Travel + Makeup = Transformation, a la française
by Maureen Jenkins

Think Paris, and you think haute couture. Chanel, Christian Louboutin and Louis Vuitton. Beautifully garbed and coiffed women with that je ne sais quoi, a tough-to-define but easily recognizable sense of personal style and self-confidence. And for many Parisian belles, a perfectly but subtly made-up face is the foundation of their looks.

So it only makes sense that Founder Fleace Weaver (pictured) and the 12 FlyGirls accompanying her on the recent two-week "April in Paris" tour spent an afternoon at black|Up Cosmetics (, the showroom of the glamorous, Paris-based makeup company founded in 1999. The "#1 ethnic makeup brand" in France, black|Up is sold in about 200 retail locations throughout the European nation and calls itself "the first makeup artist brand created and specialized for women of color." And talk about specialized —black|Up created and hosted this event just for the ladies touring with!

Travel is all about transformation of the most personal kind—and Fleace and her band of beauties certainly found it inside this central Paris boutique, thanks to the skilled hands of two black|Up maquillage pros.

"It's about helping (the ladies) find their inner beauty and showing it to the world. It comes from experiences like this," said Fleace, sipping a glass of Champagne before undergoing her own cosmetic makeover at black|Up, a comprehensive and acclaimed brand of fabulous color cosmetics, skincare products and fragrance available in the United States through online sales. "All of the girls traveling with me are in a period of transition."

Kyra Hagler of San Francisco—who Fleacé has dubbed a "diva in training," is one of them. On her fifth trip with, Kyra went on last year's "April in Paris" getaway after originally planning to travel here alone for a month. But she figured "it would be nice to see Fleace's Paris. I knew her trip would be part culture, part nightlife, part sisterhood."

Even though Kyra didn't start traveling abroad until 2008, she's definitely made up for lost time. Thanks to her adventures—which have included Bella Italia (twice), South Africa, and now Paris twice —--I'm still learning about myself, what I like. I've always been flexible, but now I'm even more so. "Now that she's going through a lifestyle transition, these trips have certainly clarified my desire. I know I want to travel— now. I need to find if I can incorporate it into a career. I wasted too much time waiting or others to be ready (to travel), when I was already ready." Kyra's currently studying Italian and knows she'd like to live abroad one day—and Rome and Paris are at the top of her list.

And speaking of cosmetics' power to transform ... Kyra's 2011 makeover at black|Up Paris not only changed her look, but quite possibly the arc of her life by leading her to study makeup artistry on the side. And this for a woman who didn't wore makeup before that session!

"My experience last year ignited my passion for it," said this corporate executive.

I started exploring different brands, watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. I've always wanted to do something creative, and makeup might be part of it. "She's heading to England in November or a weeklong course with two cosmetics gurus. "I'm going for an international makeup certification. —In my free time I can travel with that."

For Kyra, it's about "keeping an open mind, being willing to try new things. You never know where things are going to lead. If I'd never gone on Bella Italia, I wouldn't have been here. It all connects in some way."

Fleace (center) with FlyGirls Kyra & Nelda

Another traveler, Nelda Thomas of Spanish Fort, Ala., also is new to the whole wearing-makeup thing. "I'm excited about the makeover.— I think I'll be transformed. This Paris trip has made a change in the way I look, in my outlook," she said, sitting in a black|Up Cosmetics director's chair. "During her first trip to the City of Light, she saw "all the women walking around with their 6-inch heels with the red soles. I saw a lot of women being very simple but elegant." And while she likely won't do that in Alabama, the French visit inspired her "just to pay more attention to the way I dress. Just simple things —throw on an accessory and maybe a little bit of makeup."

The sultry May afternoon at black|Up was just one highlight of the tour's two-week itinerary. Following their Parisian makeovers, the ladies slipped into their high heels and former fashion model Fleacé played art director, prompting and posing the ladies into diva-like positions for their group "glamour shot." But she didn't encourage the ladies to "say cheese." For her, it's "Say Italian men!"

Fleace (center) with her FlyGirls (L to R: Kay, Renee, Nia, Kyra, Fleace, Khristine, Sene, Larese and Nelda

"I'm always looking for ways to make our girls feel special," said Fleacé, who crashed a black|Up showroom event in Paris last year, which led to an introduction to the brand's Marketing and Public Relations team—and led to the event and makeovers for this year's tour.

"I thought there could be a synergistic relationship between what I was trying to accomplish with and transforming my travelers and (black|Up Cosmetics) trying to penetrate the U.S. market. At the end of the day, both of us are in the business of making black women feel better about themselves.

When our girls travel, they have an opportunity to experiment with their alter egos and who they can possibly be, sometimes we suppress those things back in the States because of what we think we should do. When you start traveling outside the country and start experimenting with new things and personalities, you come into who you really are. And makeup allows you to do the same thing. That's where the relationship between my tours and makeup comes together."

Talk about living la belle vie, or the beautiful life, a la française. The women's "Parisian life package" included French language lessons, a gourmet cooking class, loads of shopping and nightclub-hopping, and overnight trips to Amsterdam and Brussels. The ladies even found themselves smack in the middle of living history. Returning to their luxury apartment after a Sunday night out at a disco, Fleacé and her Belles stumbled across throngs of thrilled Parisians celebrating the May 6th election of new France President Francois Hollande in Place de la Bastille, a huge Parisian square and political hotspot named after the prison-storming that kicked off the French Revolution in 1789. The ladies ended up separated by the massive crowd —but able to find their way back to the flat thanks to detailed directions Fleacé gave them in case they ever got lost during the tour.

What an authentic Parisian adventure!

"We all heard about the French Revolution and how passionate French people are about their politics and their country," Fleacé said. "And actually to see and be here to experience that history in the making ... and all of a sudden werre in the middle of this madness, the drama and love. And the biggest part is, I think we were swatting off guys of more than anything else. They were wanting to show us the love, also. It was an absolutely amazing experience."

That's what it's all about —experiencing the world on its own terms, and letting it experience these women right back. From storming the (Place de la) Bastille circa 2012 to taking Greece and Dubai by storm after leaving Paris, these ladies believe in the power of travel to radically reshape their lives, while they're on the road and when they return home.

"Really, it's seeing how other people live on the other side of the world," said Nia Osaze of Cleveland, who first traveled with Bella Italia in 2011 and just transitioned out of her job as a Young Adult librarian. "I came to enjoy another slice of life. I loved my job, but it didn't give me freedom and flexibility. Now it's all about doing what I enjoy."

Fleace with black|Up Showroom manager Georgina and maquillage pro

Be sure to check out for details on upcoming trips to Italy, Greece, Brazil, South Africa—and of course, PARIS! Also coming in 2013: fabulous tours to Cairo, Egypt, and Dubai.

Maureen Jenkins is a freelance Travel and Food writer who lives outside Paris. This Chicago native blogs at about "black women living globally through international travel."

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