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Fashion Fair forced to close in U.K., capping years of decline for Johnson Publishing Company’s last surviving product

Crusader Staff Report

Fashion Fair, the company founded by Chicago’s Johnson Publishing, will close its operations in the United Kingdom after a creditor petitioned a judge, who then forced the company to liquidate or sell its assets.

EUNICE JOHNSON (center, in pink), founded Ebony Fashion Fair, which was the largest traveling fashion showcase in the world. The event promoted Johnson Publishing Company’s Fashion Fair Cosmetics line products, carried in prominent department stores around the country.

The move is the latest in the decline of a company that was once the proud achievement of the Johnson Publishing Company. The story was first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.

According to a legal notice in the U.K.’s Gazette, a U.K. court issued an order to start unwinding the business on October 17, after Hays Specialist Recruitment, a Fashion Fair creditor, petitioned the High Court of Justice in June. Fashion Fair’s products have been distributed in the U.K. for years, but the company apparently didn’t make an announcement about the insolvency proceedings, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Johnson Publishing Chairman and CEO Linda Johnson Rice told Crain’s, “Unfortunately, our plans in the U.K. didn’t go as well as hoped. As everyone knows, it is a challenging environment there—more so lately. This is just the unfortunate part of a much longer process that will have to occur for us to be where we want to be at the end of the day.” Asked to clarify, she said, “Brexit situation certainly added to the challenges,” but she didn’t provide any further explanation or comment on U.S. operations.

Linda Johnson-Rice (Ebony)

According to the court order, Tony Ryan was appointed the “official receiver and liquidator” for the Fashion Fair Beauty Products proceedings. The Crusader was unsuccessful in contacting Ryan, but a press officer for the U.K. insolvency service, Michael Gibbs, told Crain’s that the current filings suggest there are no assets to be divvied up in the ongoing, largely administrative, process.

Court filings in the U.K. show that Fashion Fair owes creditors $7 million pounds, which is about $9 million in U.S. currency.

Fashion Fair is the last surviving business of the Johnson Publishing Company, which sold Ebony and Jet to a Texas firm in 2016, ending decades of the family-owned dynasty started by the late John H. Johnson. The company’s prominent headquarters on Michigan Avenue was sold in 2010, before it was sold again to a real estate development firm in 2018. These changes were made under the leadership of Johnson Rice, who took over Johnson Publishing Company in 2005 after her father died.

Johnson Rice’s late mother, Eunice Johnson, launched the cosmetics company, Fashion Fair, in 1973 to serve Black women who had few quality cosmetics choices in department stores around the country. Fashion Fair grew out of the widely successful Ebony Fashion Fair, which was the largest traveling fashion show for people of color, for decades.

Former Johnson Publishing CEO Desiree Rogers aimed to upgrade Fashion Fair by introducing new colors. She reportedly tried to expand European sales beyond the United Kingdom. In a string of tweets, Rogers in recent years, promoted beauty makeovers with Fashion Fair products in New York, Paris, London and South Africa. In 2017, Rogers left the Johnson Publishing Company to take a job with Choose Chicago, which promotes tourism to the city.

Fashion Fair still sells lipstick, eye shadows and skin care items on its website.

A NOTE ON Fashion Fair’s website tells customers that the company is unable to process orders for its products.

But in recent years, Fashion Fair’s cosmetics products in the U.S. have been plagued by poor customer service. The Crusader uncovered a notice on Fashion Fair that said they were unable to process new orders for cosmetic products. The products have reportedly been disappearing from department store shelves and U.S. retailers have experienced problems in their inventory, Crain’s Chicago Business reported. The publication said some of the company’s longtime department store partners said they would no longer carry the product.

Eunice and John H. Johnson initially worked hard to persuade then Marshall Field’s to carry the Fashion Fair product line in their stores. But in the past few months, the product reportedly stopped being carried at  the flagship Macy’s store on State Street. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that it made calls to nine Dillard’s department stores listed on Fashion Fair’s website and found that only one had it products that were on clearance. The Crusader found many Fashion Fair products were still being sold on Amazon.com.

Last month, Johnson Rice put her longtime family mansion in Palm Springs on the market for $5.3 million. The 5,300-square-foot house, which is perched on a slope, has panoramic views of the desert and mountains through walls of glass. The home is built around an interior courtyard that contains an open-air swimming pool. An infinity pool is on the outside of the house. The 2.25-acre property also has a tennis court.

JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY CEO Linda Johnson Rice last month put on the market the family’s sprawling ranch house in Palm Springs for $5.3 million.

A filing in the U.K. proceedings shows that at the end of 2016, the U.K. unit had a lopsided balance sheet with net liabilities of nearly 7 million pounds, or about $9 million.

The vendor that pressed for Fashion Fair’s insolvency was Hays Specialist Recruitment, which lists a London address in the filings. A creditor can force a company into liquidation in the U.K. if it’s owed about $1,000, a lower threshold than in the U.S. Hays didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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