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Mascara For The Gods: The History of Make-up
Part Two: The Modern World
by Marjorie Dorfman

The art of makeup progresses from the ancient world into the modern age. How did it develop and what changes did it bring that are still in use today? Read on for some answers whether your lipstick blots or not.

It may be a matter of contention as to exactly when the modern world began, but it is known that the people of the Middle Ages learned nothing about cleanliness and godliness from the Egyptians of the ancient world. Even royalty rarely bathed, too busy seeking salvation and divine right in the smelly, dark and unresolved corners of their souls. It was not a period known for great advances in or consumption of cosmetics either. (With people rarely bathing, make-up could only have been considered superfluous to the concept of physical attraction). In those days, prostitutes wore blush, even though there was little to actually blush about. Still, it was not until the advent of the sixteenth century and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that natural beauty preparations came back into vogue.

Elizabeth I became one of Britain’s most celebrated users of cosmetics. During her reign (1558-1603) women used a white lead face paint and mercury sulfide for rouge, but the lead was mixed with vinegar to create a paste called "ceruse." The mixture caused hair to fall out and its extensive use throughout the Elizabethan era explains the fashion for high foreheads, as hairlines began to recede. (And when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when life gives you lemons, as the sayings go.) At this time, lipsticks were made from a mixture of cochineal and beeswax and occasionally a stain rendered from dark red plant dyes. That was at least one step up from the carmine beetles and ant eggs of Cleopatra’s time, wouldn’t you say?)

Coupled with white powdered wigs, this "ceruse" look became the height of fashion during the 16th century. Pale skin was a sign of nobility, wealth and delicacy. In an age when skin problems and the pox were commonplace and treatments for such out of reach for all but the wealthy, smooth, unblemished and pale skin was a rarity. The ceruse mixture was applied to the neck and bosom as well as the face. The first record of its use was in 1521, and by the time Elizabeth’s reign was fully established, it was considered an essential item for the fashionable woman of the day. Of course this was only for the ladies of the court. The lower and middle classes did not have the time or resources to devote to serious makeup. The wives of young merchants were notorious for their fancy dress and makeup, but otherwise cosmetics rarely touched the face of the average Elizabethan housewife.

Spreading lead on one’s skin caused a variety of problems and some authors of the time warned against it, describing how it made the skin "grey and shriveled" and suggesting other mixtures such as a paste of alum and tin ash, sulfur and a variety of other foundations utilizing boiled white egg and talc as a base. Uncooked egg white was also suggested for use as a "glaze" for the complexion. It created a smooth shell and helped to hide wrinkles. (Hell, if that didn’t work, there was always the egg white omelet alternative.)

Not much is heard about wearing makeup in Europe until after the French Revolution, when the act of doing so was considered extravagant, brazen and uncouth. Perhaps this attitude was the result of so many formidable citizens losing their heads during the Reign of Terror, rendering makeup unnecessary, to say the very least. A revival (of makeup, not heads) occurred during the 1800s before which the use of any form of blusher, powder and lipstick had virtually disappeared in Europe and was permitted only on the stage. The ideology was that lipstick and blusher created a false image and an attempt to recapture youth. In 1770 a British law was proposed to Parliament granting grounds for annulment in the case of any marriage that was entered into with a woman who used cosmetics prior to the wedding day. In 1792 an English Gentleman’s magazine claimed that "women with wooly white hair and fiery red faces resembled skinned sheep."

In the 1870s in Poland, a man named Max Faktor was born. He would become the father of modern makeup. One of ten children, at the tender age of eight, Max was placed in apprenticeship with a dentist/pharmacist. Years of mixing potions turned into a small business, his own shop, where he sold hand-made rouges, creams, fragrances and wigs. His big break came when a traveling theater troupe wore his makeup while performing for Russian nobility. He became the official cosmetic expert for the royal family and the Imperial Russian Grand Opera.

In 1904, Faktor and his family immigrated to America. At the World’s Fair held that same year in St. Louis, he sold his rouges and creams under the name given to him at Ellis Island, Max Factor. In 1908, he moved his family to Los Angeles and in 1914 created a makeup for movie actors. Unlike the theatrical makeup in vogue at the time, his would not crack or cake. This "flexible greasepaint" became very popular with movie stars, and producers often sought to rent his human hair wigs. He allowed the wigs to be rented to the producers of the old westerns on the condition that his sons were given parts as extras. The boys would keep an eye on the expensive wigs in between avoiding bullets and arrows from all the cowboys and Indians. Factor introduced his line of cosmetics to the public in the 1920s, insisting that every girl could look like a movie star by using his makeup.

