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The story of Nigeria’s Florence Adepoju set to rule global lipsticks biz

Florence Adepoju
Florence Adepoju
Florence Adepoju

HIP-HOP COLORS FOR YOUR LIPS

LONDON — As a 17-year-old working at a Benefit makeup counter here, Florence Adepoju was often disappointed when the company released a new product that didn’t suit her dark skin.

“Everyone on the counter would get one, and I’d be like, ‘That’s not the right shade for me,’” she said. She also wanted luxe lipsticks in the sort of unusual colors she could find only in drugstores.

So Ms. Adepoju spent four years earning an applied chemistry degree in cosmetics and set out to make the colors she coveted, in flashy packaging inspired by her love of hip-hop, both its sound and its aesthetics.

Two years ago, she introduced MDMflow, handmade rose-scented lipsticks in shades like juicy orange, emerald green and brilliant blue, sold in gold-colored aluminum bullet casings. (She wanted packaging that wouldn’t look out of place, she said, in the Nicki Minaj/Drake video “Moment 4 Life,” in which Ms. Minaj is seated at a blinged-out dressing table.)

“It’s not Halloween makeup,” Ms. Adepoju, now 24, said over lemonade at the Charlotte Street Hotel. “These are colors people can actually wear.”

Indeed. Milkshake, a blueish-pink named for a Kelis song, is frequently sold out. So is a bright blue called Mas Marina. MDMflow, so named because it was the only permutation of Ms. Adepoju’s nickname, Madame Flow, still available on Twitter, is now sold at Topshop Oxford Circus, Colette in Paris and the website Nasty Gal (where the lipsticks cost $18 each).

“We liked that she created the brand she always wanted,” said Guillaume Salmon, a Colette spokesman. “It’s the accumulation of all her obsessions, and the glamour associated with mid-’90s hip-hop culture.”

The lipsticks in Ms. Adepoju’s line MDMflow were inspired by her love of hip-hop
The lipsticks in Ms. Adepoju’s line MDMflow were inspired by her love of hip-hop

The nine colors available are carefully edited, based on what Ms. Adepoju learned about consumer behavior at the makeup counter. She didn’t want more than one shade of red in her collection, for example. “If you show someone three red lipsticks, they’ll go away and think about it,” she said. “If you just show them one and they like it, they’ll buy it. People want to know what the best is, and it’s, like, these are my best of each shade.”

Ms. Adepoju makes the lipsticks, 30 at a time, in a shed in her parents’ garden. (“It does have heat,” she said.) To fill big orders, she stays up all night, melting wax and mixing pigments. Recently, she introduced a mascara and will soon do a contour kit because, she said, “I’m obsessed with it, and it’s an urban look.”

Her small-batch process has allowed for happy accidents of the kind unlikely to pass muster at a big cosmetics company. When she was trying to make Milkshake, the pink, she experimented with encapsulating a red pigment in a white pigment, and discovered that the shade becomes brighter the more you rub it (or rub your lips together) because the red is being released. She gave the results to friends and figured she’d start over, but they liked being able to tweak the hue.

The mustard yellow, one of several limited-edition colors she introduces from time to time, was the byproduct of trying to make molten gold. The shade was called Two Chains because she was listening to the rapper 2 Chainz when she made it.

“I always felt like his music sounded like cheap hip-hop, and I thought this mustard looked like a cheap interpretation of gold,” she said. The color ended up in the hip-hop bible The Source, a special milestone for Ms. Adepoju, who proudly quotes the Biggie Smalls lyrics: “And she loves to show me off, of course / Smiles every time my face is up in The Source.”

Culled from The New York Times

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