Makeup is only good when you can’t see it; clean skin is the foundation on which beauty is built.”
Makeup wizard from Hollywood
Factor Max, born Faktorowicz Maksymilian (Michał)[1.1] (18 February 1872, Zduńska Wola – 30 August 1938, Los Angeles) – hairdresser, beautician, inventor and producer of cosmetics, pioneer of makeup for the film industry, founder of the legendary “Max Factor” cosmetics brand, winner of Academy Award for Best Makeup, author of the famous makeup of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein.
Max Factor was born in Zduńska Wola as one of the ten children of Abram Josek Faktorowicz, worker at a textile factory in Łódź, and Cyrla (Cecylia) née Wrocławska (according to some sources – Tandowska).
Already at the age of seven, he started to contribute to the meagre household budget by working as a pharmacist’s and dentist’s assistant, later becoming an apprentice at one of the city’s most popular wigmakers. Four years of experience and his natural skill in hairstyling, wigmaking, and makeup laid the groundwork for Maksymilian’s further career. After a brief episode working in the team of Anton, a Berlin-based hairdresser, Factor moved to Moscow at the age of fourteen.
In 1895, after the mandatory four-year military service in the Russian army, he opened a wig and beauty supply shop in Ryazan, at 48 Sobornaya Street, where he sold his hand-made creams, blushes, perfumes, and wigs.[1.2] It was probably there that he met the actor troupe of the Bolshoi Theatre, which quickly gave him access to the salons of Moscow’s artistic and political elites. He became the beautician and make-up stylist of Alexander Nikolayevich Romanov, Tsar Nicholas II and his court.
Due to the growth of anti-Semitism (the second wave of pogroms against Jews) and “the control and possessiveness of the acting troupe and the tsarist entourage” (he had to hide his marriage and three children), Faktorowicz and his family secretly migrated to the United States in February 1904 with the help of a trusted court member. Due to a mistake made by the American immigration officer, he was registered in the United States under the name “Max Factor.”[1.3].
He joined his brother and uncle in Saint Louis, where he founded the “Factor” hair salon, offering a range of services including baths, grooming, and haircuts. In 1907 or 1908, perhaps wishing to gain access to film sets, he moved his shop from Saint Louis to downtown Los Angeles.
Initially, his business – called “Max Factor’s Antiseptic Hair Store. Toupees made-to-order. High-grade work” and located at 1223 South Central Avenue[1.4] – was primarily a hairdressing and wigmaking salon, but Factor soon started to produce cosmetics, launching his first line (powder, blush, eye shadow palette, and lipstick) under the brand “Max Factor & Company” in 1909.
In 1914, Maksymilian developed a formula of an easy to apply and remove liquid cream foundation. The product gave the face a natural look (without the mask effect) and was packaged in a tube to boot! The foundation was produced in twelve shades and kickstarted a revolution in cosmetology which converted Factor into the leading beauty service provider for the most prominent film producers.
As a tireless experimenter with his own chemical laboratory, he was able to keep pace with the dynamic changes in the film industry. In 1918, he released the “Color Harmony” face powder in a wide range of shades allowing to select a product adjusted to the individual needs of each actor or actress. He coined the term “makeup” to refer to his original method of styling. The name quickly caught on, despite the fact that at the time it had quite vulgar connotations (in so-called “good homesteads,” it was often believed that makeup was mainly the domain of prostitutes and actresses).
Max Factor went on to revolutionise styling techniques for films shot on panchromatic film (Factor’s corrective makeup – Panchromatic Makeup – eliminated the effect of dark skin and won him an Oscar in 1929) and later also for the first technicolour films. His concealing foundation applied with a special sponge – the so-called “Pancake Makeup” released in 1935 – was used in the production of many motion pictures, including The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Dancing Pirate, The Garden of Allah, Ramona, as well as Vogues – the first film to include the makeup artist credit.
To this day, Pancake Makeup is known as “the fastest and most often sold product in the history of the cosmetics industry” and is a staple in every beauty supply shop.
Factor worked for some of the greatest actors in cinematic history: Pola Negri, Ginger Rogers, Marlena Dietrich, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, Frank Sinatra, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Bette Davis, Norma, Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, and Judy Garland. Perhaps it was Max Factor’s special foundation – a yellow powder which brightened the complexion and camouflaged scars – which converted Rudolph Valentino into a sex symbol. Among Factor’s contributions to the history of film there are also Douglas Fairbanks’s “first sweat-resistant body makeup,” Phyllis Haver’s fake eyelashes, Rita Heyworth’s red curls, and Jean Harlow’s platinum curls. He was the first businessman to hire so-called “celebrities” to advertise his cosmetics.
By the end of the 1930s, Maksymilian’s family business had become a thriving empire operating throughout the United States. Max Factor cosmetics were exported to 80 countries around the world.
In 1928, the company employed about 250 people. It moved its seat to an Art Deco building designed by S. Charles Lee, commissioned by the company head himself. Located at 1660 N. Highland Ave, not far from Hollywood Boulevard, the building currently houses the Hollywood Museum with a large collection of items belonging to Max Factor & Company (including the beauty calibrator, a tool resembling a torture device). In 1935, the “makeup wizard” opened the “Hollywood Makeup Studio” for film stars, with separate makeup rooms for brunettes, braunettes (a term coined by Factor), blondes, and gingers.
Maksymilian Faktorowicz died in his prime in 1938. The company was taken over by his son Francis Factor, who took on the name Max. It remained a family business until 1973. Today, “Max Factor” is a line of cosmetics owned by Coty, Inc.
- Basten F.E., Max Factor. Człowiek, który dał kobiecie nową twarz, Kraków 2013.
- Borucki M., Wielcy zapomniani. Polacy, którzy zmienili świat, Warsaw 2016.
- Max Factor, Cosmetics and Skin [online:] http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/companies/max-factor.php [Accessed: 3 Sep 2020]
- Max Factor & Company, advertising booklet for toupees and wigs z 1917 r. [online:] http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/booklets/max-wigs-1917.php [Accessed: 2 Sep 2020]
- Dootson Sinclair K., “The Hollywood Powder Puff War”: Technicolor Cosmetics in the 1930s,” Film History 2016, vol. 28, no. 1, pp 107–131 [online:] https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/filmhistory.28.1.04#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed: 2 Sep 2020]
- Kuperberg C. and J., The Max Factor, documentary film, Wichita Films, 2018.
- “Make up and Believe,” New Yorker of 1 Sep 2008 [online:] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/09/01/makeup-and-make-believe [Accessed: 2 Sep 2020]
- Żebrowska K., Modowe Rewolucje. Niezwykła historia naszych szaf, Kraków 2019.
- [1.1] The register of permanent residents of the town of Zduńska Wola (collection of the Sieradz Branch of the State Archives) includes the name Mikhail Faktor, handwritten in Cyrillic script
- [1.2] In January 2020, the “Aroma of Time” museum dedicated to Faktorowicz was opened in the building where he ran his store.
- [1.3] Included on the list of passengers arriving to the U.S. from Hamburg on S.S Moltke in February 1904
- [1.4] In the Los Angeles City Directory, Factor is listed as “Barber” at 1204 South Central Avenue (1910–1912) and “Hair Goods” and at 1210 South Central (in 1912)