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  • Writer's pictureBy Panthea Vine

The Art of Glamour #2 - Max Factor, The man who invented ‘Make-Up’

Jean Harlow, the ‘Blonde Bombshell’
Jean Harlow, the ‘Blonde Bombshell’

Today Max Factor is one of the most recognisable names in the world and a multibillion-dollar beauty empire.

This is the story of Max Factor, the man.

Maksymilian Faktorowicz was born in Russia in 1872 and he was just nine years old when he was first apprenticed to a leading wigmaker and cosmetician. By fourteen he was working for the Imperial Grand Opera. It was here, in Moscow, that he opened his first shop, selling hand-made wigs, rouges, and pomades. His concoctions soon caught the attention of actors performing at the Royal Palace, and then Tsar Nicholas II himself, who appointed him the official cosmetician to the Russian Court.

Then in 1904, and with only $400, he embarked for America, and in the process changed his name, though it was less his decision and more down to the incompetence of a clerk at Ellis Island.

Max Factor was born.

By 1908, ‘Max Factor & Company’ was settled in Los Angeles and selling cosmetics in a store near Hollywood Boulevard. On seeing a motion picture for the first time, Max exclaimed that the heavy make-up was ‘terrifying’. Theatrical make-up, or greasepaint, was prone to cake and crack, especially under the heat of studio lighting, and was simply not suited to the screen. Max saw an opportunity to capitalise, and using his expertise began work to develop an alternative. In 1914 he perfected his revolutionary 'Flexible Greasepaint', a creamier, thinner, and more flexible product that didn’t crack - it was also the first cosmetic ever created specifically for cinematic use. Each advancement in filmmaking technology demanded further innovation and a steady supply of new products, for which Max was perfectly placed to become the authority.

Soon there was only one name on the lips of the silver screen stars.

The Max Factor Beauty Salon, as the original store had now become, held its grand re-opening in 1935. The building had been refurbished in the Art Deco style and housed make-up rooms, a state-of-the-art cosmetics research lab, and the headquarters of a growing business. The industry’s A-listers attended the floodlit premiere and hailed the Beauty Salon as the most stylish, modern, and luxurious example of interior design. Adjoining the main salon were four lavish rooms decorated to showcase the Max Factor Colour Harmony Principle, which stated that different colourings of eye, skin, and hair required certain shades of make up in order to look their best: peach for Brownettes (Dark Blondes), dusty pink for Brunettes, powder blue for Blondes, and a soft green for Redheads.

Max Factor's Beauty Calibrator Machine
Image: Bored Panda

Identical doubles of the top stars of the day caused a stir at the event; Max himself had made them up to demonstrate the transformative power of his cosmetics.

Another attraction was his Beauty Calibrator machine, a scientific device designed to measure how a person’s facial features differed from the ‘ideal’, and how such flaws could be corrected with the right products, carefully applied, to create a perfect illusion.

Max Factor and Jean Harlow

Max customised hair and make-up with a combination of visual tricks and a touch of science to enhance a woman’s natural beauty. He designed new looks for starlets such as Jean Harlow, who at the time was a little known actress. In came the doll-like make-up, fine brows, and a heavily defined cupid’s bow; he then lightened her already naturally blonde locks to a shade he termed platinum blonde. It transformed Harlow into the iconic ‘Blonde Bombshell’, a phrase that, incidentally, Max Factor coined.

For Joan Crawford he would invent the exaggerated ‘Hunter's Bow’ lip, characterised by its broad outline of the upper lip. The look also became known as ‘The Smear ‘ or the ‘Joan Crawford look’.

Joan Crawford
Image: Wall of Celebrities

After frequent make-up consultations with a bit-part actress named Margarita Cansino (later Rita Hayworth), he prescribed a course of electrolysis to remove the extra hair on her temples and forehead, leaving a cleaner, higher, and more refined hairline.

And later, a young Marilyn Monroe was advised to go Blonde after a visit to the Powder Blue make-up room. The rest is history.

The evolution of colour filmmaking demanded the next innovation; in 1938 Max revealed his new formula, which he called 'Pan-Cake Make-Up'. He even popularised the use of the term ‘make-up’, a word he actually invented back in 1920.

Vintage Advertisement for Max Factor Pan-Cake Make-up

The launch of Pan-Cake - the first commercially available foundation - was backed by a huge campaign of colour adverts featuring endorsements from the top movie stars of the day. Max Factor insisted that with the right cosmetics, every girl could look like a movie star. With slogans such as, ‘Make-up for the Movies and You’, every woman could look like their favourite actress. This was the first time make-up was marketed and sold to a mass market and would have a lasting influence on how cosmetics are sold to this day.

Max Factor revolutionised the concept of beauty. He invented products that are now commonplace: foundation, eyebrow pencil, eye shadow, lip-gloss, concealer, false eyelashes, the mascara wand, and improved on many, many others.

A visionary who pioneered make-up for the silver screen, he then gave that gift to women everywhere.

‘You are not born glamorous. Glamour is created,’

he would say.

And if anyone would know, Max would.

Read more about Max Factor...

Max Factor and Hollywood A Glamorous History

Watch Max Factor apply make-up...

The Art of Glamour, the style and beauty secrets of Hollywood's golden age


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