The story of Hollywood makeup pioneer Max Factor

He’s the man who changed the faces of the world by revolutionizing the makeup industry. Max Factor is one of many affordable brands that are thronging department store shelves today. However, it marked the 20th century and the golden age of Hollywood.

Maksymilian Factorowicz was born in Russia (now Poland) in 1872 and has a passion for visual arts. He starts working as a wig designer and learns to do comedians’ make-up. His talent was noticed, he was hired by the imperial theaters and even worked for Tsar Nicholas II. But rising anti-Semitism drove Max Factor, his wife Esther and their children to emigrate to the United States in 1904. But while stationed in Saint-Louis, Missouri, the entrepreneur sees tragedy follow his family: his wife dies and he quickly divorces his second wife. Eventually he falls in love with a neighbor, Jennie Cook, whom he marries before moving to Los Angeles in 1908. The City of Angels is then in full development: the cinema industry begins to migrate westwards, starting with new sets. That’s when Hollywood was born.

The story of Hollywood makeup pioneer Max Factor
©NEIL BAYLIS/ALAMY

The beginnings of makeup

In the old days, the makeup of film actors was the same as that of comedians in the theater: called makeup, the thick, sizzling texture is ready for the stage. But caught on camera, under the heat of the lights, the mines looked inhuman. Max Factor, which sells its homemade cosmetics and wigs at its LA store, is considering a solution. In 1914 he invented Supreme Grease Paint, a type of lightweight and long-lasting primer in a tube. Instant success! Actors and actresses line up in front of his shop to have their make-up done before the shoot. Imaginative and innovative, Max Factor imagines the concept of Color Harmony, which offers color combinations adapted to different skin, hair and iris tones. The one-fits-all rule is over. A star himself, Max Factor created the looks of the most famous actresses of his time: Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth.

Women who admire the sublime actresses on screen want to look like them. That’s because in the early 20th century, puritanical American society didn’t allow respectable women to paint their faces. Max Factor creates the Society MakeUp line of cosmetics, intended first for artists and then for the general public. This is the first time makeup products have been marketed outside of the film industry.

legacy talent

In 1938 Max Factor died and his son Francis took over management of the company. Having inherited his father’s skills, today’s Max Factor Jr. invents a variety of innovative cosmetics, such as long-lasting lipsticks, stick foundations or mascaras with an integrated applicator. Junior and his brother sold the family business in the 1970s, it changed hands several times and even withdrew from the American market between 2009 and 2016. The brand in 1990, a specialist in the perfect complexion.

Max Factor key dates

1914: The makeup used by film actors is not suitable for the shooting conditions. The beautician Max Factor invents the Supreme make-up, which impresses with its innovative texture right away.

1935: The appearance of color in cinema has presented many challenges, including strange multicolored lighting effects on actors’ faces. Max Factor then introduced Pan-Cake, the first real foundation that could be used in the studio and on a daily basis, preventing shine.

2022: In addition to long-lasting cosmetics, notably with the release of the mythical Tru Color lipstick invented in 1940, in 2000 the label Max Factor launched the modern version Lipfinity. A must-have from the brand that is still being marketed today.

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