Elizabeth Arden, Inc.
Elizabeth Arden was a pioneer in the U.S. cosmetics industry, introducing American women to products such as lipstick, rouge, and mascara. Starting with a single shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City, she developed her company into an international business that reached $60 million in annual sales. While she cultivated a sophisticated, high-society image, Arden promoted the idea that beauty was within the reach of all women.
Elizabeth Arden was born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1878 in Woodbridge, Ontario. Her father, William Graham, was Scottish and her mother, Susan (Pierce) Tadd, was English. She was the fourth of five children. The couple immigrated to Canada, where they worked a farm near Toronto. Arden was married twice, to banker Thomas Jenkins Lewis in 1915 (divorced 1934) and to Prince Michael Evlanoff in 1942 (divorced 1944). Subsequently, she lived with her brother's daughter, Patricia Young.
Arden had a particular love for horses and dogs. She enjoyed flower and landscape gardening and interior design. By the end of her life, she had an extensive art collection that included works by O'Keefe, Cassatt, Laurencian, and Chagall.
Contemporary accounts of Arden's childhood put a rosy cast on her upbringing in Canada. Accounts of her father describe him raising exotic vegetables under glass, and her education was supposedly carried out in Canadian schools and by tutors. Since her death, however, it has been thought that Arden did not finish high school because she was poor and needed to work. She worked as a dental assistant, cashier, and stenographer before moving to New York City with her brother in 1908.
Arden was introduced to the cosmetics industry when she took a clerical job with Eleanor Adair, a London firm with a shop on Fifth Avenue. She learned how to give facial treatments and studied the basic elements of cosmetic formulas. By 1909 Arden had opened her own Fifth Avenue shop with partner Elizabeth Hubbard. The pairing did not flourish, however, and Arden soon was sole owner of the company. She then adopted the name Elizabeth Arden for the business and for herself. Some sources say Arden formed her name by taking "Elizabeth" from her former associate, Elizabeth Hubbard. Other sources attribute the new first name to Queen Elizabeth. It is agreed that "Arden" comes from a favorite poem, Tennyson's "Enoch Arden."
Arden's own flawless and youthful complexion was excellent advertising for her facial treatments and creams. In 1914, however, Arden traveled to France, where she saw cosmetics skillfully applied and where—unlike in the United States—they were gaining popular acceptance. She proceeded to offer products such as lipsticks, rouges, mascara, and foundation creams, as well as fluffy, nongreasy facial creams. Working with chemist A. F. Swanson, she developed two products that became extremely popular, Cream Amoretta and Ardena Skin Tonic. Such products were truly innovative and demanded premium prices. Their success allowed Arden to move into improved quarters in New York and to open branches, first in Washington, D.C. and Boston, then in Paris by 1922. By 1957 there were some 150 Elizabeth Arden salons.
Arden increased her cosmetics sales by developing a wide range of colors and shades, allowing her customers to coordinate their makeup with their own coloring and clothes. Having established herself as a beauty expert, Arden opened two health resorts that offered special diets and exercises for clients. Her first health and beauty spa, Main Chance Farm, located in Mount Vernon, Maine, was the first of its kind in the United States. Later, she opened a second spa in Phoenix, Arizona. Beginning in the 1940s, she also sold custom and ready-to-wear clothes, designed especially for her salons. However, Arden did not build her empire solely on sales to the elite clientele who could shop her salons. She also promoted her business to a far larger audience by selling her products in department stores and by offering written advice, such as the pamphlet "The Quest of the Beautiful."
Social and Economic Impact
Beginning at a time when no respectable woman would use a product beyond facial cream, Arden succeeded in selling makeup, as well as expensive facial treatments, creams, and tonics. She provided her customers with superior products formulated by her own chemists and presented them in stylish, elegant salons. She quickly made her cosmetics business a popular and financial success. During her lifetime, the company reached $60 million in annual sales and cosmetics became one of the top 10 industries in the United States.
As chairperson of the board and director of Elizabeth Arden, Inc., Arden was an extremely feminine figure: petite and often dressed in pink. Although her first husband worked as manager of the cosmetics line during their marriage, she was always in full control of the company's development. In her beloved hobby of horse racing, Arden was also known as a hands-on manager and a successful one, too. Not only did her horse Jet Pilot win the Kentucky Derby in 1947, her stables often made impressive winnings, such as the $589,000 they earned in 1945.
Arden was an astute businesswoman, who gave equal attention to developing breakthrough products and to creating a sophisticated, high-society image for her company. In the case of one of her best-selling products, Amoretta face cream, she persisted in working with chemists until they created a pleasant, light cream that was far superior to the oily petroleum products that were common. To create an elegant, elite image for her business, Arden not only focused on carefully decorating her salons and using finishing touches such as a liveried doorman, she also established herself in New York society. This difficult task was aided by her friendships with Elizabeth Marbury and Elsie De Wolfe. She also made advances in social circles by marrying a Russian prince. This event is sometimes seen as a competitive stroke against her greatest business rival, Helena Rubenstein, who had also married royalty. The rivalry between these two women was highly publicized, with Arden referring to Rubenstein as "that woman."
Arden was an active Republican and during the 1940 presidential election, campaigned vigorously against Franklin D. Roosevelt and for Wendell Willkie. Soon after the election, she ran into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) who charged her with violating the Robinson-Patman Act by not properly training her employees. Convinced that the Democrats were behind the FTC's actions as punishment for her stand against Roosevelt, Arden appealed the FTC's charges to the U. S. Supreme Court. She lost the case, but the ruling required little change in the structure of Arden's company.
Chronology: Elizabeth Arden
1908: Moved to New York City and took first job in the cosmetics business.
1909: Opened shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City, selling facial creams.
1909: Changed her name from Florence Nightingale Graham to Elizabeth Arden for business purposes.
1914: Began selling cosmetics such as lipstick, rouge, and mascara.
1940: Began selling designer clothing.
1947: Arden's racehorse, Jet Pilot, won the Kentucky Derby.
1953: Named to the Boston Distribution Conference Hall of Fame.
1957: Owned over 150 Elizabeth Arden salon branches.
Now under the corporate ownership of Eli Lilly, the Elizabeth Arden, Inc. continues to be a successful and respected entity. However, it has lost some of the cachet that it carried during its creator's lifetime. Arden was a key figure in the company's corporate life and in its public image. Seemingly, Arden herself could not imagine the company existing without her, for although she was approaching the age of 90, she never made special arrangements for the disposal of her company, which had to be sold in order to pay inheritance taxes. Until her death in 1966, Elizabeth Arden remained the sole owner of her company.
Sources of Information
Bondji, Victor, ed. American Decades: 1940-1950. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.
Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography Yearbook. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1957.
Current Biography Yearbook. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1966.
Fucini, Joseph and Suzy. Entrepreneurs. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1985.
Gay & Lesbian Biography. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997.
Martin, Albro. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Palatine, IL.: Heraty, 1987.
Vare, Ethlie Ann and Greg Ptacek. Mothers of Invention: From the Bra to the Bomb: Forgotten Women & Their Unforgettable Ideas. New York: William Morrow, 1988.
The World Almanac Biographical Dictionary. New York: World Almanac, 1990.
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