Lancôme turns 80 this year, but, as LIZA HERZ reports, the storied brand continues to redefine beauty ideals.
IT’S AN INSTAGRAM CLICHÉ: THE
photo snapped while waiting to board a flight. #wheelsup #jetsetlife. Except in this picture, no one is posing in ripped jeans and Valentino Rockstuds, clutching a latte and a passport. Instead, three women stand smiling in front of a prop plane in pristine skirt suits and hats. This image is from 1946 and our happy adventurers are Lancôme
ready to spread the message of Parisian beauty to the world.
Decades before YouTube beauty tutorials and our social mediaenabled obsession with French girl style, former Coty executive Armand Petitjean created the house of Lancôme, 80 years ago, when he noticed a lack of French beauty companies able to compete with dominant American brands.
Lancôme—the name is a tweaked version of le Château de Lancosme— made a splash when it launched at the 1935 World’s Fair with five fragrances, each in its own faceted bottle. And because Petitjean believed that “only women know how to talk about a woman’s beauty,” soon skincare, foundation and lipsticks were added to the line, and beauty ambassadors trained in massage, theatrical makeup application, product technology and sales were dispatched to bring Lancôme’s offerings to an eager and unlacquered global audience in need of Parisian beautification.
The ambassadors spread the gospel of Lancôme and French allure with covetable items, like 1951’s saucily named Clé de Coquette (key of the flirt) lipstick, through 98 countries before the brand’s U.S. debut in 1974, when things really took off.
In 1982, Isabella Rossellini became the company’s first celebrity global brand ambassador, bringing European elegance and smoulder to an American market saturated with smiley blondes. Her 1990 television commercial for Trésor perfume even shaped the worldview of none other than future Lancôme muse Caroline de Maigret, who recalls watching Rossellini “crying, laughing, completely neurotic” and thinking “Wow.
a woman.” “Luxury has always been about imposing a certain idea of femininity,” says Françoise Lehmann, international general director at Lancôme, “and that is not at all Lancôme.” Last year’s signing of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, the brand’s first black ambassador, is evidence of that. And its most recent hires, Lisa Eldridge and de Maigret, further “embody this way of dealing with beauty, which is about sharing, not imposing…. Both are very authentic, very approachable,” Lehmann adds. “Luxury has to evolve in this direction.” It seemed natural then to give de Maigret her own collection.
Forty-year-old de Maigret, who’d been quietly toiling away in the modelling trenches since the mid-1990s, began to define French girl cool in her mid-30s. A Karl Lagerfeld favourite and co-author of the much-underlined handbook
she is as famous wardrobe as for »
ABOVE: LANCÔME AMBASSADRICES IN 1946; L’ABSOLU ROUGE BAUME ($36) IN “205” CAROLINE DE MAIGRET ambassadrices MES INCONTOURNABLES DE PARISIENNE MAKEUP ESSENTIALS PALETTE ($120); DE MAIGRET THINKS COMPACTS WITH TINY MIRRORS AND WEE SPONGES WERE...