Long before make-up came into vogue, and adults barely out of their teens became billionaires on the back of their beauty products, one woman made it respectable for women to carry and apply make-up in an era when it was frowned upon.
Elizabeth Arden introduced the concept of make-up for women all over the world and changed the notion of beauty forever.
Arden was born Florence Nightingale Graham in December 1884 in a poor household in Canada. After working several odd jobs (notable among them as a nurse, where she became interested in lotions), she migrated to New York City and started working as an assistant to beautician Eleanor Adair. Here, she gained valuable experience in the beauty industry.
After learning the tricks of the trade from Adair, Arden took the plunge and started her own salon venture with Elizabeth Hubbard. Her first brilliant marketing stroke was painting the front door of her salon bright red, making the salon hard to miss. The “Red Door” salon catered to upscale customers in Manhattan and its surrounding areas.
Due to her previous experience at a chemist’s shop, Arden was adroit in lotion-making and applying skin creams.
At her Red Door salon, she employed a team of chemists to come up with products based on a scientific approach. These tried-and-tested formulas worked wonderfully well in the market, and she developed a reputation for supplying products which truly enhanced beauty of females.
Displaying streaks of marketing brilliance
Arden was equally good at marketing; she encouraged salespeople to move from door to door and distribute free samples rather than wait for customers to arrive at stores. These salespeople, mostly women, were professionals handpicked and trained by Arden herself in applying make-up and suggesting the cream or lotion best-suited for their skin.
Her marketing campaigns changed the prevalent public opinion on make-up as something used only by prostitutes to enhance their attractiveness. Through her campaigns, she brought a radical change in the prevailing notion of beauty as something that defined the essence of a woman and hence was of paramount importance.
Though her ideas may seem retrograde in today’s times, staying and looking beautiful certainly helped to lift the self-esteem of women in that time. Her strokes of marketing brilliance helped to stave off losses even during the Great Depression, when the brand actually brought in $4 million in revenue.
Pioneering the beauty industry
Arden launched many “firsts” in the beauty industry. Her travel-sized beauty products, now a staple for women carrying a purse, became a rage when introduced. They allowed working women, who didn’t have much time, to quickly do a touch-up in transit or before sitting for work.
Similarly, her “eye make-up” and eponymous Arden skin tonic were pioneering concepts, which added more layers to an already rich product portfolio.
Many of her products, most notably the Eight-Hour cream or the Blue Grass fragrance, are in high demand even today, nearly 90 years after their launch.
Working for women’s rights and equality
Arden was truly passionate about beauty and saw it as a path to uplift women and make them feel important. She was unabashedly vocal on her views about women and their rights, and led a number of women’s movements to bring national attention to equality for women in all areas of life.
We must remember that era—at the start of the 20th century, less than 10% of the world had adopted the Universal Women Franchise. Slavery was rampant, and most industries were controlled, and dominated, by men. It was the beauty industry, still at a nascent stage, which was a unique proposition, since beauty was something that was inherent in every woman.
It was an industry where women felt they belonged, unlike most others, and as a pioneer of this industry, Arden had a massive platform to voice her opinions.
She participated in marches supporting women’s suffrage. In a subtle attempt to support the movement, she created bright red lipsticks for women serving in the military to wear on duty. The lipstick became symbolic of women asking for attention on the same issue. In a small way, the move helped the movement when the US granted women equal voting rights in 1920.
Building a business empire
If revolutionising the beauty industry was not enough, Arden found love in the most unusual of sports for women—horse racing. She converted her farmhouse in Maine into a horse ranch and bred horses for derby races. Here also, Arden quickly became a feared competitor and cemented her legacy when her thoroughbred, aptly named Jet Pilot, won the Kentucky Derby in 1947.
By the time of her death, she had left behind a sprawling business empire with over 300 products part of the Arden catalog and over 100 Elizabeth Arden luxurious spas in upscale locations catering to an upper class clientele.
In 1971, five years after her death, Eli Lilly purchased the company for a whopping $38 million, amounting to over $1.3 billion in today’s currency.
Legacy and impact
Arden was adored by millions of people, men and women alike, in her lifetime. Honoured all over the world for her contributions, she was the first woman to grace the cover of the TIME magazine in May 1946 and also the first woman to be inducted into the US Business Hall of Fame.
Throughout her lifetime, the Elizabeth Arden brand sold more than $100 million worth of goods, catapulting Arden among the wealthiest women in the world. Her biggest contribution: pioneering the beauty industry, now pegged at more than half a trillion dollars (yes, trillion with a T). “Every woman has the right to be beautiful”—the motto that Arden lived by, an outrageously ambitious vision, now seems a striking reality for every woman, thanks to Arden’s revolution in beauty.
Remember the Titans is a weekly ode to the inventors, geniuses, and business pioneers who left the world better than they got it. Check out stories of other Titans here.
Anant Gupta is a Business Intelligence Analyst at KPMG.