February 9, 2007

Max Factor

And the man behind the brand is...
Max Factor

The problem was that faces would show up red or green; they reflected costume colors. The technology for color films was developed in 1937 but the make-up used in Hollywood for black-and-white films simply wasn’t working. It was Max Factor, who was responsible for every other make-up innovation in Hollywood up to that time, who came up with the solution.

Max Factor was born in Russia in 1877. He became an apprentice to a wig-maker when he was fourteen, and by the time he was twenty young Factor was running his own makeup and hair goods shop in his hometown of Lodz. Business was good, good enough that in 1904 Factor brought his wife and three children to St. Louis where, with a partner, he took a booth at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Within a year his partner had pilfered most of the profits but Factor was able to raise money for another makeup, perfume and hair-products shop in downtown St. Louis. All the while he was hearing tales of the new motion picture industry growing in Los Angeles. At the time no cosmetics manufacturer dominated the film business and in 1908 Max Factor headed to the frontier town of Hollywood, California.

The first Max Factor studio was in the Pantages Theater. At first he served as West Coast agent for other cosmetics firms while formulating and testing his own theatrical make-up. In 1914 he perfected the first make-up designed for movie use and leading actors and actresses began seeking him out for advice on how to avoid looking ghastly white on the silver screen.

Factor’s work with the movie industry led to such innovations as false eyelashes, the eyebrow pencil and a powder brush. In the 1920s Factor introduced “color harmony” in the movies. For the first time make-up items were created to harmonize with hair, eyes and skins of blondes, brownettes (a Max Factor term), brunettes and redheads.

At first used only in the movies actresses soon began to use the make-up off-screen as well. Eventually non-actresses adopted the product and in 1927 “Color Harmony Make-up” was made available to everyday women. That same year talking movies were introduced with highly sensitive film and hot set lighting. A whole new make-up was required and Max Factor’s Panchromatic Make-up earned him a special award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 1929, after two decades of work in Hollywood, Factor decided to enter the general cosmetics world. It was the ideal base from which to nurture an international empire. Factor’s clients were the most famous and glamourous people in the world. Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers and others insisted that they be made up for the camera by Max Factor and no one else.
And Factor made certain the world knew about it.

He staged lavish publicity extravaganzas which were well-reported in newspapers and movie reels around the world. Women everywhere wanted to look like their favorite movie actress. Within twenty years Max Factor would be the leading American cosmetics company in the international market.

With the advent of color films Factor once again needed to develop a suitable theatrical make-up. He formulated “pancake make-up” which restored flesh to actors’ faces and in 1938 the first color movies made their appearance. The new pancake formula was introduced to the public with full-page color advertisements in Vogue. Within months there were sixty-five different imitations of Max Factor Pancake, but Max Factor outsold all sixty-five combined.

It was Max Factor’s final contribution to the movie industry. He died in 1938, having ushered movie stars from wan, chalky black-and-white films through sound and finally into full color.

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