A symbol of the suffragettes, and early penicillin formulators: the everyday beauty brands that made history

The history of beauty has intersected with and been amplified by some of the world’s most iconic moments and movements, and we take great pride in the fact that a few of the brands that call MECCA their Australian home existed within and, in some cases, played a part in defining these times. As we celebrate the very best in beauty alongside this year’s MECCA Beauty Election, we’re hitting the history books and putting a spotlight on the brands and leaders that well and truly changed the course of cosmetics.

The symbol of the suffragettes: ELIZABETH ARDEN

Taking pride in her appearance, top notch service, and the employment and empowerment of women—just like our core values at MECCA—legendary innovator, marketer and feminist Elizabeth Arden boasts a list of historical accomplishments incomparable to most in their lifetime.

Born in rural Canada, Arden firmly believed that “to be beautiful is the birthright of every woman”. After becoming fascinated with skincare while working as a bookkeeper in her brother’s pharmaceutical lab, in 1910 she founded the Red Door salon on Fifth Avenue in New York. From day dot, she practised the “intelligent cooperation” between science and nature through her formulas, which were created to enhance a woman’s natural features—not hide them.

Arden pioneered the introduction of eye makeup to women of the United States, as well as the now-household (and famously montaged) ideal of the ‘makeover’. She was also the first to incorporate her own moniker into a product name, developed the first-ever travel-sized cosmetics, and was the first woman in the beauty industry to train and employ a team of on-the-road experts and saleswomen.

In another display of just how far ahead of her time she was, in 1912 Arden and 15,000 suffragettes marched through New York City demanding the right to vote. As a symbol of strength and independence, she encouraged women to wear bold red lipstick, supplying it to them as they marched past her Fifth Avenue salon. Thus, the red lip became the unofficial uniform of the suffragette rally, representing female liberation to this day.

In 1930, Arden created what we now know as the cult classic Eight Hour Cream, initially designed to heal and soothe the burns and scarring of war victims and veterans—she even toured hospitals around the country to supply it. Still in our kits today (and our mum’s and grandmother’s), Arden’s multipurpose salve is an icon in its own right, used to condition very dry skin, heal and protect surface injuries, soothe dry lips, nourish cuticles and relieve feet after a long night in stilettos—the list itself could go for eight hours. For makeup artists, the waxy cream is indispensable, and the secret to editorial glossy lids, a non-shimmery, wet-look highlight, fluffy brushed-up brows and eliminating fly-aways.

“It’s remarkable what a woman can accomplish with just a little ambition,” Arden used to say.

READ MORE: Is there such a thing as too hydrated? No! Five days with Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour range

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The beginning of skincare and branding as we now know it: SHISEIDO

One of the oldest beauty companies in the world, Shiseido was founded in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1872 as Japan’s first private Western-style pharmacy—their first official product was toothpaste, which, at the time, was considered novelty (their first skincare product launched in 1897, and is still available to this day). Founder Arinobu Fukuhara was just 23 years old when he started the brand, displeased with the herbal medicine available in the east and aspiring to implement a Western-style medicinal and dispensary practise, following his experience working as a chief pharmacist in a navy hospital.

Famous for being ahead of its time in its multicultural and scientific approach, since the very beginning Shiseido has prided itself in its duality of oriental style and western learning—it applies to their skincare too, with a two-step approach to defend (the Japanese approach to future-proof your skin) and then to regenerate (a Western approach to correct and repair). Outside of beauty, with the objective of expanding the business in other ways, Fukuhara introduced Japan’s first soda fountain, and the popularisation of ice cream in the country. Really. Their parlour-style dessert café exists to this day, and like everything else they do, blends east with west.

In the ‘30s they inaugurated the sought-after ‘Camellia Club’, a loyalty program for their most engaged customers, who were treated with commemorative gifts, exclusive beauty classes, events and targeted communications. One of the first of its kind, the program is noted to be the origin of loyalty programs like that of our coveted Beauty Loop program today. The brand is also responsible for the commercial production of hyaluronic acid (1984), a now-essential ingredient in our skincare routines, and, quite early on, they provided unique creative opportunities by way of their leading design department on the third floor of their three-storey cosmetics shop (established in 1916). It was staffed almost entirely by art students and young, untapped artists.

With an ingrained passion for design, in the ‘80s Shiseido summoned iconic French artist and jack-of-all-trades Serge Lutens on board to drive design, hair and makeup, photography, and video. Lutens, a legendary member of the MECCA family himself, solidified the international image for Shiseido products and the corporation at large.

