One of the key businessmen featured by Richard S. Tedlow in his book Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires they Built is Charles Revson, the creator of Revlon. Revson is chosen for his influence on the art of consumer marketing. Tedlow holds that Revson was the first person to market beauty products to women in a way which sold luxury and moved the product away from its less than savory connections to prostitution. By taking these unique approaches in advertising Revson forever shaped the world of advertising.
To this I would have to disagree.
The beauty industry was already an established and respected market before Charles Revson entered the scene in 1932. Women had been purchasing creams and concealers since the 1910s. Even though makeup of this time remained much closer to the natural face it still shows that the beauty market was already well established and removed from ideas of “painted women.” Revson’s advertisements and alleged market innovations did not spur the legitimacy of beauty products.
The strategies of selling fantasy and luxury were not unique to Revson either. Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden both used these techniques in selling their products and salons. In 1915 Arden introduced the idea of the makeover in her salons, selling the fantasy of being treated like a Queen in the lap of luxury. A 1920s Arden ad announces a new line of makeup called simply “Royal Makeup” which is a clear use of the kinds of advertising Revson is said to have invented. Rubinstein was also selling luxury with her product lines. Already an international figure when Revson came on the scene, Rubinstein’s packaging and advertisements connected her product to old world glamour. Her branding techniques played on fantasy – perhaps best exhibited through the style in which she launched her fragrance “Heaven Sent.” Packaged in angel shaped bottles, Rubinstein had samples of the fragrance placed into baskets attached to pastel balloons which were lowered from the roof of her salon on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This sort of creativity from his competitors certainly pushed Revson’s advertising strategies; strategies which Tedlow depicted as created in isolation from the rest of the market.
Had Tedlow stated that Revson expanded these luxury advertising techniques to include a broader audience I would have agreed. But he overplays his hand in making Revson out to be the Founding Father of fantasy and luxury for cosmetic advertising.
Interested in learning more about Arden and Rubenstein? Check your local listings for PBS’ Special The Powder and the Glory which chronicles the life and times of two of America’s first female entrepreneurs.