Elizabeth Arden: The World’s Most Successful Trilogy

EA 01

Throughout the 1930s cosmetics giant Elizabeth Arden repeatedly echoed the ingredients that represented the three main phases of beauty, which, in her opinion, every modern woman should possess and follow in order to achieve the ‘Arden Look.’

The ‘Arden look’ was a term coined by Arden herself where she referred to the women throughout the world who possessed the credentials which were reflective of the brand. Arden’s global accessibility as a company, which was – and still is – stocked in every large city across the world, meant that more and more women endorsed and adopted the Arden Look. Yet, what were the credentials that defined the ‘Arden Look?’

Whilst hunting through American Vogue’s online archive for copies of the magazine, which marketed the cosmetic brand, I came across the above advertisement, which outlined what Arden perceived as the three main phases of beauty. These phases, considered by Arden ‘world’s most successful trilogy,’ were the combination  of a lovely face, a slender figure, and a clever wardrobe.

Where society’s concept of beauty had changed during the twentieth century, from that of a woman’s moral qualities to her external appearance, Elizabeth Arden recognised that there was a growing market place for skin care and decorative cosmetics. Therefore, where a woman’s appearance through her hair, eyes, skin, lips, hands and weight became ‘critical points’ for judgement, Arden was able to offer beauty solutions through her products, and then her services.

As Arden’s influence grew within the cosmetic world, so did her brand. Beginning with skin care and decorative cosmetics, Arden opened up her own health spa, Maine Chance, in 1934. Lindy Woodhead described Maine Chance as ‘America’s first luxury health and beauty farm,’ where some of America’s wealthiest ladies would visit for health and beauty treatments, as well as outdoor sports and workouts. Clients would spend $500 a week and Arden would keep the resort open from May to September each year.  An example of the machines used is demonstrated in the accompanying photograph, which featured the ‘metal hip roller.’ It was believed that such a machine would reduce the dimensions of a woman’s hips and buttocks!

EA 02

However it was during the 1940s that Arden’s brand truly became a ‘one-stop destination’ for the three phases of beauty, with the launch of her Fashion Floor in 1944.  During her lifetime, Arden collaborated with four couture designers: Charles James, Antonio Castillo, Count Sarmi and Oscar de la Renta to provide her customers with the ‘clever wardrobe,’ that would keep her customers looking ‘irresistibly soigné.’

In this respect Arden’s ‘most successful trilogy’ not only formed the basis of the modern woman, but also demonstrated the vision that Elizabeth Arden had for her business. Moreover, as Arden defined the three phases of beauty, her empire soon expanded and encompassed these three industries, which ultimately aligned the Arden brand with the function of an American department store through her ability to offer her ladies a ‘one-stop shopping’ experience when they entered her salons.

 

Sources:

U.S Vogue online archive

Gourley, C. Rosie and Mrs. America: Perceptions of Women in the 1930s and 1940s (Minneapolis, 2008).

Woodhead, L. War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden, Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry (United Kingdom, 2003).

Beauty Industry: A Call for Attention

It has been over a month since clicking ‘print’ on my desktop and witnessing the birth of the most important document in my academic career. Immortalising three months worth of research, the 10,000 word document is, without sounding too dramatic, a cathartic ode to a lifetime of fascination for the business of beauty. Though my dissertation is now a near distant memory, the floors of my flat are still (very) active reminders of a by-gone era of unapologetic feminine capitalism, expression and innovation. Besides the fact that the covers and spines of the books double as beautiful decorative pieces, my refusal to put them away is perhaps explained by a reluctance to participate in the critical ‘forgetting’ of the emancipatory origins of the beauty industry.

My research on Helena Rubinstein has put under a microscope a disparity between the achievement of female figureheads, and the industry that they have built.  The books that litter my floor are filled with tributes to the foresight and exceptional industrial prowess of Rubinstein, amongst others, that signal a socio-political turning point in America’s Post-War expansionist society. The biographical emphasis on a climactic escape from patriarchal oppression that seems to underpin any discussion of Rubinstein, or Elizabeth Arden, or Madame C.J Walker, can be read as a compensation for the ‘un-feminist’ methods in which these women built their success.

