The Plot Thickens In Deciem's Behind-The-Scenes Drama

Photo: Courtesy of Deciem.
Update: Following several weeks of speculation about the state of the company under co-founder and CEO Brandon Truaxe, Racked reported this morning (after receiving a tip) that Deciem's co-CEO, Nicola Kilner, has been ousted from her role. The publication reached out to Kilner for confirmation via text message, to which she replied, "Sadly yes. I’m too heartbroken to talk about it at the moment."
Racked also reported being tipped that the company's CFO, Stephen Kaplan, had resigned. A PR representative for Deciem would not confirm nor deny either departure, but Truaxe himself emailed the following statement to Racked: "I have terminated employment of several people at DECIEM who do not subscribe to my peaceful values. I have also cc’d Estée Lauder’s management on here. I hope you’re well and smiling."
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We've reached out to Deciem's PR team for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.
This story was originally published on February 14, 2018.
There is a fine line between madness and genius — and it's one that Brandon Truaxe, the co-founder and CEO of Deciem, appears to be toeing right now.
Over the past several weeks, the brains behind the self-described "abnormal beauty company" that gave us Kim Kardashian's favorite under-$10 retinol and earned a Refinery29 Beauty Innovator Award nomination has been accused of insulting (and later publicly apologizing to) a competitor; cutting the company's marketing team in order to seize control of its social-media accounts himself after a dodgy near-hacking incident; announcing the discontinuation of one of the company's lines without first alerting the collaborator who lent his name to the project; alienating fans who voiced concern over this behavior and allegations of racism, by blocking them or telling them they need more followers; and posting a photograph of a gored sheep.
And all of this has gone down on the company's official Instagram account, a feed once populated with professionally-styled product photos and the usual brand updates. Truaxe's eccentric proclivities have been part of Deciem's DNA from the get-go, helping to shape it as an unfiltered presence in a heavily sugarcoated industry. But even the most loyal acolytes of the network of brands including NIOD and The Ordinary are starting to ask questions of a founder whose face appears on the company's website right next to the statement, "THE FOUNDER IS SCREWED UP !"
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The first sign of something out of the ordinary came on January 24, when a visibly emotional Truaxe posted a video of himself speaking directly to the camera, telling followers that he had trouble sleeping the night before because he couldn't stop thinking about the "beautiful emotions and comments" they had shared on a previous post. "You shared those beautiful emotions because that post wasn't from a business to consumers, that post was from a human to other humans." He went on to say that he had "canceled" all of the company's marketing plans and strategies, and would be communicating personally on its social channels going forward.
Since then, Truaxe has posted a series of personal videos and captions to the Deciem Instagram. Some have since been deleted — namely, a rambling text post declaring that he was killing the Esho sub-brand, which, by all accounts, he shared to the feed before speaking with Dr. Esho himself. A response from the cosmetic surgeon addressing the news was posted on Facebook shortly thereafter, saying, "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."
Despite the controversial business dealings, some of Deciem's followers are pleased with Truaxe's radical, raw transparency, applauding him for being "honest" and "real." And as for those who aren't? Truaxe made his stance on that very clear in a video posted a few days ago. "From now on, we're going to be deleting any negative comments, unless it's constructive and useful criticism," he told the camera. "Despite my respect for you, you continue to be disrespectful on this account, so let me just remind you kindly that I've never deleted a post before because I wanted to be respectful to you but now I'm going to start changing things because I founded Deciem, so our social account is actually my property."
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Even if you do support a CEO who is outspoken to a fault, it's natural that there be some backlash to what some are seeing as erratic behavior, but Truaxe has taken it one step further: He's since proceeded to respond to skeptical fans in kind. In a now-deleted interaction (screenshotted by Affinity), one user, @supermormongirl, commented on a post to ask, "Brandon, are you okay??" Truaxe replied, "@supermormongirl Yes but you don’t seem so well. Please use Modulating Glucosides when it’s out. Goodbye."
The conversation sparked alarm that he was implying that the commenter use an upcoming skin-bleaching product to lighten her dark complexion. After hundreds of comments imploring Truaxe to apologize and explain himself, he responded in the caption of a photo that shows him outstretching his hand toward the horns of an antelope. "Please don't worry. I'm peaceful and will do all that needs to be done to make DECIEM stronger. Side note: NIOD's upcoming Modulating Glucosides calms things down and does not 'bleach' the skin. I'm sorry that I may have caused confusion about its function."
But confusion is far from the only thing Truaxe is causing: The drama has incited serious concern not only from the people who spend money on products he helped to develop, but from people who know him personally. That includes Dr. Esho, who commented from his authorized Instagram account to say that while he "has a right to be mad" in the wake of his brand's cancelation, from a "[doctor's] perspective," the person we're seeing on Instagram is "different" from the one he knows. "I'm not going to put labels but something is not right." Truaxe told The Cut via Deciem's PR spokesperson, Dakota Kate Isaacs, "I’m in a happy place and am ignoring anyone who is unhappy about it. Loving people will see me and Deciem for who we are."
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Fans can only speculate what might be going on behind-the-scenes with Truaxe, and at Deciem HQ, but it certainly is making some who have used The Ordinary's products second-guess what has been seen as a breath of fresh air in the beauty industry. In Reddit's beauty communities, which are at least partly to thank for the company's success in the first place, the conversation has turned to the reality of a post-Deciem world. SkincareAddiction savants are already culling lists of alternatives to the company's best-loved products.
Because, at the end of the day, Truaxe is a person running a business with millions of eyes on it and an investment from Estée Lauder — no matter how many times he declares that he is no longer the company's CEO but rather simply a "worker," as his LinkedIn profile now reads. Transparency is a refreshing thing, but at some point, you have to draw a line. Possibly before you post a blurry picture of a dead sheep to Instagram.