This is the first article in our new series The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry that explores the seemingly harmful and at times toxic stories that make the news. The first article looks at the tragic end to one of the industry’s brightest stars, Brandon Truaxe.
Brandon Truaxe: The Beauty Disruptor
Brandon Truaxe first made waves back in 2013 by launching the cult multi-brand beauty company, Deciem. The company’s tagline was “The Abnormal Beauty Company,” and its stated goal was to be transparent about ingredients and production costs. Most notably, Deciem made ‘high-end’ skincare affordable.
In 2007, The Toronto Star called founder and then-CEO Truaxe a “skincare savant,” and quoted him rapturously speaking about capturing the fleeting beauty of natural scents, which can spoil after just a few minutes exposure to air: “If you close your eyes, the freshly cut pineapple transports you to a beach in Bali, the five-minute pineapple just smells of pineapple.”
In just a few short years, Deciem’s affordable skin-care line star, The Ordinary, was racking up lengthy waitlists and scoring rave reviews from beauty editors and many, many celebrities, including Kim Kardashian.
In June 2017, after product sales went through the roof, Estée Lauder Companies announced it had taken a minority stake. The company paid $50 million to buy into Deciem as a one-third equal partner.
In keeping with his vow of transparency, Truaxe connected to the skin-care brand’s fans through his company’s Instagram accounts. However, throughout 2018, his posts started to become erratic — so much so that his usage of Instagram had been likened to President Donald Trump’s usage of Twitter by posting volatile messages accusing Estée Lauder and specific executives of “financial crimes.”
Some of his other posts included declaring that Deciem would cancel all marketing strategies and plans; revealed a new product; publicly blamed himself for the poor sales of a sub-brand; issued directives to employees, and relinquished his CEO title. Reddit was flooded with conspiracy-theory threads and panicked memes about Truaxe’s behaviour, questioning whether he’s doing okay, whether the communication and apologies are performative or honest, and the company’s viability to continue producing affordable serums.
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Hi 🙂 You have often asked us why we refer to our team as monkeys. Our lovey @nicolalkilner used to be a buyer at @bootsuk. She once told me that a major beauty brand always hired sales representatives who looked like models because their presence in meetings was impactful. I can’t think of anything dumber than choosing people who are to represent your values based largely on their appearance. So I decided that we are going to very specifically not care about our team looking like models (if some of us do, then we are doubly lucky), and instead be so humble to say we are symbolically monkeys, because monkeys are the origin of all of us, whether or not we are models. But I also don’t think monkeys are better than any other animal. Animals and us are all together working on this beautiful small planet we call Earth. I fell in love with all animals during my fortunate visits to Africa and South East Asia. I particularly love elephants because my very good friend Gill Sinclair of our caring and patient retailer, @victoriahealth, loves them and because an elephant once let me ride his loving back in Java, Indonesia, near the Borobudur Temple. Lastly, speaking of elephants, I once wrote that one would have to be drunk to overpay for Marula oil which was a distasteful joke that arose from my familiarity with the beautiful brand, @drunkelephantskincare. @tiffanymasterson: I’m sorry. When I met you at the WWD breakfast, I saw a beautiful soul. And you have worked hard to build a beautiful brand. Please forgive me. I have now adjusted that distasteful post and we will donate $25,000 to the peaceful elephant charity that your brand supports: @savetheelephants. Our super-fast and loving @smjr2000 will arrange for this donation to be made this week. Hug, Brandon ❤️ (Update: the donation has been made and elephants are smiling 🐘❤️)
Truaxe began to behave more erratically, calling himself “screwed up” on the company’s bio page, and referred to the beauty industry as a “scam,” garnering many fans in the online skin-care community — not to mention many frustrated competitors. He argued with commenters on the Deciem account, ended collaborations, and announced staff firings. At one point he broadcast an alarming series of calls for help while in London.
The final straw for investors was in October when he announced that he was shutting down operations in an Instagram post and a now-deleted 3,000-word letter on the company’s site. “This is the final post of Deciem, which we will shut down all operations until further notice, which will be about two months. Please take me seriously,” he said. Not only did he make this post he followed through with this course of action and promptly closed down stores leaving employees and customers alike, dazed and confused.
This erratic and concerning behaviour was the final straw for Estée Lauder and they successfully sued to have him forced out of the company in October of 2018. This resulted in his ousting, as well as a restraining order against him following disturbing emails he reportedly sent to the company’s leadership team. Team member, Nicola Kilner, took the role of CEO.
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Brandon, our founder and friend. You touched our hearts, inspired our minds and made us believe that anything is possible. Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM ❤
In December 2018, a report in Canada’s Financial Post revealed Truaxe had been hospitalized various times in London and Toronto for mental health concerns. It claimed that he was “diagnosed with presumptive bipolar disorder, and held for a fortnight under the U.K. Mental Health Act.”
According to the report, the hospital released him because it was “unable to rebut Truaxe’s lawyer’s suggestion that his psychosis was induced by his use of psychedelic mushrooms and crystal meth”.
Apparently, within a couple of hours of being released, Truaxe entered the Deciem store in Covent Garden, raising questions of whether he violated a court order made on October 12 which barred him “from taking any actions in relation to the operation of Deciem’s business including communicating with Deciem’s employees.” He recorded himself as he asked for deodorant before security guards removed him, and then he posted the video to Instagram.
A Tragic End to One of the Beauty Industry’s Brightest Minds
Tragically, Brandon Truaxe died in January 2019 at the age of 40. No official cause of death has yet been publicly confirmed, but a report in Canada’s National Post says that “it is understood he fell from a condominium building near Toronto’s downtown.”
Riyadh Sweedan, a Deciem employee who also said he lived with Truaxe and had been his boyfriend, told the paper, “I don’t think he jumped. I think he fell.”
A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service would not confirm any information about the incident, beyond that they had been called to Truaxe’s neighbourhood of the Distillery District and found no evidence of criminal activity.
Estée Lauder released a statement, saying: “As the visionary behind Deciem, he positively impacted millions of people around the world with his creativity, brilliance and innovation. This is a profound loss for us all.”
Brandon Truaxe was a true visionary and disruptor. His passing has left a hole in the beauty industry and is a timely reminder for us all to be kind to each other.
If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, depression, or both, help is available. In an emergency situation, call Lifeline New Zealand on 0800 543 354.