He was the man who popularised the term “makeup”, largely developed the modern cosmetics industry and co-invented the beauty micrometer. Max Factor (also known as Max Factor Sr.) is the man who created the Max Factor brand. Factor is a highly influential figure in makeup and film. This is the fascinating story of Max Factor: the man who invented makeup and the beauty micrometer.
In 1908, Polish-born Max Factor moved his family to Los Angeles to pursue work in the theatrical makeup industry. While working in the cosmetics field he began to experiment with different formulations in order to create a suitable makeup for the new film medium. His first makeup creation came in 1914, created specifically for use in motion pictures. The makeup product was a thin greasepaint that could be used as film makeup, Unlike the alternatives around at the time, Factor’s creation didn’t crack or cake. The cream product came in 12 precisely-graduated shades, packaged in a glass jar.
This invention was a major achievement, which made Max Factor the go-to person for cosmetics in film making. As a beauty professional and businessman, capable of creating revolutionary wigs and cosmetics for the time, Max Factor became increasingly sought after by movie stars and film makers alike. The movie stars couldn’t get enough of his makeup products, whereas film makers adored his wigs. Max Factor permitted his wigs to be rented out to the movie studios on the condition that his sons were given parts in the film. The terms were approved, which meant that Factor’s boys could be there to watch over the expensive wigs while on set.
In 1916, Factor became a citizen of the United States. During the 1920’s, the makeup mogul created a range of cosmetics that were available to the public. This was the beginning of the Max Factor brand that we know today. Having earned himself a reputation as being the man responsible for curating the legendary makeup looks of many Hollywood stars of the time, Max Factor insisted that with his products, any girl could look like a glamorous movie star.
Until the year 1920, Max Factor’s products were commonly referred to as “cosmetics” rather than “makeup”. Factor began using the name “makeup” after giving into his son Frank Factor’s (later to be known as Max Factor Jr.) suggestions that he should adopt the term instead. The term “makeup” wasn’t used to describe makeup products until then. It was considered a derogatory phrase that wasn’t used in polite conversation. However, Max Factor’s creations changed the world of makeup and the possibilities you could achieve from using beauty products. By this time, people were now using cosmetics to “make themselves up”, hence the appropriate change of name.
Initially, in the early years of running his makeup business, Max Factor would apply his products to film stars himself. Thanks to his creativity and innovative qualities, Factor had become recognised for curating custom-made makeup looks for each actor and actress in order to accentuate and flatter their best features.
The beautician had many famous female clients, including Jane Harlow, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, and Lucille Ball. Max Factor Sr. is the man responsible for inventing the famous makeup looks of many starlets, including Jean Harlow’s platinum blonde hair, Lucille Ball’s false lashes, Clara Bow’s bob, and Joan Crawford’s “Hunter’s Bow” also known as overdrawn lips. These actresses, along with many others, loved his makeup artistry skills so much that they regularly visited the Max Factor Salon, which back then was located close to Hollywood Boulevard. After becoming a key figure in Hollywood, Max Factor’s name would often appear on movie credits and he himself even appeared in a couple of cameo roles.
The Beauty Micrometer
The beauty micrometer, also known as the beauty calibrator, is a device that is discussed in the Pixiwoo Present: Hollywood Icons documentary. Max Factor, who later became known as Max Factor Sr. when his son Max Factor Jr. (also known as Fred Factor) took over the company following his death, was one of the two inventors who created this beauty gadget. The beauty micrometer was completed and ready for use in 1932.
The beauty micrometer is a metal instrument which was created in the 1930s to examine the wearer’s face to determine which facial features needed to be enhanced or corrected through makeup application. Max Factor himself would use the beauty calibrator on his celebrity clients to help him gain a better understanding of their facial proportions and the kind of makeup style that would work for each one of them. MGM would send their new starlets to Max Factor who would create an individual look with which they’d become well associated. The process of creating the timeless makeup styles of each starlet began with measuring the face. Assessing the actresses’ facial features using the beauty micrometer was one of the first things that Factor would do.
The beauty micrometer is a very odd, intimidating piece of equipment. If comparing it to an item we’d recognise today, it could be said that it bears some mild similarities to a head brace. Sources have described the beauty calibrator as “a contraption that looks like an instrument of torture”. The beauty device sits over the head and face. It possesses many flexible metal strips which align with the wearer’s facial features. The metal strips are held in place by adjustable screws, which allow for 325 adjustments in order to achieve complete accuracy. When the device is adjusted accurately, the operator can ensure correct measurements and precision of one thousandth of an inch.
Both of the beauty micrometer inventors stated that there were two main measurements that they would look for when using the device. The heights of the nose and forehead should be the same. Also, the eyes should be separated by the width of one eye. Should an imperfection be identified, or in the case of disproportional measurements, makeup would be applied to these areas to correct or enhance certain features. It has since been claimed by Max Factor the company that the beauty micrometer helped Max Factor Sr. gain a better understanding of the female face. Additionally, it taught him how to disguise, correct and accentuate different facial features.
The main purpose of its invention was for use in the movie industry. Of course, back then sophisticated lighting and special effects were not as advanced as they are today, so makeup played an important role in portraying the actors and actresses in a flattering way.
When an actor or actresses’s face appears on a cinema screen, all of their flaws and imperfections are magnified and more visible than ever before. While this can be unpleasant for the movie stars themselves, it can also prove uncomfortable for the viewer. It was thought at the time that seeing an actor’s “flaws” on a large scale on a cinema screen could be somewhat distracting. There have been many negative opinions made against these comments since however, the original idea was intended for good. Measuring facial proportions in this way encouraged makeup techniques such as lip lining and contouring. Only one beauty micrometer exists in the world and it is on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
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