Procter & Gamble, owner of the Max Factor brand since 1996, announced last week that they will phase out the whole Max Factor line in the United States, although the brand will still continue in Europe and Asia. Considering how P&G has not shown much interest in the brand, it is a matter of a year or few until they kill the Max Factor brand entirely. It is a shame — not only did the company make good makeup for nearly a century, it was an American icon. But I suppose, having no Max Factor family members as part of operations for years now, it's been like fighting a war with only mercenaries for troops. When the money runs low, the battle is deserted — there is no heart in it.
Max Factor (1877-1938), often called "Father of Modern Makeup",1 was born Maximilian Faktorowitz in Poland, then part of imperial Russia. At age 8, he was apprenticed to an apothecary, who taught him chemistry and pharmacology. He soon discovered he had a knack for making cosmetics, and eventually opened his own shop in Moscow, selling makeup and wigs to the ballet and the theatre. Soon, his clients included nobility and even the royal family.
In 1902, Factor emigrated to America, changing his name to the Americanized, "Factor". His products were a hit at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, but his client base was still mostly actors. In 1909, Factor moved his business to Los Angeles, and founded "Max Factor and Company". In addition, he was soon hired by the Pantages Theater in Hollywood as a makeup artist. He also continued to create wigs, and soon he was the go-to man in Hollywood for wigs, toupés and hairpieces.
Film was the new medium, and Factor saw the need for makeup specifically designed for the movies — makeup that didn't cake or crack — by 1914 he had formulated a new makeup base, a cream foundation in 12 shades, which came in a jar and was thinner than traditional "greasepaint". Not only was it better on film, it begun to be sought after by women for everyday wear. In 1927, Factor brought out his first line for the general public; in fact, he was the one who coined the term "makeup" for use about all cosmetics, instead of just theatrical makeup.2 His was also one of the first tube lipsticks. Max realized the need for different shades of makeup to complement different skin and hair colors, and in his makeup studios, he had different rooms for "blondes", "brunettes", "brownettes", and "redheads". In 1929, Max Factor became the first person to receive an Oscar for makeup work in the movies.
During the next three decades, Factor's studio, right off Hollywood Boulevard, was the mecca of makeup. All the biggest stars (and anyone who wanted to become one) sought out Max for his expertise and seemingly magical abilities. He kept working as a makeup artist in the movies and inventing new techniques and products to make the stars shine — he is credited with creating the first powder puff (as opposed to the old method of brushing), the first false eyelashes worn on screen, for creating Clara Bow's famous cupid's bow, and for sprinkling gold dust in Marlene Dietrich's hair to make her sparkle. Factor was also the inventor of lip gloss — previously, actresses had had to lick their lips between takes to give them shine.3 Nearly everyone who was anyone was a face of Max Factor magazine ads in the 1930s and '40s. Stars would often do the advertisements for free.
Claudette Colbert, 1943
Lana Turner, 1944
Judy Garland, 1945
Rita Hayworth, 1946
Ginger Rogers, 1946
Barbara Stanwyck, 1947
The advent of Technicolor in 1937 brought new challenges to makeup — actresses tended to look green on the screen, but Max Factor again came to the rescue. After six months of research, Max Factor created the Pan Cake Makeup, a makeup which was applied from a cake with a wet sponge. It worked wondrously well and became the standard for film makeup; indeed, it also stormed the consumer markets, because of its natural, non-heavy look. Max Factor died in 1938, but his son, Frank, took the reigns of the company as "Max Factor, Jr." He continued to push for inventions in cosmetics, including smear-proof and extended-wear lipstick as well as the first waterproof makeup.
The Max Factor building, at Hollywood and Highland, housed the Max Factor Museum of Beauty until 1996, when Procter & Gamble, who had just acquired the company, decided to close it. The building now houses the Hollywood History Museum. Many of the Max Factor Museum items can now be seen at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, at Hollywood and Sycamore. Two of Max Factor's great-grandsons followed in Max Factor's footsteps and launched Smashbox Cosmetics in 1997.
For Further Reading:
Max Factor's Hollywood: Glamour, Movies, Make-Up by Fred Basten, et al.
1. Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. p126.
2. Kay, Gwen. Dying to Be Beautiful: The Fight for Safe Cosmetics. p34.
3. Craik, Jennifer. The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion. p156.