The 1870s in Poland brought another innovator to the world of modern cosmetics, Helena Rubinstein. The oldest of eight children, she briefly studied medicine in Switzerland and immigrated to Australia in 1902. She noticed that Australian women had rough reddish faces that required cosmetic attention. She opened a modest shop in Melbourne, where she dispensed her "crème Valaze" and instructed women individually on how to care for their skin. She worked long hours and her shop prospered. In 1908 she traveled to London with $100,000 to start what would become an international organization.

She married an American journalist and lived in Paris until the outbreak of World War One. At this time she moved to America and opened beauty salons throughout the country, where her skin care and creams were in very high demand. Major department stores all clamored to sell her products. She was a brilliant innovator in developing her business so that it required routines and women. She trained her sales people to instruct skin care and devised a diet plan for beauty as well. She understood and appreciated the value of advertising and made full use of it. In 1957 she introduced the "Mascaramatic," the very first automatic, no- water- needed version of mascara as women know it today.

In 1915, a gentleman named T.L. Williams founded The Maybelline Company. As the story goes, his brand of mascara was brought to the masses after he watched his older sister, Mabel, apply her secret beauty trick to her lashes. He was struck by the idea that other women might not only be interested in her concoction, but also be willing to pay for it. Mabel’s magic formula was either a mixture of petroleum jelly and coal dust or just plain petroleum jelly to which her brother added a darkening agent when he began to sell his "Lash-Brow-line" through his own mail-order catalogue.

Early sales were very slow. In 1915, T.L. Williams changed the name of the product to Maybelline in honor of his sister, Mabel and a base ingredient of the new product, Vaseline petroleum jelly. The product was served up in a cake form and came with a tiny brush, which needed to be wet. Rubbing the brush back and forth across the cake, the product was then stroked into the lashes and allowed to dry. Early cake mascaras were made mainly of beeswax, the wax of the carnauba palm and a coloring agent.

No history of cosmetics could be complete without the mention of Charles Revson, creator of Revlon Cosmetics and of Estee Lauder and Hazel Bishop.

Born in Boston in 1906 and miffed that he didn’t land the job of national distributor in the cosmetics firm where he worked, Revson convinced his brother and a chemist friend, Charles Lachman, to launch their own business. They specialized in nail polishes in a greater variety of colors than was available elsewhere and sold them first through salons and then through department stores. Eventually, they introduced matching lipsticks with exotic names for the colors. Who can forget "cherries in the snow" red? To this day, it is available unchanged as it was originally created. Despite his difficult personality, the business was a phenomenal success under his leadership, first as president and then as chairman.

In the same year that Charles Revson was born, a lady named Hazel Bishop made her entrance into the world in Hoboken, New Jersey. She worked as a chemist with the Standard Oil Development Company and in 1949, after a long series of home experiments, perfected a lipstick that stayed on the lips longer than any other product available at the time. The following year she formed Hazel Bishop, Inc. to manufacture her "Lasting" also known as "Kissable" lipstick. The lipstick was a great success and other manufacturers soon introduced similar products.

Josephine Estelle Mentzner was the daughter of immigrants who lived above her father’s hardware store in Corona, a section of Queens in New York City. Estee was her nickname and she married into Lauder. She began her multi-million dollar enterprise in 1946 in beauty shops, beach clubs and resorts by selling skin creams concocted by her uncle who was a chemist.

Simply speaking, she outworked everyone else in the cosmetics industry. She stalked the bosses of New York City department stores until she got some counter space at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1948. Secure in that position, she utilized a personal selling approach that proved to be as potent as the promise of her skin regimens and perfumes. Even after 40 years in business, Estee Lauder would attend every launch of a new cosmetics counter or shop, traveling as far away as Moscow and other Eastern European cities. Only declining health has slowed her down.

The beat goes on, not only for Sonny and Cher, but also for L’Oreal, Lancôme and a host of other cosmetics lines that have proved successful in today’s marketplace. In short, there are many ways to put on "a new coat of paint" and the art is as old as time itself. So keep painting, ladies and don’t ever forget that even though clothes may make the man, cosmetics make the woman!

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2005