clock menu more-arrow no yes

What the latest report on skin care company Deciem reveals about its troubled founder

Canada’s Financial Post details Brandon Truaxe’s hospitalization for mental health and drug issues.

Ousted Deciem founder Brandon Truaxe
Deciem

Brandon Truaxe is arguably the most controversial beauty industry figure in the world. The founder of Deciem, which produces the popular and affordable skin care line the Ordinary, was ousted from the company in October after months of increasingly troubling and erratic behavior that culminated in an announcement that he was ceasing business and closing all Deciem stores worldwide, through a post on the brand’s Instagram.

During it all, he has suggested multiple times that there were “financial crimes” occurring within the company. He’s back in the news again via a wide-ranging report published in Canada’s Financial Post.

The report confirms suggestions that Truaxe has been hospitalized for mental health issues several times in the past and has had problems with drug use. It also provides details about how minority investor Estée Lauder acted to remove him. Finally, it sheds more light on the tangled web left behind for current interim CEO Nicola Kilner to handle. Along with copies of emails Truaxe sent to Vox over the past several months, it paints a picture of a company in even more turmoil than originally suspected.

Mental health issues and apparent drug use

Truaxe, who the Financial Post reports was born as Ali Roshan, gave the paper his first interview since the ouster. The article also includes information from court documents.

Apparently Truaxe was hospitalized in the UK at the time of the interview, where he was “diagnosed with presumptive bipolar disorder, and held for a fortnight under the UK Mental Health Act,” according to reporter Joseph Brean. Ultimately, a tribunal determined that he could be released. In the story, Truaxe denied that he has any mental illness.

Social media commenters have long speculated about Truaxe’s mental health or possible drug use during episodes he made public on Deciem’s Instagram (which has now been scrubbed of those posts). The Financial Post story suggests he has had problems with drug use.

“The hospital was unable to rebut Truaxe’s lawyer’s suggestion that his psychosis was induced by his use of psychedelic mushrooms and crystal meth,” according to the Financial Post.

Truaxe admitted to the Post that he has used several substances regularly:

His youth also saw his introduction to magic mushrooms, which he said he has used often since childhood, sometimes daily, but also sometimes going months without. He said he does not seek hallucinations, but rather the period of open-minded calmness that follows a few hours after consumption.

Truaxe said he overheard workplace whispers about himself, his drug use and his mental state. He heard someone talk about crystal meth. He thought the talk was triggered by his offer of mushrooms to Kilner [Deciem’s acting CEO] in Amsterdam, where the drug is legal, while they were on a team-building tour via Venice and Paris. He called this offer a mistake.

Truaxe also posted a series of disturbing videos on Deciem’s Instagram from a hotel in London saying he was in trouble and needed help.

“The Ham Yard Hotel is a stylish place just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus in London’s Soho. This is where in May Truaxe said he took crystal meth for the first of four times, all in the U.K. It went poorly,” according to the Financial Post. Police found crystal meth and mushrooms in his hotel room. Estée Lauder allegedly arranged for a lawyer for him and no charges were filed. He was hospitalized briefly after this episode.

This is all a seemingly new admission from Truaxe. According to a series of emails to various lawyers and Estée Lauder executives forwarded to me in May and June, Truaxe confirmed he’d been hospitalized at that time but suggested that he had been given drugs against his will. He also denied trying meth.

On June 1, he emailed an Estée Lauder executive and included me and a large group of others as recipients. The email read in part: “I will now report the extreme crimes you have committed to try to frame me as a drug addict by collecting videos of drug dealers feeding me dangerous drugs, performing extremely damaging acts to my body with heat and other objects and recording them on video. … I passed all the drug tests, went to your ‘mental hospital’ where they could not justify any sign of any odd behaviour or any trace of drugs in my urine for over a week, never had a real arrest.”

Later he said, “you know that I had never touched Crystal Meth in my life. You know that I have never done any damaging acts to my body.” Truaxe did not respond to a request for comment before publication time.

