Beginning as a producer of unique nail enamels, Charles Revson (1906–75) founded a mass production cosmetics firm that he built into an international corporation. Revson was known for his creativity and perfectionism. The Revlon Company modernized cosmetics advertising techniques, and was an early practitioner of the color story.
Born in Boston, Revson was the middle son of working-class parents living in tenement housing. Brought up in Manchester, New Hampshire, Revson moved to New York City as a young man and worked for a dress company before joining a cosmetics company that sold nail polish. Along with his brother Joseph and chemist Charles Lachman, Revson founded the Revlon Cosmetics Company in 1932. Using pigments instead of dyes, their unique nail enamel was first sold to beauty salons and later department stores.
Revson and the Revlon Company are well known as the proponents of the modern beauty ad, letting the picture tell the story, and like other beauty mavens Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, following the philosophy of beauty products as a necessary luxury. Their first consumer advertisement came out in 1935 and, by 1939, Revlon had introduced a matching nail polish and lipstick line. The Revlon Company had grown to multimillion dollar status by the beginning of World War II. Revlon was one of the early leaders in the color story advertising technique by 1944, and after 1945 the company began its growth as a general cosmetics firm. This expansion has included developing different product lines for varying age, race, and gender groups. By 1970, the Revlon Company was the second largest cosmetics corporation in the world (behind Avon). In 1973, Revson helped launch the supermodel phenomenon when he hired Lauren Hutton as the face of Revlon. Further mass media successes were the Charlie Perfume ads of the early 1970s.
Revson’s personal life often gained attention, as he married three times and was known to be a harsh employer. Revson remained the president of Revlon until 1962, and served as chairman until his death in 1975. After his death, the company continued to flourish. The Revlon Company surpassed one billion dollars in sales in 1977. MacAndrews and Forbes Holdings bought the company in 1985.
In 1956, Revson established the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which concentrates philanthropic efforts in New York City among the Jewish community, health, and educational institutions. The Charles H. Revson Fellowship program selects 10 fellows each year for a year of enrichment study at Columbia University. Foundation grant disbursements as of 2008 total more than $127 million with an endowment of over $200 million.