Max Factor


Actress Lori Nelson in a Max Factor ad

It’s that time of year again – fun holiday parties to attend with egg nog flowing and twinkle lights creating an atmosphere of cheer. This also means fab vintage dresses and show-stopping makeup to match. As you start putting together your holiday looks, make sure Max Factor is in your arsenal of supplies. The history behind this iconic brand will surely help you find the strength to not run away from the mistletoe this year!

Dear reader, I have some news to share with you that initially surprised me. The name Max Factor is not just a catchy combo of words that inspire visions of glamour – Max Factor is the name of the creator. Yep, Max Factor was a real person (and quite the genius). Born in Russia in the late 1800s he was always driven by beauty. His path to greatness began with a wig shop in his home country. Over time the shop started selling homemade beauty goods and cosmetics. On a fateful day in the early 1900s Max sees his first film and that set the tone for the trajectory of his entire company. Distracted (and disgusted) by the heavy layers of makeup worn by the actors, Max created the first foundation that looked natural on film. In and of itself this was a revolutionary break through. But a mere four years later, he and his team created the foundational approach to makeup that we still use to this day: color harmony. The concept involves choosing cosmetics in shades that compliment one’s natural complexion, eye and hair color. (It’s fun to note that Jean Harlow’s platinum look triggered Max Factor to create new palettes based on the popularity of the bombshell’s look.)

Wow. That’s something to really think about. Our collective understanding of makeup today started before the first flapper went out to a jazz club – amazing, huh? Never one to rest on his laurels, Max capitalized on the budding film industry (as well as the increased acceptance of everyday makeup) and introduced cosmetic products for the masses. Now the average housewife could recreate her favorite film’s star looks and bring cinematic glamour into her life.

Image credit: jllm06, taken at the Max Factor museum

The beauty calibrator in all its glory

By the 1930s Max brought a more refined scientific approach to his work. He made what he called a “beauty calibrator.” Admittedly this device looks terrifying, but the goal was to accurately measure a woman’s facial structure to identify areas for contouring with makeup. Wonder if our modern guru of contouring, Kim Kardashian, would ever use this calibrator!

Contouring wasn’t the only way to achieve new looks with makeup. As cinematic techniques changed with the debut of Technicolor, makeup took center stage. Max Factor’s powdered makeup, called Pan-Cake, helped color correct actor’s faces and became so popular it was introduced to an eager consumer market. On the heels of this popular new offering, Max sadly passed away. But his legacy lived on under the guidance of his son Francis (who actually changed his name to Max Factor, Jr.). Junior did not disappoint. He definitely inherited his dad’s creativity, releasing some of the first long-lasting lipsticks and one of the best concealers on the market. Completing this trio of key accomplishments: the very first mascara to be applied via a wand (1958).

Image credit: Jllm06, taken at the Max Factor museum

Vintage Max Factor goodies

By now it’s pretty obvious – Max Factor didn’t just work in the cosmetics industry. He defined it. Max did this by directly connecting glamour via the film (and later television) industry and the average woman. His efforts focused on channeling the creative inspiration from the theatrical realm and empowering every woman to add a touch of theater to her own life. We have all earned the right to make a grand entrance, even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store!

What’s your favorite Max Factor product and why?

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