(Originally blogged April 5, 2009)
You probably aren’t familiar with the name Florence Graham but you might know her professional alias — Elizabeth Arden. Born in Woodbridge Ontario (now a part of the city of Vaughan just north of Toronto) on December 31, 1878, Florence Nightengale Graham went to Toronto to study nursing and then joined her elder brother in New York city to work as a bookkeeper at a pharmaceuticals company. It was here that she acquired an interest in beauty culture. She opened a beauty salon in partnership with Elizabeth Hubbard in 1909 but when the partnership dissolved she retained her former partner’s first name and usurped her last name from Tennyson’s epic poem Enoch Arden.
Respectable women had been using cosmetics sparingly since the end of the 18th century. Tinted creams and powders were available but these products added only the slightest hint of a healthy glow to cheeks and lips, as if the wearer had just returned from a brisk walk. In 1912, when Arden travelled to France to learn Parisian beauty techniques, lip rouge and powder were beginning to be applied in a less subtle manner. The cinema was now a popular entertainment and actresses on the screen continued to wear heavy stage makeup, inspiring women to emulate their look. Lip rouge also came to symbolize female liberation. Suffragette leaders trumpeted the wearing of lip rouge at their 1912 rally as an emblem of women’s emancipation.
Arden profitted from supplying lip rouges and face powders to New York’s fashionable elite. She also introduced eye makeup and the concept of the ‘makeover’ in her salons, made famous by their red doors. She married an American banker in 1915 and became an American citizen. Although her marriage failed in 1934, her business prospered throughout the Depression. She made her fortune in the creation of a face cream called Venetian Cream Amoretta, as well as the Arden Skin Tonic, all promoted through commercials shown in movie theatres. The opening sequence of MGM’s 1939 film, ‘The Women’ shows patrons exercising, receiving facials and massages, taking mud baths, and having their hair styled at a spa modelled after Elizabeth Arden’s Fifth Avenue flagship salon.
In 1943, in the middle of the war, Elizabeth Arden opened a fashion business, selling clothing from notable American designers such as Charles James. Also during the war Elizabeth Arden created a lipstick called Montezuma Red for women in the U.S. Marines that matched the red of their uniform stripes. However, her patriotism came into question when it was discovered she was continuing to make money from Nazi-occupied European Salons as late as 1941.
After the war, Elizabeth Arden’s brand name became so famous that it was internationally recognized as easily as Coca Cola and Singer Sewing machines. Red door salons continued to open around the world and her products were used by everyone from the Queen of England to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Elizabeth Arden died in 1966; she was interred in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The business was resold several times to new owners, including Faberge and Unilever, but continues to operate salons and create its own products as well as perfume brands for Mariah Carey, Elizabeth Taylor, Britney Spears, and Hilary Duff