This month, I’d like to do a series. I’m calling it Women of Influence. I recently learned about some amazing women who were phenomenally influential in their industry. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about them just as much as I did! My first pick is Elizabeth Arden. You may know her because her namesake company is still around today. Perhaps you’ve purchased her beauty products, or been to one of her Red Door salons?
Elizabeth Arden was one of the pioneering women in the cosmetics industry in the early 20th century. Today, makeup counters in department store are ubiquitous. And it seems like makeup is everywhere, and everyone wears it. But back then, everyday women simply did NOT wear makeup. At all. Prostitutes did, and some performers. Makeup was associated with immorality. Elizabeth changed all that.
Who was she?
Elizabeth was actually named after the famous nurse, her given name was Florence Nightingale Graham. She grew up on a farm in Canada, but like many people, dreamed of coming to America and pursing her dreams. She moved to New York City in 1908, home to immigrants from all over the world, and got a job working with a beautician.
Back then, it was an exciting time to be a young, unattached woman. Women worked, meaning they had their own money to spend. Plus, women’s clothing was changing in a significant way. It was the beginning of ready-to-wear, and shops needed women to sew, and sell. These “shop girls” used their money to socialize with friends and buy things for themselves.
Elizabeth was on of these women, and she understood how to market to them. She opened her own salon on Fifth Avenue with a partner in 1909. The partnership didn’t last, and soon Elizabeth was the sole owner of her own salon, which she called Elizabeth Arden. She even had her name legally changed to match her business.
Chemistry and a trip to France
When Elizabeth first started her business, it was acceptable for women to get skin treatments, and use a facial cream, but not to wear makeup. At least, not yet. Elizabeth began experimenting with powders and rogue, subtle makeup that enhanced a women’s complexion, She even traveled to France to get ideas for her business. France opened her eyes to the potential for her business. Over there, makeup as we know it today was becoming socially acceptable. Elizabeth returned determined to create amazing products for American women.
She used her limited funds to hire a chemist named A. Fabian Swanson. Together, they created two products people couldn’t get enough of – Venetian Cream Armoretta and Ardena Skin Tonic. These skin care products were light and fluffy, a direct contrast to the heavy, greasy creams currently on the market. With this success, Elizabeth continued to experiment and offered women foundation creams, lipstick, rouge, and mascara. She didn’t stop there. She gave women incredible color options, allowing them to customize to their coloring, and even their clothes.
By 1915, Elizabeth Arden was an international beauty success. Elizabeth expanded into spas, and soon offered her own clothing line. She was so successful that during the Great Depression, her sales went up! Over the course of her life, Elizabeth created over 300 different products.
There’s probably lots of things we take for granted today that we can thank Elizabeth for. I thought I would share some things that stood out me.
6 inventions to thank Elizabeth for:
1. Luxury packaging
Elizabeth was a woman with some real marketing savvy. She wanted her products to be seen as aspirational and luxurious. From the very beginning, she put money into detailed, feminine packaging. She used color in a world where black and white dominated. Her boxes and bottles were stylish and elegant, with gold labels and pink satin bows. Needless to say, women went nuts for this!
2. Beauty + health + science
When Elizabeth first started out, no respectable woman would be caught dead wearing makeup. She knew she had to change that. Elizabeth had the idea to link taking care of your skin, and the application of makeup, to your overall health. She promoted a concept she called Total Beauty, which included skin care, nutrition, and fitness. Later on, her spas continued this theme, offering exercise classes and prepared meals.
Elizabeth also linked beauty and science. Her chemist helped give scientific credibility to her products. She frequently told all her customers:
“To be beautiful is the birthright of every woman.” – Elizabeth Arden
I should also mention that Hollywood was having an effect on society too. As actresses wore makeup and close-ups became more common, makeup became less risqué for women.
3. The in-store makeover.
When Elizabeth was in France, she noticed that women needed to be taught how to properly apply their makeup. She took this to heart. She developed an extensive and exclusively trained salesforce and offered in-store makeovers. Elizabeth was convinced that once women saw what they could look like, they wouldn’t be able to say no. And she was right!
4. Travel size makeup.
I love travel size everything! It turns out we can attribute that invention to Elizabeth as well.
5. Makeup for women in the military
Ever the marketing maven, Elizabeth created shades of lipstick with patriotic shades, like Victory Red and Montezuma Red, to coordinate with women’s uniforms. She even made sure the cylinders her lipsticks came in fit in uniform pockets.
The company has always done what it could to support the military. Even now, Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Salons offer an ongoing 20% discount to all active and retire members of the military.
6. Eye makeup for American Women
A lifelong innovator, Elizabeth was the first to introduce eye makeup to the women of America.
And 5 other cool things about Elizabeth:
She was a suffragette.
It’s crazy to think that there was a time when American women couldn’t vote, especially if they were running their own companies. But that was the world then….
Of course, Elizabeth knew a marketing opportunity when she saw one, and so when 15,000 women gathered for the 1912 New York City Suffragette March, guess who supplied them with red lipstick? That’s right!
She flourished during the Great Depression.
Elizabeth’s business made over $4 million a year during the Great Depression. It turns out that women do what they can to keep little luxuries in their life even when times are hard. In the 1930’s, the three most recognized American brands were Coca Cola, Singer Sewing Machines, and Elizabeth Arden. Pretty significant!
Her horse won the Kentucky Derby!
Elizabeth loved all animals, but especially horses. She started buying racehorses, and called them “her darlings.” She spoiled them, and insisted her trainers apply one of her most successful products – the Eight Hour Cream – to any scrapes or cuts her horses received. In fact, Elizabeth often bragged about how she used her cream to potential customers, saying, “Try it! I use it on my horses!”
People may have thought she was odd. But she was successful. And in 1947, her horse, Jet Pilot, won the Kentucky Derby.
She loved the color pink!
Elizabeth was a very feminine woman, and wore pink frequently. She was even buried in a designer pink dress! I found out she loved the color so much her stables painted pink. And her jockeys wore pink too. I’m sure they loved that…..
She was the first woman to make the cover of TIME magazine.
That’s right, Elizabeth appeared on the May 6th cover in 1946.
Elizabeth Arden today
The thing that I found most interesting was how many of her original products are still around today. I haven’t talked about her first perfume, Blue Grass, but you can buy it today. Same with her Eight Hour Cream. I guess, if it’s not broken…. right?
Elizabeth was the sole owner of her company until the very end. When she died in 1966, there were over 100 salons around the world. In 1971, Elizabeth Arden was bought by Eli Lilly. They sold it to Faberge in 1987 for $657 million. In 2003, Unilever bought it for $224 million. Today, the company is worth over a billion dollars!
I was pretty impressed with Elizabeth. What did you think? Have you used any of her products?
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