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AVON_LIPSTICK_CARD_crop

The Avon lipstick sample card was a lucky find at a flea market, and it was a bargain at $15, because it’s in wonderful condition with the miniature lipstick still attached. Judging from the woman’s hairstyle and makeup, I’d say it was manufactured during the ’30s. By then, Avon had been in business for nearly half a century, and had a fascinating history.

It began as the California Perfume Company founded by native New Yorker David Hall McConnell in the early 1890s. McConnell started his career selling books door-to-door, but he found it tough to make a decent living. He decided to offer his female customers free homemade perfume as an incentive. Over time, McConnell realized the women were more interested in the perfume than in the books, and thus his life-changing epiphany: If door-to-door sales worked for books, why not for perfume?

It was an inspired concept, and it changed the lives of scores of women who, instead of toiling 12 hours a day in a gritty factory or working as a domestic, could now become sales representatives for the California Perfume Company and make a living wage. Shopping from home was also a boon to women who were raising families and otherwise housebound.

The company changed its name to Avon in 1939, and its success continued, even during World War II. The post-war era found Americans trading their lives in cramped, big-city apartments for the green lawns, multi-car garages, and BBQs of the new bedroom communities that were springing up around every metropolis—and Avon followed them.

Vintage Avon ad. Source unknown.

Clever marketing increased demand for their products and spawned one of the most memorable and longest running ad campaigns in history. In the mid-1950s, Avon introduced a television commercial that would appear in various forms for close to two decades. The scenario was simple: A well-dressed woman was shown pressing the doorbell of a typical suburban home. The bells chimed—ding-dong—and the door opened. A jingle played in the background, “Avon calling at your door / bringing cosmetics and much more.”

Whenever I hold the Avon sample card I can’t help singing the jingle and reflecting on the ways in which life has changed since the era of “the Avon Lady.” Internet shopping has replaced door-to-door salespeople, and we have traded the opportunity to bond with a friend over a cup of coffee and the perfect red lipstick for a convenient point-and-click purchase from a laptop. Change is inevitable, and I have bought plenty of cosmetics online myself, but I would love to travel back in time and spend just one afternoon trying on lipstick in the company of a friendly Avon saleswoman.

 

Poster - To Catch a Thief_01

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is TO CATCH A THIEF starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After a series of daring, nighttime jewel thefts creates panic among the Riviera’s wealthy elite, American-born John Robie, a reformed burglar who used to be known as “The Cat,” becomes the police’s only suspect. When police detectives come to question him at his hilltop villa near Cannes, John cleverly eludes them. John then races to see his old friend, Bertani, a restaurateur with whom he fought in the French Resistance and whose employees are all ex-convicts like John. Although Bertani is sympathetic to John’s plight, the other restaurant workers treat him hostily, fearing that his apparent transgression will cast suspicion on them. Feeling that his only recourse is to catch the thief himself, John asks Bertani for information about his rich customers. Instead, Bertani offers to put John in contact with a man who two days before asked for the same information. As John is leaving the restaurant, he is spotted by the still-pursuing police detectives.

ladies-in-love-movie-poster-1936-1020427724

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is LADIES IN LOVE [1936] starring Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Constance Bennett, and Simone Simon. Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Susie Schmidt, a naïve chorus girl, and her friend, Martha Karenye, who survives by doing odd jobs, rent a large apartment in a fashionable neighborhood in Budapest with Yoli Haydn, a sophisticated model. As they move in, Martha suggests that, according to a gypsy custom, they each count the corners of their room and make a wish. Susie wishes to own a hat shop and be independent of men, while Yoli wishes for a rich husband, and Martha, for a good home, someone to love and children.

Will their wishes come true?

radio_girlI found the Radio Girl face powder box at a compact collectors convention in Las Vegas, it was one of was one of the first items I acquired when I began to collect vintage cosmetics ephemera nearly twenty years ago. I was particularly fortunate that year because most of the other attendees were focused on the compacts and vanity cases so I picked up this box, and several others, for under $25 apiece.

Advertising art reflects its time, and the colorful zig-zags of the Art Deco graphic combined with the silhouette of a woman with her arms raised above her head like a radio antenna, suggest to me that the Radio Girl box is a product of the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Radio was the biggest thing to happen to technology in the early decades of the 20th Century, and everyone was talking about it. During its infancy broadcast radio didn’t offer much in the way of programming—it consisted mainly of classical music and local preachers seeking acolytes; but the promise of radio was that it had the potential to bridge the gap between the West and East coasts. It should come as no surprise that one of the first national broadcasts was a sporting event—the 1927 Rose Bowl game was heard by fans from coast-to-coast. (For those of you dying to know who won, the game between Alabama and Stanford ended in a 7-7 tie!)

Today we pride ourselves on our mobility and the convenience of our smart phones, tablets, computers and the myriad of devices we carry with us each day. Portability was a concern for early radio listeners too. Sure, it was nice to gather the family around the Zenith console in the evening and listen to a college glee club or a repeat of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera “Mikado”; but what if you were out during the day?

Women in Los Angeles obviously grasped the concept of portable entertainment devices very early on—as you can see in the photograph a group of young mothers discovered a way to take their youngsters out for a stroll while tuning in their radios. If you’re wondering where the electrical outlets were they weren’t needed, battery powered radio sets were available as early as 1922.

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I am very lucky because whenever I crave an olde tyme radio experience all I need to do is to ask my husband, Scott, to turn on one of the tube radios in his vast collection. He has many of them set up to receive programming we select and transmit to them. There’s nothing quite like the warm glow of a tube-lit radio dial. I love to turn off all of the media in the house that postdates 1950, and then I mix a gin gimlet, put my feet up, and listen to an episode of “The Shadow” from the 1930s—it is my idea of a perfect evening.

