As Maybelline celebrates 100 years, LIZ DWYER weighs in on how the once maverick make-up brand has shaped and defined our perceptions of beauty over the last century, and why the products still hold pride of place in vanity cases across the world.
Visiting the Maybelline labs in New York during Fashion Week, for me, is just as thrilling as anything the catwalks have to offer. I’m a closet chemistry geek and am in my element surrounded by those captivating vats of colour pigments and pots of promising polymers. And while today’s product formulas and are all very sci-fi and the labs beyond high-tech, the end result is similar to the ones back in 1915, when Maybelline began: smart cosmetics that make women look marvellous. Inspired by his sister Mabel’s DIY lash enhancer, made from coal soot and Vaseline, Tom Lyle Williams had his Eureka moment and formulated what became the world’s first marketable mascara, and called it Maybelline (a play on Mabel and Vaseline). Back then, nice girls weren’t supposed to wear eye make-up, so Williams set about winning American women over by soliciting glamorous starlets of the stage and screen and recommending they use Maybelline in their interviews, which was effectively an early form of celebrity endorsement – a medium we’re all very familiar with today.
The next pioneering trick up his sleeve was to hire Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth to feature in the brand’s 1930s national print campaigns doing step-by-step how-tos on applying eye make-up in a ladylike manner – and here’s us thinking it was YouTube that spawned the cosmetic tutorial.
The following decades saw even savvier ad campaigns connect with the masses, which helped the brand mushroom into America’s number one drug store make-up brand. Helped no doubt by the addition of new products that wouldn’t look out of place backstage in a professional make-up artist’s kit today, including automatic brow pencils, eye shadow sticks, and the first modern-day liquid mascara tube with a built-in wand.
By the mid-1970s, having mastered eyes, and won over the beauty world with the still cult Great Lash Mascara, Maybelline began formulating make-up for the face, nails and lips. Their Kissing Potion, a flavoured roll-on lip gloss, became the must-have product of the disco era, bolstered by cheeky ad campaigns featuring dashing men with the slogan “Kissing Potion gives you the shiniest, sexiest, most delicious lips he’s ever tasted”.
Signing up actress Lynda Carter in the 1980s to become the brand’s first official spokeswoman was quite the stroke of genius, as the underlying message of her playful ads for high-performance products reflected the zeitgeist of the decade – that, yes, women can conquer the world. And we’ll look über-glam as we do it.
Since then, Maybelline has maintained its covetable status as a trailblazing and innovative cosmetic brand – aligning itself with New York – and more recently, London – Fashion Weeks, and signing up more supermodels than you could shake a mascara wand at.
Today, Great Lash is the bestselling mascara in the world and remains our failsafe go-to for a thick fringe of fluttery lashes. And while we might not have been born with it, we’re almost certain we’ll be taking a little pink and green tube with us to our graves.
Follow Liz Dwyer on Twitter @IMAGEBeautyEd
This article originally appeared in the February issue of IMAGE. The March issue is on shelves now.
LOVE this? Why not have IMAGE delivered directly to your door each month? Check out this month’s offer here.