The Way We Were (1910-1920)March 1, 2007 By: American Salon Staff American Salon
Ultimately, Poiret's sense of showmanship overshadowed his business acumen. His fashion shows were so elaborate that even John Galliano would have balked; some were held on barges in the Seine, others at country estates. Poiret's legendary parties such as The Thousand and Second Night, which was based on 1001 Arabian Nights, may have established his reputation for extravagance but did little for his bottom line.
Following World War I, Poiret was unable to recapture his clientele, who longed for a more simple and functional style of dress. The master's work was eclipsed by rising stars such as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin. After a stint in the circus and on the Paris stage, Poiret died nearly penniless, all but forgotten, in 1944. However, devoted scholars and steadfast fashionistas have since revived his reputation as one of the most innovative and important designers in fashion history.
African-American Beauty Queens
The birth of the professional beauty industry gave African-American women increased opportunities for financial independence.
Most of us have heard of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. And thanks to historians of African-American business and culture, the name Madame C. J. Walker has been saved from obscurity—she even made it onto a postage stamp in 1998. But what about Annie Turnbo Malone and Sarah Spencer Washington? These African-American women proved that the beauty industry was a place where women could make their mark and make some money.
Annie Turnbo Malone traveled from town to town demonstrating her shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, until there was so much demand for her product that she had to expand her business.
Women were key players in formulating many of the hair and skincare products that hit the market around the turn of the century. Between 1890 and 1924, women were responsible for registering more than 450 trademarks for cosmetic treatments. The majority of these trademarks came after 1910, when the government began to push for more regulation of hair and beauty products.
One such amateur chemist was Annie Turnbo Malone. She was born in 1869, and after her parents deaths she was raised by her older siblings in a small town on the Ohio River. In her early 20s, Malone began to experiment with tonics and salves for hair loss and breakage. Many of her products contained sage or eggs and were based on traditional folk remedies. In 1900, she and her sister relocated to an exclusively African-American town, Lovejoy, IL. Here, she began to sell Wonderful Hair Grower from the back of her buggy. Demand grew so quickly that Malone hired a flock of assistants and within a few years relocated to nearby St. Louis, where she patented her product under the name Poro, a West-African term for a highly religious society.
A self-made businesswoman, Madame C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove.
Malone's tale is similar to that of her rival Sarah Breedlove, known to most as Madam C. J. Walker. Walker was the daughter of former slaves who gave birth to her own daughter at 16. After her husband's death, Walker worked as a maid and laundress before she began to experiment with her own remedy for hair loss, which she also named Wonderful Hair Grower. In 1905, Walker moved to Denver and married Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman who helped her advertise and begin a profitable mail-order business. In 1910, Walker and her family settled in Indianapolis where she could better serve her growing national market.
These pioneers paved the way for a new crop of entrepreneurs to emerge between 1910 and 1920, most notably Sarah Spencer Washington, a well-educated chemist who helped African-American women earn livings as beauticians. Washington went to Norfolk Mission College, relocated to York, PA, to study beauty and eventually made her way to Columbia University. In 1918, Washington relocated to Atlantic City where she began Apex, a haircare company and affiliated schools. Her schools would expand all along the Eastern seaboard and train thousands of women to become financially independent.