As Elizabeth Arden’s brand rose in popularity, its founder Florence Graham was known to say,
“There are only three American names that are known in every corner of the globe: Singer sewing machines, Coca-Cola and Elizabeth Arden.”
While the marketplace has radically changed and there are now hundreds of top-selling international brands from America, Arden cosmetics and fragrances are still widely popular and worth more than an estimated $1.5 billion U.S.
From the company’s inception, Florence worked to improve women’s skin. We know this value proposition distinguished Arden from other makeup companies and civilizations that tended to focus on concealing flaws or accentuating certain attributes deemed beautiful within a certain cultural period.
Unlike Florence who wanted scientific formulations that really worked and to have women proudly wear bold colors and fragrances, the history of makeup is far more complicated.
As far back at 4,000 B.C., archeological evidence suggests that women in Egypt wore makeup to catch the attention of the gods. They likely created the first cosmetics to please the gods and hoped it would elevate their spiritual worth when they passed on.
When you continue through the ages, different makeup practices illustrate what societies believed was beautiful. Here is a quick summary of beauty highlights from a short Buzzfeed video with over 14.5 million views. There are roughly eight before-and-after period pieces demonstrating the focus of different societies and how much a woman could be transformed by makeup available at the time.
What’s clear is the subjective definition of beauty and the radical lengths that women would go to in order to be considered desirable. My favorite extremes are the early French Revolution period when women powdered themselves white and painted on veins to give the appearance of translucent skin, and the glued application of animal hair to create a unibrow appearance for women living in ancient Greece!
It’s fascinating to watch each vignette and to consider how history will remember our civilization hundreds of years from now. Will we be defined by women like Elizabeth Arden who saw glamor in clear, healthy skin and red, red lipstick? Will her most famous product, the 8-hour skin cream that has remained on the bestseller list for over 70 years, still be for sale 50 years from now?
Or will there be some new definition of beauty far removed from the concept of creating a healthy glow?
At the current rate of industry progress, flawless skin is being scientifically engineered far below the surface that Arden knew. We have a multitude of injectables rapidly becoming the new status quo for those who can afford them.
Wrinkle tightening and smoothing creams are increasingly popular in the expanding cosmetics industry. But there’s also an interesting counter-culture creating a very positive upswing that’s focused on organic-based makeup. Companies picking up where Arden left off are taking women and makeup back to its roots and rediscovering the benefits of natural dyes and ingredients.
In fact, women are becoming more ecologically conscious of sustainability and product packaging that pollutes our environment. This is certainly a positive sign at the heart of the beauty industry. One thing, however, seems to be ever-constant regardless of time: women care about the way they look and feel, and makeup continues to affect the beauty industry. Whether or not we wear makeup, I’d like to believe Elizabeth Arden’s manifesto remains true more than 100 years after she formed the Arden empire:
“To be beautiful is the birthright of every woman.”