Skip to content Skip to footer

Irene Wattley – The Rise of Fashion Fair and Her Impact on Inclusive Cosmetics

The pioneering work of Wattley and makeup artist Lloyd Cousins for Fashion Fair Cosmetics in Canada.

Her pioneering work with makeup artist Lloyd Cousins

NameIrene E. WattleyBirthFebruary 27BirthplaceOld Road, St. Kitts, West IndiesEthnic OriginKittitianOccupationsModel, National Account Executive, Fashion Fair CosmeticsShare

Fact checked by Charmaine Gooden

Social media comments

She can still picture it. There was a Black person at every Eaton’s counter promoting Fashion Fair cosmetics across Ontario. She remembers watching gorgeous, six-foot-long models walk around the store, spraying the newest samples to promote the brand.

To celebrate Caribana annually, they had dancers and steel drum bands near the entrance to the store, an idea Wattley presented to Bob Saunders, Eaton’s President of Cosmetics at the time, which he approved.

On screen, we see Wattley, her skin dark brown, black hair cropped short, sporting black-framed glasses and vibrant red lipstick. She’s fondly reminiscing about her days at Fashion Fair Cosmetics. With a gleam in her eye and a smile on her face, she explains how she got her start in modelling and eventually in cosmetics.

Fashion Fair at Eaton's newspaper advertisement (Mode: Irene Wattley)
Fashion Fair Ad

Early Life and Career

At the age of seven Wattley, the eldest of four sisters, emigrated from St.Kitts, first to Birmingham, England to join her family. The family lived in the U.K. for a few years, before eventually settling in Toronto, Canada in 1966.

They lived on MacDonnell Avenue in Parkdale, where she attended Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School. Later the family moved to Malton, in Mississauga, where she attended public and junior high school, finally graduating from Westwood Secondary School.

From the time she was a young child, she’s been interested in make-up and fashion. Growing up in Malton, she would always be the one with ribbons in her hair, or buying lipstick from Shoppers Drug Mart on her way to school.

 

 

This special section creates a photo next to a pull-quote

 

 

(Photo courtesy of Irene Wattley)

Over time, Wattley helped expand the brand from Ontario to the entire country, becoming the Fashion Fair Cosmetics account executive for the Canadian market. “Fashion Fair Cosmetics just took off,” says Wattley.

After high school, she studied modelling at Sheridan College in Oakville and won a couple of contests in New York, after which she travelled with the other New York winners to Nassau to compete. She fell in love with it. “My real interest was runway modelling,” she says, “I was good at it, so I did a lot of it.”

Around the early 1980s, Wattley ended up moving, with her daughter, into the city from Brampton. Interested in finding more modelling jobs, she hooked up with Black fashion industry alums Marianne Skanks, a model, and Len Henry, fashion show producer. She learned a lot and got many pointers about the industry from her mentors.

Then tragedy struck. “A good friend who was a model was murdered,” says Wattley.” Her boyfriend, also a Sheridan College student, died.  With these deeply personal and emotional losses, Wattley left her modelling days behind and focused on the cosmetic counter at Eaton’s, something she was doing part-time when living in Brampton.

Breaking Barriers

Wattley got her start working at the Fashion Fair Cosmetics counter and with the support of Lance Clarke, VP Fashion Flair Cosmetics and Bob Saunders, President of Cosmetics at Eaton’s, she was eventually promoted to account executive. “He was very supportive, he had my back,” Wattley remembers.  With his support, Fashion Fair Cosmetics was expanded across Ontario and throughout Canada. “So here we are,” Wattley says proudly, “growing and bringing in a clientele that was really being ignored.”

Fashion Fair Cosmetics was created to cater to Black women and other women of colour, who couldn’t find cosmetics suited to their skin tones anywhere.“When you really look at us, you can see that women of colour are not all the same,” Wattley explains. “We have the bluest blackest skin, the browns, the lightest skin and we have all the blends in between. So you can’t assume a line with three dark-toned foundations will work across the board.” she explains.

Over time, Wattley helped expand the brand from Ontario to the entire country, becoming the Fashion Fair Cosmetics account executive for the Canadian market. “Fashion Fair Cosmetics just took off,” says Wattley.

With their rise in popularity, the company landed in the top 10 cosmetic lines in Eaton’s stores across the country. Black women and women of colour were finally feeling seen, and make-up artist Lloyd Cousins, a very important person in Wattley’s life, devoted much of his career at Fashion Fair Cosmetics to making women look and feel beautiful on the inside and outside. 

“He really ‘saw’ us. He saw our personalities, our inner and outer beauty.” says Wattley. She still remembers the first day Cousins walked in, describing him as “a very sharp dresser with a personable character, walking up to the counter looking for a job in cosmetics.” Wattley recalls. ‘We only had one male make-up artist in the department then, so there was some hesitancy at first, but I vouched for him,” she shares. Cousins made his mark and built a loyal following and he and Wattley became fast friends.

Cousins passed away in 2021 and Wattley still fondly remembers all the wonderful moments they shared while working together, right up until the end. They were inseparable.

Lloyd Cousins
Lloyd Cousins at Fashion Fair (Photo courtesy of Irene Wattley)

Influence and Legacy

As Fashion Fair Cosmetics’ first Canadian account executive for the national market, Wattley played a key role in expanding inclusive cosmetics in Canada. She also befriended and mentored Lloyd Cousins, the groundbreaking male cosmetics sales associate and make-up artist, whose presence and visibility at the counters was an event itself. Wattley also witnessed first hand how eagerly Black women embraced the iconic cosmetics brand.

Fashion and make-up came together for her in the way she needed it to, and it sustained her and her daughter. It also allowed her to be part of something bigger and just as special as herself, which is what she really loved about it.

We only had one male make-up artist in the department then, so there was some hesitancy at first, but I vouched for him,” she shares. Cousins made his mark and built a loyal following, and he and Wattley became fast friends.

About the authors:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

About the author:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

Archive of images at BFC:

Leave a comment

© 2024. All Rights Reserved.

Go to Topcss.php