The ouster

It was pretty clear to followers on social media that Truaxe and Deciem were having problems, but the Financial Post story adds some bizarre details. For example, as mentioned in an October story in the New York Times, executives had noticed a change in Truaxe’s behavior after he supposedly came back from a trip to Mongolia, where he almost died due to extreme weather. According to Truaxe, there was no trip to Mongolia, which he proved by showing images of his passport.

According to court documents reviewed by the Financial Post, Estée Lauder is a one-third equal partner in Deciem and paid $50 million for its share. It has previously been reported, from information Truaxe gave, that Estée Lauder had a 28 percent share of the company.

After October’s events and Truaxe’s effective shuttering of the company, Estée Lauder mobilized to have Truaxe legally removed. Court documents state that Truaxe apparently “went behind the board’s back to lease a new headquarters and a private plane.”

“He has essentially lit the company on fire,” Estée Lauder’s attorney Mark Gelowitz said at the court hearing, according to the story. Gelowitz also used phrases like “calculated insanity,” “spiralling decline,” and “gone too far” to describe Truaxe and his behavior.

Truaxe had fired and rehired co-CEO Nicola Kilner, but apparently fired her again prior to shuttering stores. He also tried to remove the company’s third investor, Pasquale Cusano, from the board, even going so far as to allegedly “crudely forge” Cusano’s signature on documents. (Cusano filed a lawsuit against Truaxe alleging the latter had been trying to remove him the board. Truaxe had confirmed to me in previous conversations that Cusano had filed against him, but not specifics of the lawsuit.)

Later, Truaxe did not show up to a company board meeting, saying that “he had been pushed into Lake Ontario the day before, his birthday, and had to be saved by police and paramedics.”

Truaxe has insisted, both on his Instagram account and in conversations with me since the summer, that “financial crimes” had occurred at Deciem, but he never gave specifics.

On November 11, which would have been during his most recent hospitalization, he forwarded me an email he had sent to Jay Clayton, the chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s not clear whether the SEC has done anything in response.

In the email, he mentioned the word “bribery” and wrote: “During the last year, I have been concerned about possible, but very-likely, financial wrongdoings related to one of our shareholders. ... During this time, the shareholders of DECIEM have attempted to present me as mentally unable, as a drug addict and as a person unqualified to run the business or even be a director, to the public, to the DECIEM team, to police, to medical professionals, and now to courts.”

According to the Financial Post, a judge ordered an “outside accountant” to investigate Truaxe’s claims of financial wrongdoing within the company. No information has yet been publicized about any findings.

A spokesperson for Estée Lauder would not comment on the details but sent the following statement to Vox: “We remain strongly committed to Deciem, Nicola Kilner and the entire team as they continue to run their business and provide consumers with the products that they know and love.”

The state of Deciem now

A judge issued a restraining order against Truaxe after he made comments perceived to be threatening in an email to Leonard Lauder, the patriarch and chair emeritus (and son of Estée) of the Estée Lauder companies, and another executive.

Truaxe, according to his personal Instagram page, has also tried to enter Deciem stores both in New York right after the order and in London right after his hospitalization, where he was escorted out. He also published a recent email sent to Leonard Lauder, along with a cease-and-desist notice from an attorney, which has since been deleted from his Instagram, though a mention of it remains. Truaxe continues to post sometimes rambling and incoherent posts on his own account.

Deciem has scrubbed its Instagram account of many of Truaxe’s old posts and resumed a more traditional social media marketing campaign, posting professionally shot videos of its employees and announcing a Black Friday sale and new products. It’s also rehired ex-CFO Stephen Kaplan, who resigned in protest after Kilner was fired the first time in February 2018.

It seems that Deciem may be trying to recover, and may succeed if the company can continue to provide the same products at a price point customers have become accustomed to. But there might be more to this saga.

The unknown factor here, as always, is Truaxe.

Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.