How Revlon created the scarlet woman

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In 1932, the company launched the very first red nail varnish. Since then, its products have become staples on dressing tables around the world. Rebecca Gonsalves charts its rise

Red nail varnish is such a classically chic beauty product that you could be forgiven for thinking it has been around forever. But you'd be mistaken, as the first commercial incarnation was created in 1932.

In the midst of America's Great Depression the only shades of nail enamel available were pale and transparent. Brothers Charles and Joseph Revson paired up with a chemist named Charles Lachman (the 'L' in Revlon) to create the first opaque nail enamel. They did this by introducing a pigmented formula, which they sold door-to-door, starting with "Cherries in the Snow", a red that remains a bestseller.

The business soon expanded to selll in beauty salons, department stores and chemists. During the Second World War the company contributed to the war effort by manufacturing first aid kits for the armed forces, and when peace was declared its factory adapted to produce manicure implements.

Knowing that the key to a strong business is at least as much about marketing as product, in 1939 Charles Revson noticed a woman in a restaurant whose lips and nail polish didn't match, and so he set about creating the concept of "Matching Lips & Tips", with a lipstick to complement each of his now famous nail-enamel shades.

Reds were a focus of the brand during the early days with shades like "Fire and Ice" and "Fifth Avenue Red" becoming the most popular after featuring in the brand's glamorous full-colour ads. The campaigns were shot by top fashion photographers of the time such as Richard Avedon and Cecil Beaton.

Indeed Avedon's work for Revlon soon became so desirable that models were willing to appear in them for a $1 fee. In 1952 Dorian Leigh, among the first models to achieve household-name status, starred as the Fire and Ice Girl in a campaign shot by Avedon, which went on to become the company's most famous. In 1955, Revlon went public and by the end of the following year was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It was at this time that Revlon launched twice-yearly promotions tied to seasonal fashions in clothing. In the Sixties the foundations for its huge international presence were laid as global campaigns featured models demonstrating the "American Look".

The brand continued to create cosmetic firsts, including the original mass-market female fragrance, Charlie, in the Seventies. The ad for this scent encapsulated the emancipated female of the time, and was the first to depict a woman going to work and wearing trousers. By the mid-Seventies Charlie was the number-one fragrance in the world, and Revlon's sales figures had passed $1bn in 1977.

A key part of Revlon's marketing strategy has long been the appointment of celebrity spokeswomen, largely cherry-picked from Hollywood to represent the brand, but with a few supermodels included for good measure. From Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor to the latest incumbents Emma Stone and Olivia Wilde, each one is chosen not only for their individual beauty but the personality they project on the global stage.

On joining the ranks of Revlon last year, Stone said: "Revlon recognises that every woman is multifaceted and magnificent in their own way and the expression of individuality is as important to Revlon as it is to me." This may sound like something of a cliché, but compare Stone's campaign, in which her freckles and red hair are allowed to shine brightly, to that of another mass market make-up brand's re-touching of their celebrity spokesperson into almost a lookalike of herself and it begins to make sense.

Looking back through the roster of talent that has been associated with the brand over the years there is a diverse range – from Oprah Winfrey to Salma Hayek, Julianne Moore, Lucy Liu, Cindy Crawford and Halle Berry (who has been with the brand since 1996).

In 2008 Revlon signed make-up artist Gucci Westman as artistic director. "Revlon is a leader in bringing innovation and on-trend products reflecting modern glamour to women around the world," she said at the time. Westman has ensured that the brand has a presence at fashion shows in New York and London.

In recent years too the brand has re-dedicated itself to tapping into high fashion trends in an affordable way, launching "On Trend & On the Catwalk" during spring/summer 2008. Each season one key lipstick and nail shade is inspired by the Revlon teams' catwalk work at London and New York fashion weeks.

In this the brand's 80th year, 20 new nail polish shades have been released to swell the ranks alongside original shades such as Cherries in the Snow and Revlon Red, which are unchanged to this day.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions