Biography of Elizabeth Arden, Cosmetics and Beauty Executive

Elizabeth Arden in 1947

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Elizabeth Arden (born Florence Nightingale Graham; December 31, 1884–October 18, 1966) was the founder, owner, and operator of Elizabeth Arden, Inc., a cosmetics and beauty corporation. She used modern mass marketing techniques to bring her cosmetic products to the public and also opened and operated a chain of beauty salons and beauty spas. Her cosmetics and beauty products brand continues today. 

Fast Facts: Elizabeth Arden

  • Known For: Cosmetic business executive
  • Also Known As: Florence Nightingale Graham
  • Born: December 31, 1884 in Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada
  • Parents: William and Susan Graham
  • Died: October 18, 1966 in New York City
  • Education: Nursing school
  • Awards and Honors: Légion d'Honneur
  • Spouses: Thomas Jenkins Lewis, Prince Michael Evlanoff
  • Notable Quote: "To be beautiful and natural is the birthright of every woman." 

Early Life

Elizabeth Arden was born as the fifth of five children in the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario. Her father was a Scottish grocer and her mother was English and died when Arden was just 6 years old. Her birth name was Florence Nightingale Graham—named, as many of her age were, for Britain's famous nursing pioneer. The family was poor, and she often worked odd jobs to add to family income. She began training as a nurse but abandoned that path. She then worked briefly as a secretary.

Living in New York

In 1908 at the age of 24 she moved to New York, where her brother had already moved. She went to work first as a helper to a beautician and then, in 1910, she opened a beauty salon on Fifth Avenue with a partner, Elizabeth Hubbard.

In 1914 when her partnership broke up, she opened a Red Door beauty salon of her own and changed her name to Elizabeth Arden, expanding her business under that name. (The name was adapted from Elizabeth Hubbard, her first partner, and Enoch Arden, the title of a Tennyson poem.)

Her Business Expands

Arden began to formulate, manufacture, and sell her own cosmetic products. She was a pioneer in the marketing of beauty products, since makeup had been associated with prostitutes and lower class women until this era. Her marketing brought makeup to "respectable" women.

She went to France in 1914 to learn beauty practices where cosmetics were already widely adopted and in 1922, she opened her first salon in France, thus moving into the European market. She later opened salons across Europe and in South America and Australia.

Marriage

Elizabeth Arden married in 1918. Her husband Thomas Jenkins Lewis was an American banker, and through him she gained American citizenship. Lewis served as her business manager until their divorce in 1935. She never permitted her husband to own stock in her enterprise, and so after the divorce, he went to work for the rival firm owned by Helena Rubinstein.

Spas

In 1934, Elizabeth Arden converted her summer home in Maine into the Maine Chance Beauty Spa, and then expanded her line of luxury spas nationally and internationally. These were the first destination spas of their kind.

Politics and World War II

Arden was a dedicated suffragette, marching for women's rights in 1912. She supplied the marchers with red lipstick as a sign of solidarity. During World War II, Arden's company came out with a bold red lipstick color to coordinate with women's military uniforms.

Elizabeth Arden was a staunch conservative and supporter of the Republican Party. In 1941, the FBI investigated allegations that Elizabeth Arden salons in Europe were being opened as cover for Nazi operations.

Later Life

In 1942 Elizabeth Arden married again, this time to the Russian Prince Michael Evlonoff, but this marriage lasted only until 1944. She did not remarry and had no children.

In 1943, Arden expanded her business into fashion, partnering with famous designers. Elizabeth Arden's business eventually included more than 100 salons across the world. Her company manufactured more than 300 cosmetic products. Elizabeth Arden products sold for a premium price as she maintained an image of exclusivity and quality.

Arden was a prominent racehorse owner, a male-dominated field, and her thoroughbred won the 1947 Kentucky Derby.

Death

Elizabeth Arden died on October 18, 1966, in New York. She was buried in a cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York, as Elizabeth N. Graham. She had kept her age a secret for many years, but on death, it was revealed to be 88.

Legacy

In her salons and through her marketing campaigns, Elizabeth Arden stressed instructing women on how to apply makeup. She pioneered such concepts as a scientific formulation of cosmetics, beauty makeovers, travel-size cosmetics, and coordinating colors of eye, lip, and facial makeup.

Elizabeth Arden was largely responsible for making cosmetics appropriate—even necessary—for middle- and upper-class women. Women known to use her cosmetics included Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

The French government honored Arden with the Légion d'Honneur in 1962.

Sources

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Elizabeth Arden.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  • Peiss, Kathy Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
  • Woodhead, Lindy. War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003.