The New Upstarts CHARLES REVSON
Charles Haskell Revson was born in 1906. His official birthplace is said to have been Boston, but as with so many of these beauty pioneers, it’s hard to tell whether this was a fabrication, and it’s been suggested that he was actually from Montreal. Either way, he grew up in New Hampshire.
Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon
Revson got a job as a sales representative for a Newark-based company called Elka in 1931, which produced a nail polish different from any other on the market at the time: It was opaque, not transparent. Revson distributed the product from New York, but when Elka refused him permission to sell their polish nationwide, he set up his own company with his brother, Joseph, and Charles R. Lachman, who provided access to a chemical company that could produce polish, and who also contributed to the Revlon name.
It seems his original formula wasn’t quite right. Diana Vreeland (who was not yet an editor, but a notable person in New York society at the time) said that as well as not lasting, his polishes also took forever to dry.20 Luckily, Charles’s girlfriend just happened to be Diana Vreeland’s manicurist, and Vreeland gave him the key to his success. Vreeland had been living in Europe, and while there, had been given two bottles of a nail polish that was both long lasting and quick drying in other words, the holy grail. When Vreeland started to get to the end of the bottle, Charles’s girlfriend said that her boyfriend could probably reproduce it for her if he could have a sample to work from. Vreeland later wrote, Curiously enough, whenever I saw him, there was always something in Charles Revson’s eye . . . I always knew that he knew that I knew that he had made this incredible fortune off one small bottle of mine, with maybe this much left in it.21
The first Revlon ad in the New Yorker in 1935 showcased Revson’s slippery business methods. Like Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, he wasn’t exactly averse to twisting the truth to get sales. In the ad, the polishes are described as being originated by a New York socialite, which, unless he was talking about Vreeland, they really weren’t. It also stated that they were available to buy at Saks. This was a cunning technique, because they weren’t yet available, but they soon would be through the demand created by the ad. The ad had cost over three hundred dollars their entire advertising budget for the year, and a huge amount for a fledgling company in the middle of the Depression. The gamble paid off and by 1938 Revlon nail polish sales were more than one million dollars (approx $16,000,000 today).