February 9, 2007

Elizabeth Arden

And the woman behind the brand is...
Elizabeth Arden

When Elizabeth Arden died in 1966 estimates of her age ranged from 81 to 88. She had built an industry based entirely on illusion and the mother of the beauty treatment business never missed an opportunity to create a similar aura around her own life.

Elizabeth Arden was born Florence Nightengale Graham in Ontario, Canada,
the daughter of a Scotch-English teamster. For the first thirty years she toiled in a succession of mundane jobs around Toronto, the last as an office assistant to a dentist. In 1908 she came to New York as a treatment girl in a salon working for tips.

She learned massage and studied elementary formulas for cosmetics. In a few years Graham was ready for her own salon. Searching for a more glamorous name it is said she selected “Arden” from a favorite Victorian novel, although there is nothing in her background to suggest she would have favored such literature.

She surely took “Elizabeth” from a mentor for its mellifluous sound. She was soon to steal more than her name. Headstrong and indulgent of no opinion other than her own Arden resolutely built her business. A second salon quickly opened and others were planned.

When chemists told her that a fluffy face cream - “like whipped cream” - was an impossibility she pressed the subject until Cream Amoretta was ready for market in 1914. It became the basis of her cosmetics fortune. Creating cosmetics was an Arden specialty and she tried them all on herself. Hers was the final decision on every aspect of the business - the color of the package (pink was a trademark), the mood of the advertisement, the naming of the perfume.

Arden entered the treatment business at the ideal time - respectable American women were beginning to use rouge and lipstick, previously only the accoutrements of harlots. She traveled to dozens of salons in Europe to expand her product line. She was a pioneer of advertising beauty products in fashion magazines and newspapers.

Arden at first used sybaritic salons to introduce her beauty products but by 1915 she began to realize that bulk sales were where her future profits lay. She opened a wholesale department to promote her line in department stores and drug stores. More than 300 scented Elizabeth Arden cosmetics were available around the world.

In a highly competitive follow-the-leader industry Arden was an innovator.
In 1934 she transformed her Maine Chance Farm in Mount Vernon, Maine into a beauty retreat for women. At the height of the Depression women doled out $750 a week for exercise, beauty treatments and general pampering. A second Maine Chance Farm opened in Phoenix in 1947.

Mixing with her prominent clientele, Arden was introduced to horse racing.
She developed an intense passion for race horses, which she often selected for their handsome looks alone. She directed her trainers to forego traditional rubbing liniment for Elizabeth Arden skin tonic. Her unconventional methods helped; in 1947 her stable produced the Kentucky Derby winner, Jet Pilot.

There was little time in Elizabeth Arden’s life aside from her rich patrons and fast horses. Two emotionless marriages ended in divorce, although there is little indication that she ever gave it a second thought. Childless, the business she created and controlled with consummate skill, was left in disarray by her passing. After her death her estate was saddled with $37 million in taxes.

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