American cosmetic trade has expanded from humble beginnings in the early 20th Century into a major multi-billion dollar industry. If there is one man most responsible for the launch and popularization of the American cosmetics industry, it would be Max Factor.
Born the son of Jewish parents in Lodz, Poland in 1877, Max Faktor worked at age 8 in a pharmacy and dental office. While apprenticing there he was employed mixing various potions and became fascinated with the human face. Later, as a young man in Moscow, he established his first shop in which he sold cremes, wigs and perfumes. A theater group wore some of Max’ makeup while performing before Russian aristocracy, which led to his being hired by the Russian royal family as its makeup consultant. He was also engaged by Russia’s national opera.
In 1904 Max, his wife Lisa and their 3 children left Europe and emigrated to America, arriving with less than four hundred dollars to his name, the spelling of which was Americanized into “Max Factor” during his immigration proceedings. That same year he worked at the St. Louis World’s Fair selling skin cremes and perfumes and then moved on to the theater district in Los Angeles four years later, where Max opened the Max Factor beauty salon, thinking he might have the opportunity to work in the newly emerging movie industry in Hollywood.
Some six years later, in 1914, he invented the first of many creations that would come to be known globally. This initial invention, greasepaint compressed into a tube, was designed specifically as a makeup for actors, one that would not crack. It was Max Factor who coined the term ‘makeup’ to describe his product.
As a result of this product, many of Hollywood’s top movie stars began visiting his beauty studio and his reputation was born. During the following two decades, he was responsible for the glamorous looks of celebrities such as Jean Harlow, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, many of whom relied on his services not only for their movie appearances but in their ‘everyday’ lives.
Then in the 1920’s Max Factor started selling his cosmetics to consumers, believing that all women should have the opportunity to look like the stars. In doing so, Max was largely responsible for the commencement of the cosmetics industry as we know it today. Many of his Hollywood clients also agreed to appear in magazine ads to market his cosmetics, and the name Max Factor soon became known around the globe.
From there Max Factor was responsible for a number of cosmetic innovations including the first foundation (known as Pan-cake), which was applied to the face with a silk sponge. Other ‘firsts’ introduced by Max Factor and the company of the same name he founded were false eyelashes, lip gloss, the eyebrow pencil, stick makeup, concealer, the mascara wand, water resistant makeup and many others.
Max Factor died in Beverly Hills in 1938, but the company he founded continued to grow under the direction of his son, Max Jr. , becoming synonymous with high fashion and glamour. In 1991 the brand name “Max Factor” was sold to Procter & Gamble.
For those who are interested in learning more about the father of modern makeup, a visit to the Max Factor Museum in Hollywood is recommended. You will find a restoration of Max Factor’s original beauty salon containing scores of autographed photos of Hollywood stars, advertisements from magazines, an Oscar, presentations of many of his original creations, four celebrity makeup rooms (one each for blondes, redheads, brunettes and brownettes), a collection of wigs, and a small theater. Admission is free.
The writer, Colin Albert, oversees the MineralMakeupShoppe website. The site presents a new makeup product called Naked Minerals makeup, which is a pressed all-natural mineral makeup that is easy to apply and does not stain your clothes.