The first thing you must accept before attempting to grasp what the hell is happening over at beauty company Deciem, is that you will never fully understand, because nothing will ever make total sense.
That being said, the path to understanding is fruitful, as an unrivaled amount of drama has surrounded the self-proclaimed “abnormal beauty company” — and more specifically, the seemingly impulsive and nonsensical behavior of CEO Brandon Truaxe. There have been 911 calls for help in Instagram posts. Messy mass layoffs. And more than incoherent Instagram videos. On October 9, Truaxe announced he was shutting down the company immediately.
If you’re confused, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Deciem?
It’s a Toronto-based beauty company that has a number of popular sub-brands, the most popular of which is the Ordinary, the Everlane of skin care. While the the Ordinary’s products use high-quality ingredients, they are affordable, direct-to-consumer, and aesthetically minimalist — a millennial’s dream.
Brandon Truaxe founded Deciem — with the tagline, “The Abnormal Beauty Company” — in 2013. According to the New Yorker, he came up with the idea for Deciem while he was a computer programmer, working on software for a skin-care lab. While Truaxe has always been a bit of a mysterious character, he didn’t go full loose-cannon until this past year.
How did all the drama start?
Well, it all started with an antioxidant-rich, moisturizing face oil. In early January 2018, a Reddit user noticed that the Ordinary website copy for marula oil said “one would have to be drunk to overpay for marula,” which seemed like a jab at skin-care company Drunk Elephant (which sells marula oil for much more than the Ordinary).
On January 28, Truaxe — who was suspected of writing the offending copy — apologized to Drunk Elephant and called the language “distasteful” on the brand’s Instagram, and pledged $25,000 to Save the Elephants. One day after issuing the apology on Deciem’s Instagram, in a very strange turn of events, Truaxe claimed that the brand’s account had been hacked, perhaps by a “past employee” or “someone who doesn’t like us.”
Instagram became a big problem for the brand.
After the Drunk Elephant drama, Truaxe declared that Deciem would be cancelling all marketing strategies, and that he would personally communicate to the brand’s followers through Deciem’s social-media channels. He then proceeded to use the company’s Instagram as if it were a cross between internal email and his personal social-media account.
In the first few days of February, Deciem reportedly lost 5,000 followers after posting seven videos of garbage, a photo of a dead sheep, and a photo of himself in Morocco, in which he clarified that he was not gay. On February 5, he finally addressed his bizarre Instagram presence, writing: “Many of you love what I did. But a few of you disliked it, criticized it and even unfollowed us.”
Claiming that he wouldn’t “argue” with those who didn’t care for the garbage and dead sheep photos, he insisted that he would instead “build a social content management team.” The very next day, Elle reported that Truaxe severed ties with cosmetic doctor Tijon Esho, with whom he launched Deciem’s lip-care brand Esho.
“I need to say goodbye to you because we are too busy to love your brand enough,” Truaxe wrote on Instagram, which was news to Esho. Esho later said he was not given the news prior to the Instagram post. In response to his firing, Esho told Racked, “While I am disappointed to have not been told prior to the public announcement on Deciem’s social media that my line is being discontinued, I do believe that as one door closes another opens.”
On April 25, Truaxe posted an alarming Instagram video of him on the verge of tears, in which he asked his followers to “please help.” He then left multiple comments that were equally concerning under the post: “Please call Biggin Hill airport security,” “They have my luggage,” “In the car,” and “911.” (The video has since been deleted.)
There were also quite a few major firings.
On February 22, WWD reported that co-CEO Nicola Kilner and chief financial officer Stephen Kaplan were out. (Speaking of Kilner, Truaxe said, haughtily, “It’s my company. It’s my house. If someone doesn’t like how I decorate my house it doesn’t matter if they’re my mother or a guest, they have to leave the house.”) Following reports that Kilner had been fired, Truaxe responded to mental-health and drug-use rumors about him, saying, “It is not crystal meth that makes people build really large businesses.”
In an interview with Elle, Kilner opened up about being fired from Deciem, saying that while she “[believes] Brandon has good reasons for everything he does,” many of his decisions “don’t seem to make sense” to her (or anyone, for that matter).
How has Deciem weathered Truaxe’s erratic postings?
Surprisingly well, actually. The brand is quite successful — Deciem is expected to hit $300 million in sales in 2018, and more than 300,000 people still follow the Instagram account. And it’s worth noting that Truaxe seemed significantly calmer this summer, after Kilner rejoined the company in early July; the Instagram drama virtually stopped.
So what’s the latest?
Ten months after Truaxe started instigating drama, on October 8, the founder announced in an incoherent Instagram video that the company was closing immediately until further notice, as “almost everyone at Deciem has been involved in a major criminal activity, which includes financial crimes and much others.” He then said that he hoped to reopen in “about two months” before going on a tangent about how he has “been made fun of as a porn actor and as a fucking drug dealer and everything for 13 years,” which he says is “all ending now.”
While Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. bought 28 percent of the company in June 2017, entering into what Truaxe has characterized as “a family-like” relationship, the brand spokesperson says it doesn’t have a hand in how the company works.
“The Estée Lauder Companies is a minority investor in Deciem, and, as such, we do not control the company’s operations, social media or personnel decisions,” the spokesperson said.
And on October 10, Truaxe received an email from Estée Lauder’s lawyer: The company is suing Deciem. According to the email and lawsuit, which Truaxe screenshotted and Instagrammed, Estée Lauder is claiming that Truaxe violated the terms of their shareholder agreement; therefore, they want to remove him as CEO and appoint Nicola as the sole interim CEO.