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Black women's makeup mentor retired, but dabbling

Before Beyonce was "worth it" to L'Oreal and Queen Latifah reigned as a Cover Girl, the black women of St. Petersburg had Annie Thorn.

For more than three decades Thorn worked as a makeup artist for Fashion Fair Cosmetics, a line formulated especially for women of color.

Behind the makeup counter at Maas Brothers, then at Macy's, Thorn turned wallflowers into beauty queens when nobody else knew what to do with them or their brown skin.

"They didn't have anybody to take care of them," said Thorn, 55. "So I opened my heart up to them."

Thorn recently retired from Macy's, a move that came after the department store decided to stop selling the cosmetics line, but her legacy in the community continues.

"When you left (Annie's counter), you felt like you were on cloud nine … the most beautiful woman that walked this earth," said Myrtle Williams, a longtime customer. "That's more than putting the makeup on the outside, that's the legacy — she knows how to relate to people."

As a young girl, Thorn would pore over Seventeen magazine, marveling at the models — especially their makeup. When she went to school she wore the heavy-lined and shadowed eyes straight off its pages.

But there was always something missing in the magazine.

"They would never have little black girls in there," she said. "I said, 'Why can't we look like that?' "

In 1973, department stores in Chicago started selling Fashion Fair makeup. Until then there had not been a makeup line devoted to darker skin.

Around the same time that Fashion Fair pressed powder compacts showed up in Chicago stores, Thorn was graduating from St. Petersburg High School. Newly married, Thorn began working as a waiter at Maas Brothers department store.

Fashion Fair arrived at the store two years later.

The dainty black women behind the counter wore pink smocks and offered makeovers. They were always perfectly coiffed and their makeup flawless, Thorn recalls.

The shades were vibrant and had names like Tender Brown and Warm Caramel.

"It was for us," Thorn said.

Three years later, a manager selected Thorn to work at the counter. Through the years, Thorn became more than the face behind the counter.

"She gave me my first facial," said Johnnie Murry, 48, who was in her 20s when she met Thorn.

A self-proclaimed quiet girl, she had just taken a job at the St. Petersburg Times and wanted to look polished.

"She listened," Murry said. "She knew what I needed."

Thorn also had a side endeavor, a traveling fashion troupe she called Elegant Nights.

The group performed at clubs and special events throughout St. Petersburg during the '80s.

"It was an extension of Annie," said Maya Thomas, Thorn's sister. "She was all about the lights, the beauty, the fashion."

While the group did sport the latest clothing trends, the real show was on their faces. Women sported red, blue and sometimes yellow shades on their eyelids and often fire-red lipstick.

"Back in the day, we were told not to wear red lipstick," Thorn said. "A lot of black women go by what their grandmamas tell them. If they say don't wear red lipstick — we don't wear red lipstick."

"But red lipstick perks us up," Thorn said. "It bring us out of our shell."

In 1991, Maas Brothers closed and Thorn took a job in the cosmetics area at an Eckerd drugstore.

In 1994, she started working for Fashion Fair again at Burdines.

"Everybody was looking for me anyway," Thorn said. "They were trying to figure out where I was."

Nowadays, most major cosmetic brands have lines that cater to black women. Cover Girl's Queen collection is a prime example.

It was August when Thorn's manager called her into the Macy's office with jolting news: The chain would no longer carry the Fashion Fair line.

"I was devastated," Thorn said.

It's unclear exactly why the chain discontinued the line. Fashion Fair representatives did not return phone calls by press time.

What is for sure is that people are looking for the "Fashion Fair lady."

Just after Christmas, Murry went to Macy's to buy some products. Thorn, who was switched to another makeup line before her retirement, was glaringly absent.

Murry went to another department store in the mall to buy her Fashion Fair.

For now, Thorn continues to be a go-to person for weddings and special events.

"She's one of those community people that is there willing to do it," said Myrtle Williams, an associate provost at St. Petersburg College. "And we can always count on her."

Thorn still places orders for her clients directly through Fashion Fair. And in a pinch, she meets people at the drugstore to help them pick out makeup.

"I'm retired, but I'm still dabbling," Thorn said. "Our skin color is so beautiful, I just love making us up."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at or (727) 893-8828.


Annie Thorn's

3 essential makeup tips

1Find your undertone.

Black women of all skin shades tend to have yellow, red or olive undertones. Figure out which one you have and use it to help you pick a foundation that matches.

2Smoky eyes.

When you need a wow factor or are taking pictures, the smoky eye adds drama.

3Use color.

If you wake up feeling blah or pulled an all-nighter, throw on some red lipstick or a little blush. It's an instant pick-me-up.

Black women's makeup mentor retired, but dabbling 03/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 5:40pm]
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