The Story of Elizabeth Arden

Florence Nightingale Graham, founder of Elizabeth Arden, pioneered the idea of coordinating colours of eyes, lips and facial makeup, invented the notion of a makeover; before that, it was only really ‘women of the night’ who wore make up — think William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress with the women covering up their spots with dead mole skins or the rouged ladies of Moulin Rouge.

20 years after she set up her first salon on Fifth Avenue (which had a red door, which can be seen on her products today), she owned 150 upscale salons across the United States and Europe. At this time, her 1000 luxury products spanned 22 countries and at her prime, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Graham’s story starts off with her dropping out of school. She wasn’t at nursing school in Toronto for long before she moved to New York to join her brother who was working at a pharmaceutical company. Despite the fact that she was working there as a bookkeeper, she’d stay in the lab until the small hours learning about skin care products — clearly one of the first flickers of her astonishing career.

Soon she set up a salon with a friend, Elizabeth, who brought the Elizabeth to the company name, and after spotting Arden on a nearby farm, that was Graham’s contribution. Thus we now have the formidable ‘Elizabeth Arden’. Six months passed and Elizabeth dropped out and Graham trooped on. She swooped around Europe, gathering new tricks and tips, conjuring up her new ideas and bringing them back for American women.

So what are the take away points from Graham’s story?

The importance of marketing

Graham’s story also highlights the importance of marketing: at the time make-up was only really something that women of the lower classes wore. Through a series of marketing campaigns Graham changed this.

Survival of the fittest

Some wrongly assert that women are typically not as competitive as men. Graham goes to show that she bucks that trend. In her life, despite never meeting in person, she was a fervent competitor of Polish beauty entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein. The two women consciously competed against each other to create the best products. I think we know who won.

She left a legacy

Finally, Graham did a lot more than just kick start the makeup industry. She was the supplier for the red lipstick — a sign of solidarity — worn by 15,000 women marching in the suffragette movement in 1912.

Graham was clearly a woman of passion, strength and belief in herself. Later on in her life, she also brought out a dedicated cosmetic line for the military. Her businesses thrived even through times of adversity in the Great Depression, and now Elizabeth Arden is worth an estimated value of $1.3 billion.

Sophie Jarvis, Programmes Director at The Entrepreneurs Network


This blog post was adapted from Sophie’s original article in

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