The name Max Factor is synonymous with beauty, Hollywood, and glamour. As an inventor, he created a new formula of makeup adored by movie stars and school teachers alike. As a businessman, he changed the way women viewed cosmetics forever. One of the most important names in beauty, and “the first to start manufacturing makeup on a large scale for regular women, Max Factor is rightfully credited with defining the makeup industry as we know it today.”
Maksymillian Faktorowicz grew up in Lodz, Congress Poland (a sovereign state that was once the Russian part of Poland) in the late 19th century. Born with a natural artistic ability, he took on an apprenticeship with a wig maker as a young boy. After honing his cosmetic expertise with local theaters and performers, he was just a teenager when he began a job with the Russian Grand Opera. Factor’s craft was so celebrated that he eventually worked under Czar Nicholas in the Royal Household.  Wanting to escape Russia’s anti-Semitic laws and protect his secret marriage, Factor and his wife and three children left the country in 1904. After a brief stint in St. Louis - where he displayed wigs and cosmetics at the city's 1904 World's Fair - the family landed in Los Angeles in 1908.
In the burgeoning years of the film industry, actors applied their own makeup, mostly adapted from theater greasepaint. This formula was unsuited to the world of cinema – it was thick and uncomfortable to wear, and did not last under the harsh lights and long hours of a film shoot. Factor revolutionized movie makeup with the 1914 introduction of Supreme Greasepaint, a flexible makeup made just for film actors that came in twelve shades and a tube for easy application. This was just the first of many innovations Factor produced in Hollywood; in 1918, he released Color Harmony, makeup made in a variety of shades to suit a combination of hair colors and skin tones. Color Harmony was remarkably inclusive for its time, as it was the first mass-market makeup suitable for women of different ethnicities.
Makeup Set, 1928
Gift of Jay Hampel
Factor single-handedly altered the reputation of cosmetics from something viewed as tacky and tawdry to a luxurious and elegant product. The FIDM Museum’s Exotica: Fashion & Film Costume of the 1920s exhibition currently features a 1928 Max Factor “Satin Smooth” makeup kit, with powder, cold cream, foundation, and rouge. Erika Thomas, author of Max Factor and Hollywood: A Glamorous History, recently shed light onto who would have purchased this type of kit. Because of the branding and consistency of the makeup, Thomas concluded it was made for theater actors who would do their own performance makeup. Below, Thomas reveals more about Max Factor's impact on the world of cosmetics:
Can you tell us more about the 1928 makeup kit we have on display in our gallery?
My first thought when I saw it was that it reminded me of the early makeup kits Max Factor created that that he used on set. He revolutionized the entire act of meeting the actors on set and doing their makeup. He ushered in the entire practice of doing that. Some kits were more elaborate. Some stars wanted them in a simple box, others wanted theirs in a more elaborate case.