to shout louder to a non-professional like me.

But a few months ago, I had the chance to try out some of their lip products in an Influenster VoxBox review – their Honey Nude Lip Lacquer has been my everyday Spring/Summer staple since then, and I’m revving up to use the gorgeous metallic Mulberry for the autumn season.

The Max Factor Invitation

So last month, when I was invited to get a complimentary makeover by a Max Factor, again courtesy of Influenster, I decided to give it a shot. I decided to give it a shot. I’m always open to trying new makeup and I wanted to see what else the brand could surprise me with.

Unfortunately I wasn’t totally impressed.

The Positives

The make-up artist herself was another woman of colour with a similar complexion to mine, so I was in good hands in terms of colour matching and recommendations.

Her representation of the brand itself was stellar – she talked me through their Facefinity All Day Primer benefits, and their brand new Healthy Skin Harmony Foundation, which she applied in shade 95 (Tawny). My skin is currently fading for autumn, so the foundation was slightly warm on my skin – but in the most complimentary way. I loved the finish, which was I’d say a natural matte. She also applied brows, eyeliner and Lip Lacquers in Chocolate Nectar and my go-to Honey Nude – these I really enjoyed.

max factor Healthy Skin Harmony foundation 95 Tawny
The final look from my Max Factor Makeover – no filter!

Where it started to go wrong

However, a sense of foreboding crept in the moment she applied some purple eyeshadow from the Smokey Eye Drama Kit in Luxe Lilacs. Although pretty in the pan, the shadow colours looked awkwardly powdery on my skin – disappointing. I really was expecting some more colour payoff from an established make-up brand.

But the most shocking moment of the whole experience came when I asked for a concealer:

“We don’t have one dark enough for your skin tone, unfortunately…”

Shudder. What in the name of Fenty???

It’s 2017. And you don’t have a concealer that is dark enough for me?

Oh, the shade. (Pun intended.)

I can already hear the echoes in my mind: ‘What were you expecting? It’s Max Factor, you know they don’t make make-up for us. Did you really think they were gonna have a wide range of shades?’

I tried to get my head around it. So you have foundation that just about matches me – but doesn’t go that much darker than my MAC NC50 yellow undertone colour.  And you have NO concealer for me.


(Sidenote: Tawny is the second to darkest shade in the Healthy Skin Harmony Foundation range. I would count myself as only mid-tone melanin – so God knows what someone like Nyma Tang would use as foundation for her rich, ebony skin.)

Is it any wonder that Rihanna’s launch with 40 shades started out looking something like this…

Foundation for all. 40 shades. What's yours? #PROFILTR #FENTYBEAUTY

A post shared by FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA (@fentybeauty) on

… and ended up looking like this?

Fenty Beauty stand Sephora
Sephora, The Oculus (World Trade Center, NYC), 19th October 2017

The shade range debate is not new

Now this is not to say that women with deeper tones of melanin haven’t been complaining about the shade ranges of beauty brands for years. They really have been. The lacklustre effort to stick the odd shade of sable brown at the end of a shade range is nothing new, especially not in your average Boots or Superdrug.

This is also not to say that no other makeup brand has attempted to have an inclusive shade range, or to cater to darker skinnned women’s needs. Ranges such as IMAN and Fashion Fair were started by and cater to Black women. Other foundations that I have used and love, such as Make Up For Ever Ultra HD foundation, already stock a wide range of make-up in different undertones.

So what makes Fenty Beauty different?

For starters overall, brands that cater mainly to darker skinned women tend to be seen more as niche brands, not as high profile, popular or mainstream.

Secondly, most of the brands that stock darker shades have not done so as a part of their initial launch. Under the guise of ‘we’re not sure if the darker shades will sell well’, the more melanated of us have to wait way later for shades that may match. The emphasis on the ‘may’ is not accidental. A chief complaint is that even when darker tones are included, the undertones are not quite right and look ashy (aka casket-ready).

And thirdly, the recent celebrity forays into the make-up world have been very mixed, with darker skinned women being the most disparaging of shade choices (such as Kim Kardashian’s mid-toned woman being described as ‘deep dark’ for her contour kit here).

But the launch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty range with 40 shades of foundations from the very start  – with a slick co-ordination of launch parties and coverage by social media influencers – has led to far and away the most successful makeup launch of 2017, and possibly of this generation.

($72 million? I guess the darker foundations do sell after all. )

Turning up the heat on make-up brands

And with it, the heat has been rising on other make-up brands regarding their shade ranges. People are speaking up now, more than ever, to call out a lack of diversity where they see it. And brands who previously hardly spoke about how wide their ranges were, are all of a sudden conveniently emphasising how dark their foundations go.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call ‘The Fenty Effect’.

As for my Max Factor experience, it is what it is. I’m not going to lose any sleep over the lack of variety of shades of foundation or concealer that they do.

But it is glaringly obvious in a post-Fenty world that they need to do much, much better. I really would like to know which make-up artists Max Factor do make-up for – they seem to live in a strange world where people much darker than me don’t exist, and don’t need concealer.

Real inclusivity is not an option

I don’t like feeling like an afterthought. Neither do I like feeling that so many Black and Brown women are also an afterthought. I think that the Fenty Beauty launch touched a nerve with so many Black women because it felt like one of us decided to create makeup that includes us unashamedly.

It’s like being invited to a party the day before the event, when everyone else got their invitations months in advance. Rihanna pretty much invited from the very palest to the very darkest of us to her her party all at the same time. That is real diversity and inclusivity.

Make-up companies now have to step up their games. Mere lip service to inclusivity has never been enough, and surely won’t be enough now, to compete in this Gloss Bomb-luminised, brave, new world.

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