Stock up on 2000 calorie mascara: Max Factor is moving overseas

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On Thursday, Procter & Gamble announced that, as of 2010, Max Factor cosmetics will no longer be sold in the United States. The line, which is sold in 70 other countries, has become overshadowed by P&G's Cover Girl brand, currently America's most popular makeup line.

In some ways, this move isn't just the end of a brand; it's the end of a particularly American success story. The company's eponymous creator was born Maximilian Faktorowitz, the son of a rabbi in Russia's pale of settlement.

Apprenticed to a dentist at the age of 8, he later went into business selling wigs, makeup creams and rouges. When the Russian Imperial Ballet began using his products, he was appointed the official cosmetologist for the royal family and the ballet.

In 1904, Factorowiz came to the United States with a growing family and $400 in his pocket. Shortly after going through Ellis Island, he changed his name to the more Americanized "Max Factor" and began selling his makeup from a booth at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. A few years later, he moved his family to Los Angeles, where he developed the first makeup for screen actors. Unlike traditional stage makeup, Factor's creamy greasepaint wouldn't crack. In the next few years, he became the world's most famous cosmetician; in the process, he coined the term "makeup," and developed the first lip gloss, pancake makeup, and liquid nail enamel.


Factor also opened a salon that catered to Hollywood royalty, which then led to the development of his makeup brand. For years, the link between Max Factor's consumer products and its glamorous ties to Hollywood guaranteed it a solid share of the consumer cosmetics market. Of course, research and development also played a part: in the years after Max Factor's death, the company developed pan-stick, cover up makeup, and waterproof cosmetics.

Factor's son ran Max Factor, Inc. until the early 1970's, after which it was passed around from parent company to parent company in a series of deals. In 1991, Procter & Gamble bought the brand from Revlon for $1.5 billion.

Although Max Factor is a powerful, Horatio Alger-style success story, it is also a dwindling division of Procter & Gamble USA. While more than 50,000 stores carry Cover Girl, Max Factor is only sold in 8,000. On the other hand, the brand is very popular overseas, where customers in England and, ironically, Russia account for most of the line's $1.2 billion in annual sales.

As the makeup of makeup artists leaves its adopted country, it seems worthwhile to ask if this is the end of an era or simply the next step in the development of global trade. Either way, it will be interesting to see if Max Factor becomes the makeup of (overseas) makeup artists!

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