Max Factor Biography

PHOTO: Max Factor

Max Factor, now the most famous name in Western cosmetics, was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1877, and began his career as an apprentice to a wig maker. By 20, he was running his own makeup shop.

Max Factor travelled to the United Sates in 1902 and took his family to the St. Louis World's Fair. They never returned. He began selling hair goods, imported cosmetics and stage greasepaints to local stage actors in St. Louis.

As his local fame spread, actors from the emerging film industry also came to Max for make-up advice. Thus, the motion picture industry, then beginning in Hollywood, beckoned. He settled in Los Angeles with his family in 1909 and got a job with the Pantages Theatre.

By 1914, he was perfecting make up for the movies. He had improvised a new alternative to dye greasepaint, which he thought looked dreadful and 'terrifying' on the screen.

He formed flexible greasepaint, which was the first make up created for film. It helped make actresses look more natural in close up. His most notable clients were Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Judy Garland, all of whom became regular visitors at his salons.

In 1918, he developed his 'colour harmony' face powder range, which allowed him to create make up for each individual based on their skin tones, due to the wide range of shades on offer.

Creating false eyelashes, the eyebrow pencil, lip gloss, and pancake make up, Factor created a whole new language for screen cosmetics.

Inevitably, once the actresses had been made to look so stylish on screen, they wanted to maintain the same effect in everyday life, so they wore the new Max Factor 'make up' in personal appearances.

Soon, women unconnected with the theatre or the film industry were asking for the make up, so that they too could look glamorous.

By the 1920s, Max's sons were heavily involved in the business with Davis working as general manager and Frank helping his father to develop new products.

They received their biggest single make up order during this decade in 1925 when they had to provide 600 gallons of light olive make up to the film set of 'Ben Hur' to ensure that the extras filming in America had the same colour skin as the extras who filmed in Italy.

Another key development in the make up world was the invention of waterproof mascara for the film 'Mare Nostrum' in 1926.

It was in 1927 that Max Factor introduced his first cosmetics to be sold to non-theatrical consumers.

Before Max Factor, few women used cosmetics. Factor popularised both the word "make up" and the use (and abuse) of the cosmetic repertoire.

Credited as the father of modern make up, Max Factor is responsible for inventing many key cosmetic products (for both on screen and off) and is still the inspiration behind beauty trends and innovations today.

He died on 30 August 1938 at the age of 59. His son Frank took the name Max Factor JR and continued to be involved with the company until the 1970s, seeing the company create make up shades for US Marines during the second world war, offer male products such as shampoo and aftershave and launch its first female fragrance in 1955.

In the 1970s, the third generation of Factors rose to senior positions but wanted to focus on their own interests, leading the firm to first be bought by Revlon and then Proctor & Gamble in 1991.

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