When you think of intelligent cooperation between science and nature, it’s unlikely Elizabeth Arden comes to mind.

But the company’s founder, Florence Nightingale Graham, created a winning recipe that married the two. Along the way, she became the first woman to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine while establishing an iconic cosmetics empire and a new foundation for women in business.

What’s most interesting about Florence in today’s highly competitive cosmetic industry is how she built this empire.

An unlikely trailblazer, she was born into a poor family in 1878. They lived on a small farm outside of Toronto, Canada and struggled especially after Florence’s mother passed away when Florence was just six years old.

Florence took on odd jobs throughout her childhood to lend support and eventually dropped out of high school. She gave up a planned career in nursing (her namesake being a popular prompt by many families to entice their daughters into this noble field) and moved to New York when her father challenged her to find a husband or get a job.

This chutzpah likely influenced Florence’s ability to find work in a salon, where she studied the science of skin after working briefly for a pharmaceutical company. At a time when women were unable to vote and makeup was socially frowned upon as something for the lower classes or prostitutes, Florence was studying what made skin healthy and radiant.

By 1909, her job as a cosmetic assistant morphed into a business partnership with a salon owner named Elizabeth Hubbard. After just 6 months, however, their partnership soured. Florence was determined to keep the salon open but was cash-strapped. Necessity often the mother of invention, Florence kept the name Elizabeth on the bright red door to save money and paid a small fee to change the last name to Arden.

Painting the door red was a smart marketing move – Florence utilizing the eye-catching appeal of red in a sea of black colored doors along Fifth Avenue. And adding the name ‘Arden’ helped Florence to save money and start afresh. As an aside, the name Arden was either the name taken from a nearby farm or, according to other sources, it may have come from Florence’s favorite Tennyson poem, “Enoch Arden”.

Whatever the case, Elizabeth Arden was born in 1910. A rare businesswoman also emerged and Florence distinguishing herself by creating, manufacturing and marketing a branded line of products.

She was the first to train salespeople to demonstrate how to apply makeup and she helped women to coordinate lipsticks, blushes and eye makeup.

By 1930, Florence had created over 1,000 luxury products and had traveled abroad to Paris and every major city around the world. Her business had more than 150 upscale salons in the United States and operating in more than 22 countries. Florence remained on the cutting edge of innovation and soon became one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Over the centuries, the history and purpose of makeup has changed significantly. What makes Florence’s philosophy and marketing genius so revolutionary was her ability to reframe how women saw themselves. Florence believed cosmetics could be used to improve a woman’s natural skin and that healthy eating and regular exercise should also be taught.

Remember these contributing factors to a healthy glow were extremely atypical. Florence’s scientific approach to healthy skin focused on revelation and rejuvenation, not covering up flaws or hiding behind makeup. Instead, Elizabeth Arden enhanced a woman’s natural beauty. This selling feature made skin “a woman’s finest asset” and thereby dusted off centuries of outdated and confining definitions of beauty, both literally and figuratively.

Florence’s entrepreneurial spirit and slogan remain the hallmark of Elizabeth Arden today:

“To be beautiful and natural is the birthright of every woman.”

Imagine that. Florence believed beauty was a birthright. This leveled the beauty-field for women and cut across all social and economic classes. All woman were beautiful and Elizabeth Arden products enhanced our best self. This idea caught fire with women, especially during the forties when the world went to war and women joined the production lines.

This spirit was a very modern take on the business of cosmetics and still a very welcome reminder in an age where women are still preoccupied over perceived flaws and signs of aging. It’s a struggle to see beauty as skin deep; unless you mean botox fillers and cosmetic enhancements to counter nature’s again process.

It’s difficult to know how Florence would feel about these new scientific advancements but my sense is that her allegiance would be to promoting our inner beauty and nature as the true north star. Knowing the cosmetic industry was a whopping USD 532.43 billion in 2017, it’s obvious the world will continue to seek out new ways to stay beautiful given our aging population and society’s fixation on beauty.

What I do see after scanning the Elizabeth Arden website, is how the soul of Florence’s company is alive and well. Reese Witherspoon is the brand spokesperson for Arden and a woman I admire for her trailblazing leadership in the film industry. She’s an outspoken advocate for women, encouraging them to follow their passions as Florence did. I’m inspired to believe strength and confidence are the new skin for women.

Rose McInerney

Author Rose McInerney

Rose combines her love of all things artfully-designed to connect women to a shared community of learning and a richer, more fulfilled self. As a passionate storyteller, published writer, and international traveler, Rose believes women can build a better world through powerful storytelling.

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