MDMflow don’t do minimal make-up. Florence Adepoju’s cult cosmetics range is all about being you, loud and proud, with hop-hop influences, all-gold packaging and shade names inspired by everything from Kelis to the Dutch national colour.
So where do you go after Lena Dunham calls you an ‘inspiration’? We sat down with Florence to talk her plans for the future, what’s on her power playlist and the real reasons behind her boldest shades...
Hi Flo! Where did this all start?!
I was working on a Benefit make-up counter, and they got their staff excited; it was an empowering thing to be a part of, because you thought ‘I can do that’.
And then you moved on to your Cosmetic Science degree at LCF?
Yeah, the technical skills are from the degree but a lot of the business skills I had to seek out myself. Without the degree, my mindset would have been ‘I need loads of money’, but when you start young without the contacts, that’s hard. With my degree, I knew I didn’t have the necessary things to launch this in a big way but I had the skills and knew the product was good enough, even better than those on the market.
Were you inspired by any make-up giants?
I read Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder’s autobiographies. Obviously they were working in the 1900s, so they started small, and I felt like I had to go back to that.
You seem more inspired by the 1980s than the 1900s…
My branding is definitely hip-hop. It’s the attitude, the self-expression, being bold, and confident. Hip-hop in the ‘90s pulled from designer brands like Ralph Lauren and Chanel but in a very personal way. I think that sums up my brand: luxury beauty, but with products you connect to, and being loud and proud about it.
So what’s on your playlist when you’re working?
I set myself a challenge of listening to a new album every day, and then Beyonce Lemonade came out and screwed that idea up. Before that it was Rihanna, then Kanye and Nicki Minaj. My power playlist is Rick Ross, Biggie Smalls, Krept and Konan, J Cole, Beyonce…
Yeah that’ll get you going! Is there anyone you’d love to see in your lipstick?
Obviously Beyonce is the queen of everything. I’m a massive Rihanna fan, she’s someone you’ll see wearing blue or black lipstick. Outside of my personal favourites, I think female celebrities are feeling more empowered to ditch the status quo and be themselves. Zendaya is a perfect example of going from Disney princess to ‘I’ve got a political point of view’. Miley Cyrus is cool in a different kind of way.
Speaking of blue and black lipstick, what made you go for those shades?
When I was working at Space NK, you’d get so many people asking for blue lipstick. Blue is one of those colours that the industry dictates you can’t wear it on your lips, but I’m like ‘no, if I can wear it on my lashes and eyes, I can wear it on my lips!’. But I don’t think confidence has to be about wearing a blue or black lipstick, you can wear a nude lipstick and feel empowered - my nude inspired by Kelis is called Bossy, because sometimes you’re going to be in a corporate environment and you’re going to want to keep it soft but still be in charge kind of things. MDMflow is for those women too.
The story behind the black lipstick is funny; my best friend was wearing a black lipstick and it was not on point, I couldn’t believe I can make lipstick and my best friend is wearing the worst black lipstick I’ve ever seen. A lot of people when they think black lipstick think grunge, but you can be soft with it, so those colours are like ‘don’t tell me what to put on my lips’. I’m namedropping, but Lena Dunham was wearing my blue the other day. She’s obsessed with it, it looks great on her.
Speaking of Lena, how did that happen?!
She saw an interview I’d done and put an order in on my website. People ask if I sent it to her or paid her, but no! She ordered every single colour.
Didn’t she say you were an inspiration?!
Yeah, I’m like 'let’s be friends Lena'!
Is catering for different skin tones a big part of the MDMflow ethos?
As a women in the industry, it’s so frustrating when you try a product and it has a grey tinge on your skin. I wanted to get rid of that feeling. A key part of my product development was testing on black, white and Asian skins and getting a positive reaction from all women as opposed to women with paler skin saying ‘this is brilliant’ and black women being like ‘no, this isn’t going to work’.
What else needs to change?
Women need to be involved when making the products – it’s awful when you want the foundation Jourdan Dunn is wearing in an ad but they don’t stock that shade. Every single brand needs to take this on as their responsibility as opposed to leaving it to a section of the industry. Women spend so much money on beauty, let us have fun and go into Boots and know we can go to any of these counters!
Do you get annoyed when darker-skinned models are tokens?
There’s a ‘trend’ of celebrating black women for one season and then not using them anymore, but the industry needs to be consistently diverse. The token model thing has gone on for so long and it hasn’t really driven change, people have to think ‘black and Asian women have been complaining for a really long time, maybe we should do something about it’!
What’s next for MDMflow?
We’re bringing back my mascara, new and improved. I’m working on so much; I don’t have lip liners yet, maybe I’ll do balms, I’m definitely wanting to get into complexion. But I’m taking my sweet time – I don’t want to be pressured and not bring out the best product I can.
For more cruelty-free cosmetics, read what happened when I only used vegan make-up for a week (spoiler alert: I kinda liked it)
Speaking of lipsticks, have you found your perfect red lippy yet? If not, head on over to beauty site Powder to find your match-made shade.