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This Month in Business History

Cosmetic Entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden Born

Alan Fisher, photographer. Elizabeth Arden (neé Florence Nightingale Graham). 1939. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Florence Nightingale Graham, later known as Elizabeth Arden, was born in Canada December 31, 1881. She moved to New York City and learned about skincare while working for E. R. Squibb as well as Eleanor Adair, an early beauty culturist.

She established a business with Elizabeth Hubbard, and in 1910, opened the first salon, which was located on Fifth Avenue. When that partnership dissolved, she rebranded but kept the Elizabeth and added the name Arden; eventually, she took up using the name personally. The salons were called Salon d’Oro, though the Elizabeth Arden salons have long been associated with a Red Door.

Beauty products, especially make-up, weren't always in favor and Arden set about changing public opinion. She began a marketing campaign to change the view of beauty products, and by 1925, her success was such that she was able to open salons in New York, Washington, D.C., London, and Paris. She made it her goal to make it appropriate and even proper, for women to have good skin and wear make-up to achieve a ladylike appearance. Arden also believed in exercise as part of a beauty regime and salon advertisements often included reference to exercises. One advertisement included a line "Begin your care of the skin with correct care of the body."

Arden wasn't the only female beauty entrepreneur establishing a name for herself—there were others like Estée Lauder, Mary Kay Ash, and Helena Rubinstein. However, it was her rivalry with Rubinstein that Arden is most associated with. While the two ladies never met, their rivalry included accusations of stealing employees and copying products, and it became so legendary that is was chronicled in a book titled War Paint, which was adapted as a musical of the same name.

In her personal life, Arden married twice, first to Thomas Jenkins Lewis and later to Prince Michael Evlanoff; both marriages ended in divorce. She was an avid horse racing enthusiast and owned several horses. One of her horses, Jet Pilot, won the Kentucky Derby in 1947. 

Arden died on October 18, 1966, but that wasn't the end for her company. In 1971, it was sold to Eli Lilly and Company, who sold it to Fabergé in 1987. They, in turn, sold it to Unilever in 1989. In 2001, it was sold again to French Fragrance, Inc. (FFI Fragrances) when it became Elizabeth Arden Inc. and traded on the NASDAQ. In September 2016, it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Revlon, Inc. The spa business had its own trajectory. Elizabeth Arden Inc. licensed its Red Door and namesake trademarks to Red Door Spa Holdings (Red Door by Elizabeth Arden). In 2000, the spa business was sold to New Castle, which formed Red Door Holdings and created a division, Elizabeth Arden Resort Spas, that rebranded in 2019 as Mynd Spa & Salon, which closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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