The beauty industry mourns makeup pioneer AJ Crimson

Tributes are pouring in for the celebrity makeup artist and founder of AJ Crimson Beauty, who died on Wednesday, March 30.

The beauty world is paying tribute to one of its Black pioneers. AJ Crimson, celebrity makeup artist and founder of AJ Crimson Beauty died on Wednesday, March 30, as confirmed by both his family and a representative for his eponymous brand. No cause of death was given.

AJ Crimson
AJ Crimson attends AJ Crimson Beauty Celebrate You editor brunch on August 15, 2017 in New York City.
Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for AJ Crimson Beauty

“AJ Crimson was a makeup industry leader that set a standard of beauty that was elevated, beautiful, and accessible to people of all color,” read a statement his family issued to People magazine. “We as a family are heartbroken and devastated by his passing, but thankful for the lessons that he laid on each of us with his truth, directness, and leadership.”

“AJ was an inspiration to us as much as he was a bright light to the rest of the world,” the statement continued. “There are no words that can sum up his whole. Until we meet again!”

“Our entire team mourns this tragic loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with AJ’s family,” the representative for Crimson’s nine-year-old beauty brand told People. “Our deepest sympathies go out to them. We absolutely loved AJ, truly one of the sweetest, most humble people we have ever had the pleasure of working with. We are all devastated.”

Crimson’s peers, clients, and protégés in the industry are also mourning his unexpected loss. In addition to an extensive client list that included Brandy, Estelle, Regina King, Missy Elliott, Angela Bassett, Raven-Symoné, the self-taught Michigan native has been lauded as both an ardent advocate for inclusion and equity in the beauty industry and one who believed in creating space for all Black artists to thrive.

“The makeup artist community has truly lost one of our hardest working artists,” veteran makeup artist Sam Fine told WWD’s Beauty Inc. “A teacher, a friend, a brand. Gone too soon.”

“We lost one of our own. A member of our beloved #Glamfamily,” fellow artist-entrepreneur Ashunta Sheriff, makeup artist for Taraji P. Henson and Ava DuVernay, among others, captioned a post on Instagram, in part. “AJ was a true supporter and believed that there was room for all of us. He never saw me as competition nor I him but rather a family of artist aka our glam fam…He saw me as a Big Sis and I saw him like a lil bro and we inspired one another to reach for the stars. That there was more beyond the palette and brush.

“I write this in tears because I just can’t believe this is real. Life is so fleeting at times and I pray that as a glam family we realize that supporting one another is crucial because we are all we got!,” she added. “Thank you Mr. Crimson for your contribution to beauty and to being a true pioneer in our field doing what many of us hope we can do one day. Thank you for your beautiful artistry that inspired us all and thank you for your always loving happy uplifting soul. You will be missed…”

Beyoncé’s longtime makeup artist Sir John also paid tribute to Crimson on Instagram, crediting the late artist, who was also his first-ever agent, with mentoring him as he broke into the business.

“Brotha your insight I still hear in my head to this day. You’ll always be the OG indie BLACK brand in my heart. You’re a pioneer bro,” he wrote in part. “Campaigning for us loooong before anyone else was. Holding space for Black Women was at your core.”

“You negotiated my rates and advocated for me as an agent when I didn’t know what to do with all the work coming in 🥺,” Sir John continued, later recalling: “You backed me when I advocated for the same covers, contracts and rates as my white counterparts. I almost starved turning down work that would pigeonhole me…Fashion was SOooo non inclusive then, however you helped me strategize on the ‘personal brand’.”

Crimson’s own eponymous brand was launched in 2013. Billed as “the makeup of makeup artists,” AJ Crimson Beauty had grown from a curated collection of eight lip colors to a full range of cosmetics carried in Nordstrom and other retailers at the time of his death.

“My vision for AJ Crimson Beauty was luxury cosmetics with Black women in mind first. As a makeup artist, my entire career I gravitated to luxury products for my clientele,” he told Hello Beautiful in October 2020 (h/t People). “Yet there weren’t always products at that level that worked with some of my more melanin rich clients. I thought it was a shame only drug store options [were] available, so I knew I had to change that.”

In doing so, Crimson built not only a brand following but inspired fellow artists and beauty entrepreneurs, like his longtime friend and fellow Detroit native Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar.

“Oftentimes, when people see a founder of color, or even a male makeup artist, they’re not willing to give them that luxury credit, she told WWD. “He brought luxury, and his entire personality was about doing things at the highest level.”

“A lot of people would try to pit us against each other, and we just weren’t, he absolutely didn’t take that approach.” she further shared. “He would always tell me when I was doing a good job.”

Within the Black beauty community, the impact of Crimson’s death is immeasurable. But as his client Run the World‘s Bresha Webb expressed, the loss of such a talent will be felt well beyond the beauty industry. “I’ll love you forever AJ,” she shared on Instagram. “You had so many plans and [were] one of the most inspiring, sweetest, giving, multi-talented, multi-hyphenated people I’ve known. I’m blessed to have been [a part] of your journey and I will keep your legacy alive. And wow did you leave a legacy.

“Praying for your spirit to be lifted up to the heavens and that the angels usher you in with all of the harmony and sweetness that you shared on this earth,” she added. “Praying for his family and everyone who loved him.”

Rest in power, AJ Crimson. You will be missed.

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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