READ MORE: Ready to try Shiseido? Start with these 5 skin-changing products

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The 19th century apothecary: KIEHL'S

The third oldest cosmetics brand in the world, Kiehl’s were operating from their NYC corner store before the construction of the Eiffel Tower (1887), the assembly of the Statue of Liberty (1886), and 10 years before Abraham Lincoln became president. (It’s rumoured he would practice his speeches at Union Park Square, right around the corner from their original 13th street and Third avenue apothecary). And yet, this famously unisex brand is still considered ‘indie’.

You know and love their Calendula Toner, Crème de Corps body lotion and Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado, but it’s more than just their formulas fuelling their success—the brand has a rich history of leading by example, and sticking to their guns. Kiehl’s has never tried to be anything but themselves: rather than adhering to the expectations of a typical apothecary, pharmacy or cosmetics brand, Kiehl’s has built their brand around their authentic history and quirks; Mr Bones (a human skeleton used during consultations in the early 1900s to educate patrons on various ailments and how to address them) and motorcycles (which were placed in the original apothecary to ‘entertain’ men while the women shopped) included.

Even if your skincare shelf is filled with it, you might not know that the apothecary-born brand was one of the first companies ever to list ingredients on their labels (before it was government mandated), and, that they’ve not once participated in traditional marketing—instead, for the past 100+ years (thanks to founder John Kiehl’s apprentice, Irving Morse, who took over and expanded the business in 1921), have relied on word of mouth and generous sampling. In 1924, Morse’s son, Aaron, took over the business, creating an early form of penicillin and supplying the U.S. government with a special aloe vera cream for use on radiation burns. In more recent years, Kiehl’s famously tested some of your favourite formulas—notably their bestselling Ultra Facial Cream—at the highest, driest, and coolest peaks of Everest.

Kiehl’s have never fixated on setting trends or fitting into a certain category; with an apothecary, indie-brand mentality to this day, the brand continues to combine the best natural, herbal ingredients with the best of science and medicine to create reliable, no-frills formulas that actually work.

READ MORE: A moisturiser sold every six seconds, and a toner every 12: discover the original it-brand

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The man behind Princess Diana’s iconic ‘do: SAM MCKNIGHT

Although of more recent history, celebrity hairstylist Sam McKnight (with a MECCA-stocked range of the same moniker) is the name behind some of history’s—and pop culture’s—most recognisable ‘dos.

Most notably and nostalgically, McKnight was the trusted stylist for none other than Princess Diana, after meeting on set in the early ‘90’s at one of almost 200 of his Vogue cover shoots. It is on this meeting that McKnight created the princess’ iconic short haircut, after she proposed, “What would you do with my hair if I gave you free rein?” To which he replied, “I would cut it all off.” And so he did, sparking not only a media frenzy, but a close working and personal relationship between the two for the years up until her passing.

With a motto of “done but not overdone,” McKnight is unsurprisingly responsible for the most defining hair moments of the ‘90s ‘supers’; Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington included. The memory might be vague, but at some point in the early 2000s, we all took a magazine cut-out of Moss to the salon, pointed at it, and said “this”. It was, as we call it today, the very beginnings of ‘cool girl hair’.

Aside from his clientele, it’s McKnight’s career-defining partnerships and collaborations that continue to engrain him as a true industry legend—namely his covers, campaigns and runways with the likes of Patrick Demarchelier, Mario Testino, Edward Enniful, Carine Roitfeld, Vivienne Westwood, and the late, great, Karl Lagerfeld.

Today, not only will you see his handywork on the likes of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Lady Gaga, but in the very fruits of his labour; a coveted collection of styling sprays known as Hair by Sam McKnight. The four-piece range includes two texturisers—one for up-dos and the other for literal ‘cool girl’ hair—plus his take on dry shampoo and a modern, non-crispy hairspray. All MECCA bestsellers, the collection bottles McKnight’s legendary tenure in the industry, and was created to give women the tools and confidence to style their hair themselves.

READ MORE: Sam McKnight’s new styling products are all you need for cool-girl hair

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Want to make beauty history? Submit your votes in this year’s MECCA Beauty Election, and you can decide who else belongs in the beauty hall of fame. From Nars’ Laguna Bronzer to Diptyque’s Baies Candle, shop our Hall of Fame finalists below.

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