Elizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden
There's big money in beauty. For proof, one need look no further than the compelling story of cosmetics giant Elizabeth Arden (born Florence Nightingale Graham), who, at the peak of her career, was considered the wealthiest woman in the world. Quite an achievement for a Canadian nursing school drop-out, at a time when few women could climb to the top in the male-dominated sphere of big business.

Arden's venture into cosmetics began in New York in the early part of the last century, when she worked as a book keeper for a pharmaceutical firm, picking up some valuable information about skincare along the way. This was followed by a brief stint working for Eleanor Adair, a beauty consultant, or as it was known then, a 'beauty culturalist'. In turn, this lead to a partnership with another culturalist, Elizabeth Hubbard. The partnership was dissolved soon after but in its place, Elizabeth Arden was born, run solely by its proprietor, Florence Graham. The name was a fusion, formed from Hubbard's Christian name and a narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson - Enoch Arden.

At that time, Paris was considered the epicentre of female fashion and beauty, so a canny Arden travelled to France to pick up some of the techniques used in the Paris salons. While she was there, she created a number of tinted powders and rouges and returned to North America with them. Pre WW1, make-up was considered by the mainstream as something less than respectable, worn by theatrical types and ladies of the night. Arden's great achievement was to convince women in the US of the benefits of a little artifice in their beauty routine.

Collaborating with a chemist, A F Swanson, Arden introduced the 'fluffy face cream' - a lightweight moisturising concoction that promised a basis in scientific fact, which at that time was rather a novelty in the cosmetics industry. The scientific angle proved to be a clever one and so successful that it has been heavily pushed by cosmetics firms ever since. Arden was an innovator in other ways too - she developed the first colour-match foundation, aligning the colour of the  make-up to a woman's particular complexion as well as the idea of the makeover., the idea being that a women could enter an Elizabeth Arden salon and come out transformed. She was also the first to advertise her cosmetics products through pre-film commercials in the popular movie houses, in order to reach a wide audience of women.

The Elizabeth Arden Building in Washington DC. Built in 1929 and once an Arden Beauty Salon

Hope in a Bottle
The cosmetics industry works by appealing to the dreams and hopes of a public that feels less than physically perfect - Arden recognized this early and designed her products and marketing around the promise of wish-fulfillment.

Arden had expanded her cosmetics enterprise Internationally as early as 1915 and by the 1930s had salons reaching across the globe. From small beginnings, Elizabeth Arden had become a big player in the business world, securing her reputation as a sharp and savvy business brain and a highly  influential figure in the industry.

50s Elizabeth Arden Ad . Source
As the years rolled by, the Elizabeth Arden brand went from strength to strength and with the advent of WW2, Arden missed no opportunity to capitalize on women who were now leaving their homes to join the workforce or the armed forces - she even created a particular shade of red lipstick called Montezuma Red, that would perfectly match uniforms.

Post war,  despite some serious competition from emerging, big brand names in the industry, Arden managed to hold on to a substantial portion of the market through the decades that followed, deliberately promoting the Arden brand as an upmarket, quality product with a reliable history behind it.

Personal Life
Arden largely lived and breathed for her company - it was an all consuming, highly lucrative passion that has made her name a legend in cosmetics. Childless, she was married twice - once in 1915 to banker, Thomas J Lewis (they divorced in 1934) and a second time to a Russian Prince, Micheal Evlanoff, though the marriage lasted only a couple of years. She never married again.

Apart from cosmetics, Arden's other lasting passion was race horses, an expensive interest which sometimes saw her pay out 10 million dollars a year in expenses. She did however manage to build a successful and well known stable in Kentucky.

Arden died in 1966, at the age of eighty. She had made little provision for her company in the event of her death, perhaps finding it hard to conceive it should ever be run by anyone other than herself. her failure to establish an adequate trust fund meant both the company and her private estate were heavily taxed after her death, leading to a substantial drop in worth. After changing hands a few times, the company is at present owned by Unilever, who have largely concentrated on Arden fragrances, promoted by various celebrities - Red Door being the most well known.