Elizabeth Arden (1884-1966)
Company: Elizabeth Arden
Size: $38 million in 1971; $1.238 billion in revenues for 2012
Elizabeth Arden was not just a leading beauty entrepreneur; she was a pioneering New Woman, suffragist and maverick. Born Florence Nightingale Graham in Canada, she trained and briefly worked as a nurse, where she was inspired by the use of creams to treat burns. She moved to New York in 1909, took a job at salon, and a year later opened her Fifth Avenue spa with what would become her trademark red door and her new name Elizabeth Arden. A staunch advocate for equality, Arden joined 15,000 women in a suffrage demonstration in 1912, with the marchers all donning red lipstick as a sign of fortitude. In 1914, she hired chemists to develop the first of hundreds of skincare products. Arden also mastered new, modern marketing techniques to promote cosmetics – which had previously been associated with prostitutes and other lower status women – to a respectable, upscale market. Her strategy worked. By 1922, Arden’s company became one of the first global brands when she opened a spa in Paris. Her longtime rivalry with Helena Rubenstein further sparked her ambition. Arden’s business not only survived the Great Depression, but in the 1930s was hailed as one of the three best-known American brands in the world (the other two were Coca-Cola and Singer Sewing Machines.) Arden shared the secrets of her success with would-be women entrepreneurs at seminars after World War II and in 1946 was the first woman on the cover of Time magazine. There were over 100 Elizabeth Arden Salons worldwide at the time of her death in 1966; the company was sold in 1971 for $38 million.
“It is remarkable what a woman can accomplish with just a little ambition.”