It is no secret that the early beauty industry was predicated upon manipulative copy and unregulated claims; one only has to select a random page from Vogue to witness the way in which the consumer was denigrated to validate the need for beauty culturalists. This paradox is the crux of contemporary consideration that readily focuses on the purposeful alienation of identity. Naomi Wolf and her influential book, The Beauty Myth, draws upon ‘third-wave’ feminism that posits the beauty industry as an entity that constructs ideal femininity in order to punish women. Indeed, whilst fashion allows women to experience the truest expression of self, the beauty industry displaces it, or removes the autonomous ‘self’ all together. Though Wolf’s argument has been instrumental in the feminist criticism of beauty as a self-governing and exploitative entity, it seems anachronistic that present day historiography is informed by an argument that was guided by the disregard for ‘beauty’ that permeated art and fashion alike in the 90s.

Herein lies the major problem with contemporary writing on beauty – it overlooks the positive impact of beauty culture that is to be found if the dogmatic approach were to be abandoned. Unlike fashion and wider culture in the early twentieth century, the beauty industry was a microcosmic sphere that broke down class boundaries, the restriction of women and racial segregation in its aspirational conception. It extended to women a means to unite their appearance with their newfound economic and performative power, experienced after gaining the right to vote in 1921, and allowed them to rival patriarchal power through an entirely female sphere. It is a shame therefore, that at a time when more citizens owned a compact and lipstick than an automobile, the beauty industry is so often written about in an apologetic tone.

Despite the fact that Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden are largely forgotten relics of the industry that they once created, the modern beauty industry has arguably developed in response to their earlier domination. Contemporary beauty culture has become an extension of the wider criticism of its own origins by promoting self-expression and health, rather than indoctrinating ‘ideals’. However, it still employs the PR strategies and product development that are direct ancestors of those created by Rubinstein and Arden – evident in the success of Charlotte Tilbury and her mystical ‘magic cream’.

Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Madame C.J Walker might not have the recognition they once did, but their legacy lives on in the present day industry that they gave birth to.

Sources:

Peg Zeglin Brand, ed., Beauty Matters (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000)

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (New York: Bantham Doubleday Dell Publishing, 1991)

Cosmetics: Women’s Freedom in a Tube

Elizabeth Arden advertisement, Pinpoints, 1939.

Elizabeth Arden advertisement, Pinpoints, 1939.

The inter-war period signalled a time of change for many women as they were granted more responsibility within society. As more women inhabited the office as a place of work during the 1930s, a new sense of freedom was also occurring. Women were now smoking in public, going to parties at weekends without a chaperone and increasing numbers were using makeup. As a result, the interwar period was a turning point for women, with regards to their changing appearances as well as role within society.

Women were wearing and purchasing makeup on a wider scale to change and perfect their appearances during the 1930s. Although widespread availability of make up and other beautification products were available during the flapper era of the 1920s, by the 1930s makeup had become integral to self-expression. Furthermore, as Kathy Peiss highlighted, makeup also contributed to the belief that identity was a ‘purchasable style.’ The number of cosmetic advertisements dominating the pages of fashion magazines during the inter-war period contributes to this idea of a purchasable identity. In the Courtauld’s History of Dress archive, there is a rare fashion journal from 1939 called Pinpoints. The magazine’s first issue documented how its inception was based upon the need to widen the ‘closed circle of fashion,’ as well as the aim to ‘prove itself as an independent, amusing and original step towards the ideal.’ In this respect, the ‘ideal’ woman embraces the necessity of using and purchasing makeup. The accompanying image is an Elizabeth Arden advertisement from 1939. The image is a black and white illustration portraying a fragmented sculpture of the head and neck. What is especially unique about this specific advertisement is how the viewer can physically interact and engage with it. The reader is encouraged to turn the wheel on the page behind the advert in order to display alternative colour groupings of rouge and lipstick, altering the colour combination shown. There is a sense of what the vital ingredients for constructing a fashionable and proper identity of the face are in Elizabeth Arden’s eyes. In this respect, the aim of the advertisement is to reach out to Arden’s target market by highlighting how separate looks can be constructed with different coloured groupings of cosmetics. The missing pieces of the sculpture highlight the fragile nature of faces and consequently reinforce the need for a beauty regime, which will preserve and take care of the face’s appearance. The fragmented sculpture also aligns ideas of craftsmanship and construction with the use of makeup on the face. Women have the freedom to build a lasting identity for themselves by purchasing cosmetics.

Yet, by purchasing additional cosmetics, a woman’s identity can also be altered in order to keep up-to-date with changing and seasonal trends. In this respect, the altering of identity is demonstrated through how women chose to decorate their faces with cosmetics. As a result, women changing and controlling their appearances through the use of cosmetics demonstrated their newfound freedom in the 1930s.

Sources

Peiss, K. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (Metropolitan Books, 1998).