Max Factor – Wizard of Make-up
small, Maksymilian Faktorowicz (Max Factor) demonstrating how to put a lipstick on, 1930, photo: Margaret Chute/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, center, max_factor_-_gettyimages-4.jpg
The indisputable master of cosmetics responsible for Rita Hayworth’s red curls and the look of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. He invented liquid foundation makeup, put lipstick into its present form and packed cosmetics into tubes. Although he never received a formal education, it was he who instructed women in the art of makeup.
Visionary for hire
This pioneer of colour cosmetics is born Maksymilian Faktorowicz in Zduńska Wola. His pseudonym, Max Factor, originates in an emigration bureau in America, probably due to a clerical error.
Factor grows up in Łódź in a poor Jewish family, taking on work as an assistant at a local druggist’s, a wig shop, a pharmacy and in a dental surgery. He constantly experiments with fragrances and colours.
He opens his own modest cosmetic and wig shop on the outskirts of Moscow in the 1890s. The entire Russian aristocracy frequents his establishment which provides him with a very respectable income and allows him to accumulate some $40,000 in savings.
Faktorowicz develops close ties with theatrical circles, making up the actors for their roles. Soon he becomes the permanent make-up artist of the Tsarist Imperial Theatre and, in the process, a slave to the whims of the ladies of the royal court, who wish to appear young and beautiful in defiance of natural processes.
In Moscow, Faktorowicz finds respect, money and love. In 1896, he marries Estera, with whom he will have four children. For complete happiness, however, he still lacks freedom and fulfilment.
A second wave of attacks on Jews sweeps through the Russian Empire (the first had taken place between 1881 and 1884), which hastens his decision to emigrate. Fearing that he might be called up to the army, Faktorowicz feigns illness. His makeup is seemingly so convincing that Tsar Nicholas II himself orders him to go to Carlsbad (modern-day Karlovy Vary) for treatment. In the event, he never makes it to the sanatorium. Another version has the family fleeing with the Tsarist militia in pursuit, and a period of hiding in the forest. Both versions, however, end up with the family on board a ship sailing to America: Faktorowicz reaches the United States in 1904.
From bootblack to millionaire
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Maksymilian Faktorowicz (Max Factor) doradza aktorce Renée Adorée, fot. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Max Factor achieves his first, partial success at the St. Louis World’s Fair, selling his homemade cosmetics. Unfortunately, the money he earns and the remaining merchandise vanish, along with his erstwhile business partner.
After the sudden death of his beloved wife, Factor twice remarries. While the second marriage is short-lived, his third wife and the new mother of his five children turns out to be his neighbour, Jennie Cook, with whom goes on to have yet another child.
The family moves to Los Angeles, where Factor opens a shop similar to the one he ran in Moscow. It offers hairdressing services, while a street stand, much like a bootblack’s, provides cosmetic makeovers. At the time, film actors were responsible for their own appearance, and soon enough, stars of stage and screen were queueing up for Max Factor’s services.
In 1914, there comes a breakthrough: while viewing the first silent movies, Factor notices that the actors’ makeup is poor and amateurish. As a result, Factor develops a line of colour cosmetics, easily put on and easily removed and giving the face a natural look (without a mask-like effect). He calls his own special method of applied cosmetics 'make-up'.
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Maksymilian Faktorowicz (Max Factor) i Ray Judd, sprawdzają produkcję pomadek, 1932, Hollywood, California, fot. Keystone/Getty Images
As his business develops, Max Factor introduces a number of innovations. He creates liquid foundation, sells lip gloss in tubes, which become more commonly known as lipstick, and repackages other cosmetics from boxes into more user-friendly tubes. He highlights women’s lips with gloss and their eyes with false eyelashes. He sells his cosmetics in folding, portable chests containing small make-up drawers and a mirror. He becomes the first to manufacture wigs using real hair, rather than wool or straw.
During the first Oscar ceremony in 1929, Factor receives a special award for make-up, a category which was officially introduced only some years later. His name begins to appear in film credits.
Max Factor is responsible for several Hollywood stars’ spectacular metamorphoses. He dyes Rita Hayworth’s hair red and, thanks to him, Jean Harlow’s hair takes on shades of platinum. He gives Clara Bow’s lips a heart-shaped appearance. Were it not for his foundation makeup, Rudolph Valentino would never have played the screen lover that he did due to his dark complexion. Others using Factor’s studio are Charlie Chaplin, Marlena Dietrich, Pola Negri, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.
The year 1931 marks the peak of Factor’s career. He gains tremendous attention for his makeup of Boris Karloff for the role of Frankenstein in James Whale’s eponymous film. That same year, a public scandal breaks out when actress and cabaret dancer Sally Rand appears in public wearing only a drawing of a zipper. The author of the body painting is Max Factor.
During the 1930s, Max Factor cosmetics reach markets in 80 countries around the world. The producer regularly conducts open workshops in which he reveals to women the secrets of using make-up. Factor masters the art of self-promotion to perfection.
After the death of the founder, his son Francis takes the helm of the firm. For marketing purposes, he adopts his father’s name, becoming Max Factor Jr. He goes on to introduce mascara with a brush applicator and produces camouflage face and body paint for American troops.
Translated by Yale Reisner