GOOD GIRLS PARIS

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS [1939] starring Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell.

TCM says:

Ronald Brooke, an English exchange professor at a Midwestern college, is astounded at waitress Jenny Swanson, whose ambition is to gold-dig her way to Paris. Jenny begins to realize her dream when Ted Dayton, the son of a millionaire, hits her with his car and she entices him into a marriage proposal. When her conscience prevents her from going through with a breach of promise suit, Ronnie counsels her that good girls go to Paris too.

Is the professor right? Do good girls really get to Paris?  Watch and find out!

ROWELL CATALOG

One of the biggest advantages to blogging about my interest in vintage beauty products over the past several years has been having sellers contact me about rare items for sale. For example, on my birthday four years ago I received an email from a man in upstate New York; he had found me via my Vintage Powder Room page and thought I might be interested in a manufacturer’s catalog of face powder, rouge, and lipstick boxes. He described the 96-page catalog as c. 1922 with a brown paper cover and soft spine. He told me that the book was in excellent condition and that it contained approximately 300 images, with every other page printed in color and many with gold or metallic ink. He had just acquired the catalog that day and while researching it he came across my blog. He sent me a picture of the cover of the book and while it didn’t look like much, the pictures he attached of some of the inside illustrations let me breathless. I immediately offered to buy the catalog; it was my birthday present to myself.

nylotis_face_powder

E.N. Rowell Co., Inc. manufactured and designed some of the most exquisite cosmetics packaging of the 1920s. This slim volume was meant for cosmetics company representatives who were shopping around for the perfect containers for their products. Rowell’s pitch highlighted the quality of the company’s boxes and the excellence of their designs.

Since I purchased it, the catalog has become an invaluable reference tool. While I was excited to discover that I own many of the boxes depicted in its pages (including the Nylotis face powder box), it also reminds me that there are hundreds more face powder boxes I have yet to find. My quest continues.

nothing-sacred-movie-poster-1937-1020206787

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is NOTHING SACRED [1937] starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March.

IMDB says:

Certain she was dying from radium poisoning, Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) is delighted to learn from her doctor that it was a false alarm. But when dapper and desperate New York City reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) shows up looking for a story about a young girl braving terminal illness, Hazel decides that she’s sick again. Wally whisks her off to Manhattan, where her supposed courage wins her many admirers. The toast of the town, she falls in love with Wally and dreads being discovered.

ILOVEYOUPOWDER

I collect exquisite examples of cosmetics packaging and advertising from the 1880s through the 1950s, but even though most of my collection consists of powder boxes, hairpin cards, and hairnet envelopes, I never restrict myself to those items. I appreciate the pieces in my collection that have context, so I can immerse myself in the history and popular culture of the era during which they were manufactured.

For example, I discovered this funny Valentine’s Day card at a paper show a few years ago. It is inscribed on the back with a man’s name (John) and the year (1932). If I hadn’t done my homework, I would not have known that 1932 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. In L.A., thousands of people were unemployed and they found themselves competing for work with Dust Bowl refugees who were flooding into the city from Oklahoma and other areas that had been ravaged by deadly dust storms. Women, many of them wives and mothers, were tasked with keeping their families clothed and fed on meager resources, living day to day on the brink of ruin.

But strangely, while most industries suffered enormously during this time period, cosmetics sales actually rose. This phenomenon has since been dubbed the “lipstick effect,” the thinking being that when resources are scarce, women try harder to attract quality mates. Maybe back then, but I prefer to think that now, when times are tough, small luxuries are crucial morale boosters.

Anyway, I am touched by John’s thoughtfulness. He obviously cared enough for the unnamed young woman to select a card intended to lighten her mood, and it also conveys a heartfelt message—that he would adore her whether or not she could afford powder to touch up her occasionally shiny nose. These days, Valentine’s Day often means a box of gourmet chocolates or a pricey piece of jewelry, but I think that John got it right in 1932 when he handed his sweetheart a card that affirmed his unconditional love for her. This holiday is a good excuse to tell certain people in our lives how much their relationship, romantic or otherwise, means to us, and how abiding our affection is.

Theodora-Goes-Wild

Welcome to Vintage Powder Room Cinema!  This week’s feature is THEODORA GOES WILD starring Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas. This is one of my favorites!

Enjoy.

soul_kiss

Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away, and there’s no beauty product in my collection more fitting for a holiday that exalts romantic love than the Soul Kiss box of powder samples. When I spotted this in an online auction six years ago, it was as if I had been struck in the heart by one of Cupid’s arrows. The name alone implies intimacy, and I was instantly smitten by the packaging: the image of a woman raising herself up to submit to the caress of the little cherub, suggesting as it does that anyone applying the contents could ignite passion and become an irresistible object of desire. This unique design has made Soul Kiss products highly prized among collectors.

Illustration by Charles Dana Gibson

The Soul Kiss line was popular in the early 1900s, when the Gibson Girl, created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, reigned as the paragon of American femininity. Although she was undeniably gorgeous, the allure of the Gibson Girl went much deeper than her physical attributes—it was her confidence and independent spirit that captured the imaginations of the women who sought to emulate her. But come the Roaring Twenties, women’s fashion had changed dramatically. The Gibson Girls’ towering piles of curls and cinched waists gave way to the bobbed hair and boyish silhouettes of the flappers.

The Gibson ideal may seem antiquated now, a vestige of traditional femininity, but she has something in common with the modern Los Angeles woman: Both are reflections of their era. Standards of beauty may have changed during the decades since the genteel Soul Kiss model was considered supremely aspirational, but a woman of intelligence, compassion, and wit never goes out of style.

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