Elizabeth Arden (1878–1966) was known for founding and operating a chain of high-end beauty spas, Maine Chance, and beauty salons, marked by her trademark red door. She is credited with establishing makeup as proper for a ladylike image during a period when such use associated the wearer with the lower classes and unrespectable professions; this new image included the subtle application of cosmetics with a lighter touch, a more refined look for the high-class woman. During her lifetime, Arden’s company was known for its fine line of high-end cosmetics and perfumes. Along with her chief rival, Helena Rubinstein, Arden helped establish early cosmetics marketing practices and a female presence in the male corporate world during the first half of the 20th century. Arden also had a second career—she owned a stable of thoroughbred race horses, Maine Chance Farms, which gained prominence in the 1940s and 1950s.
Born Florence Nightingale Graham to tenant farmers in Canada, Arden never finished high school but held a series of low-paying jobs while living in Toronto. An early attempt at nursing exposed her to various skin salves and creams used to treat skin injuries or maladies. While living at home, she often experimented with various ingredients in her private laboratory, attempting to turn the salves into beauty skincare products. In 1908, at the age of 30, Arden moved to New York City with her brother, where she was employed for a time as a bookkeeper by the Squibb Pharmaceutical Company. By 1910, she had found work in Eleanor Adair’s beauty salons, and there she became a specialist in facial treatments.
Early Career And Beauty Philosophy
Arden opened up a shop on Fifth Avenue with new partner Elizabeth Hubbard, where she developed a line of Venetian beauty preparations, an identity choice lending the pricey lotions and powders prestige—this strategy would become her trademark. When the partnership broke up, Florence Graham became Elizabeth Arden, taking her former partner’s first name, and legend has it, the last name of the title character in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Enoch Arden.” This is also when the door to her beauty salon became red, to distinguish her entrance from the more common doorways around her shop. Among the products from this early period around 1912 were Arden’s first rouges and tinted powders.
Arden formulated her marketing and product philosophy very quickly through research and experimentation. In these early years Arden added fragrances to her lotions and powders, and hired a chemist to lighten the texture of the greasy and heavy creams commonly found at the time. Her development of the total beauty concept led her to expand her salon by including the services of a hairdresser and a milliner within one location, thus providing easy access to supplementary beauty routines. This idea would later lead to her founding of beauty spas. She also trained her workers to apply makeup, and to teach their customers to apply it, with a lighter touch and subtlety. Understated makeup became classier and thereby more respectable for ladies to wear. Arden was an early proponent of the beauty routine and the shared meanings and rituals that that entailed within female culture.
In 1914, Arden traveled to Paris, studying Parisians’ more sophisticated cosmetics techniques, ingredients, and, especially, their use of eye makeup. This last was harder for Arden’s American clientele to accept than rouges and face powders. It is believed that Arden’s eye products were the first to be introduced in the United States and that they were a difficult sell. In 1914, she opened a second salon in Washington, D.C., which proved a success, and her creams and line of cosmetics were sold in department stores all along the East Coast. By 1916, the Arden Company ranked first in the nation in prestige skincare sales.
Middle Career And Company Expansion
At age 37, in 1918, Arden married Thomas Lewis and became a U.S. citizen. Also in 1918, she expanded her salon services into product sales; her husband supervised production and distribution while Arden dealt with the more public image of the company by attending to the exclusive salons. Arden pink became her signature color, though any allusions to pink femininity would be wide off the mark, as Arden gained a reputation as a tough manager and was the sole stockholder in her company throughout her life.
In 1925, the Arden Company topped $2 million in sales, and by 1929 that figure had doubled. In a bold move, Arden expanded during the Great Depression; she believed that women would still be seeking ways to lift their spirits, and brought out such innovations as a lipstick kit, which contained several different shades. This, along with different perfumes for different times of the day, enabled women to change their cosmetics along with their dress; this may have led to today’s predilection for day makeup and night makeup. In 1934, Arden opened Maine Chance Beauty Resort, accessing the beauty ritual culture she had helped to establish. The Maine spa was a varied treatment facility where women lost weight, immersed in Arden’s new bath salts, and slathered themselves with her bath lotions, all for $500 a week. During the Depression she also marketed her first fragrance, Blue Grass (1935). By the mid 1930s, Arden owned, manufactured, and marketed around 108 different products. She also owned approximately 29 salons around the world. Arden extended her reach by making the first cosmetics commercial shown in movie houses in 1939.
World War II and Late Career
During World War II, Arden expanded her domestic market coast to coast, and her lines went into all of the major department stores at that time. Arden also directly addressed the needs of a growing female workforce; new cosmetics and beauty routines emerged that helped women to present a more professional appearance. As women entered the armed services, Arden created Montezuma Red lipstick to match the red trim on women’s uniforms. The company remained a pacesetter, even during the height of the war. In 1945, Arden entered into a new enterprise, couture clothing, and thereafter continued to challenge her competitors by adding men’s fragrances and opening a men’s boutique in the 1950s. Her men’s lines included designs by Charles James, Antonio Castillo, Fernando Sarmi, and Oscar de la Renta.
While Arden had no children, she owned a thoroughbred racing stable, Maine Chance Farms. During the 1940s and 1950s it was a big contender in the racing world and in 1945, Maine Chance Farms was the top money-winning stable in the United States. In 1954, her filly Fascinator won the Kentucky Oaks. Her biggest win, however, was with Jet Pilot, a colt, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1947, ridden by Eric Guerin and trained by Tom Smith. Legend relates that one of Arden’s best creams (Eight Hour Cream) resulted from formulas concocted for her thoroughbreds; she noticed their effect on the stable handlers’ hands, and modified the formula for human marketing.
Arden’s Company After Her Death
Before her death in 1966, the Elizabeth Arden Company grossed an average of $60 million per year. Her empire consisted of 17 corporations and over 40 salons worldwide, with an additional 100-plus smaller establishments. It is thought that she created and manufactured upward of 300 cosmetics and fragrances. Since her death, the Elizabeth Arden Company has passed through several hands. Eli Lilly & Company acquired it in 1970, cut costs and streamlined procedures. and then sold it in 1987. After changing hands twice more, Unilever PLC purchased Elizabeth Arden in 1990. In 1992, Calvin Klein joined Elizabeth Arden as part of Unilever’s Prestige Personal Products Group. Between 1987 and 1993, Joseph Ronchetti, president and CEO of Arden, greatly expanded advertising. Those years also brought about research and development of new products, including skin protection care products, which were recognized and given awards by the Skin Cancer Foundation. In 1991, Arden’s product Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds was the nation’s number one fragrance. Today, the company has addressed issues of social concern and does not conduct animal testing. The company also contributes large donations to child welfare causes and AIDS research.