Tonight is part two of my Q&A with writer, social historian and author of the Vintage Powder Room, Joan Renner.
FNB: Where do you find your pieces?
JR: When I first began to collect I could find face powder boxes at flea markets and estate sales, but the Internet has changed that considerably. I still find items in those places occasionally, but mostly I rely on Internet sites such as eBay and Etsy (and the generosity of friends).
FNB: How were you able to research the original prices and how/where was the makeup typically sold, upon its release?
JR: I’ve used multiple sources to research pieces in my collection. My favorites are vintage magazines and newspapers. Via the Los Angeles Public Library I access the Proquest database to view early issues (1880-1980) of the Los Angeles Times online. Ancestory.com also makes it possible to search vintage newspapers from around the country.
For a peek into the early days of the cosmetics/perfume industry I think that the publication AMERICAN PERFUMER AND ESSENTIAL OIL REVIEW can’t be beat. I’m fortunate because the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library has a good collection of them.
Then, as now, the pricier brands of makeup would be found at the cosmetics counter of the finer department stores. Women on a tighter budget could find a wide array of makeup choices at their local drugstore or five and dime.
Many of the early cosmetics companies were regional and either went out of business years ago or they were absorbed by bigger companies. A few of the largest brands are still in business; for example Coty is over 100 years old and continues to manufacture Airspun face powder in a box designed by Rene Lalique! The box is festooned with little powder puffs and it is simply gorgeous. You can purchase it at a drugstore or online for just a few dollars. Amazingly inexpensive for a piece of cosmetics and design history!
FNB: Are any still made today/ have you ever worn or used any of your collection?
JR: I’ve used some of the compacts that I’ve collected, but never any of the cosmetics – that would be way too risky. Over the years cosmetics have contained some toxic, potentially lethal, ingredients. Early cosmetics contained a wide variety of nasty ingredients such as lead or arsenic.
FNB: How has the merchandising and marketing of makeup and beauty products changed over the last 60 or so years?
JR: Cosmetics companies still advertise in fashion magazines and other magazines geared toward women, but now you have TV and radio advertising, both mediums were in their infancy 60 years ago. Surprisingly, even in the early days of makeup, there were celebrity endorsements and the celebrity branding of cosmetics.
During the 1910s and 1920s Mary Garden, a Scottish born opera singer, partnered with Rigaud to offer a line of cosmetics and perfumes using her name and image. Another woman who would leverage her fame into a line of cosmetics was Edna Wallace Hopper. Hopper was an actress/singer who would never reveal her age. She said that her birth records had been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake! She was always described as eternally youthful looking, so that was the hook for her brand of cosmetics and skin care.