Farewell Revlon

Revlon, one-time titan of the beauty-industrial complex, filed for bankruptcy yesterday and while its demise will trigger a trillion think pieces, nostalgia for legacy cosmetic products and hot financial analysis takes, this is the astrological scenario.

My initial response was to imagine Aerin Lauder – the triple Taurus Estee Lauder heiress – ceremonially applying some Youth Dew and Night Repair before gliding down to her grandmother’s sanctuary/altar to burn some Cinnabar incense and share the news.

You see, Estee Lauder had a raging rivalry with Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon. They weren’t mere commercial competitors – they were deeply in hate. I read the Revson biography Fire & Ice – a lurid, compulsive read, they don’t write ’em like that anymore – and recall it saying that events organizers knew never to let their paths cross for even a split-second.

Lauder, a sextuple-Cancerian, wrote of his ‘duplicity’ in her autobiography and referred to the double Libra as her “arch and implacable enemy” while he routinely snarked off at her and made public vows to destroy or buy out her business.

Interestingly, a colleague of Revson said that despite the mogul’s retinue of wives, lovers and mistresses, Estee Lauder was the most important woman in his life. “She was the one competitor he set out to beat but couldn’t.”

Their synastry was discordant – it wasn’t just the Cardinal square tension between his Libra Sun/Mercury and her nearly-everything-in-Cancer. They had mutual Mars-Saturn squares, which often reflect people who really get under one another’s skin.

But they also had fantastic, high-stimulus Jupiter links: maybe the rivalry pushed each of them to exceed their own expectations?

Charles Revson was fascinating. He started Revlon in the midst of the Great Depression and it lasted 90 years. In the early days, he conducted nail varnish experiments with a bunsen burner and frequently had to borrow money from local loan sharks to pay the rent of his Hell’s Kitchen office.

The company has a birthdate – March 1 1932 – making it a triple Pisces with Venus conjunct Uranus in Aries, which fits. A former dress salesman with a knack for color, he’d paint his own nails with the nail polish to test colors – a habit he kept all his life – and obsess over details to a degree that was seen as ‘unmanly’ in his day.

Revlon founder Charles Revson with model Suzy Parker

He was widely loathed by many of the people he dealt with or, as the business media put it, “unafraid to express his opinion on a wide range of subjects.” One former employee noted that meetings with him “usually involved a lot of cursing and remarks like ‘you used to have talent but you’re washed up.'”

Even when Revlon was literally the world’s biggest spender on advertising, ad-agencies voted them the number one worst to deal with and most of that was because of Revson himself.  But he was also a business genius, driven by an ultra-psyched, permanently over-clocked Mars in Virgo square Pluto in Gemini and, for visionary zeal, Jupiter conjunct Neptune in Cancer.

You can see it in the vintage Revlon ads, a hugely influential genre unto themselves. As market research was in the top ten of his lengthy s***t list, he went purely off vibe and his core hunch – the one that rocketed Revlon to numero uno – was that the post-war woman craved surrealism, fantasy, fun, pleasure and an ‘independent aura.’

They would not respond to, he surmised, advertisements or products that depicted them applying make-up to please a man. His ‘data’ was part-intuition and part-gleaned from his womanizing but his most brilliant move was to hire a Capricorn copywriter named Kathleen – Kay – Daly and make her the highest paid woman in America.

She was the genius behind the iconic “I Dreamed…” campaign for Maidenform bras – it did so well that it ran for 21 years. Her Revlon debut was Fire and Ice, the most successful cosmetics launch in history. This is not just a marketing story – it was culture-altering.

Many people in the company thought the model, Dorian Leigh (top picture), looked too strident or aloof and that, at five foot five, she was too short. They were concerned about reputational risk: she was a 35 year old single mother with a hyperbolically soap-operatic personal life and a degree in mechanical engineering.

She was, enthused Revson, emblematic of the ‘new woman.’

Kathleen (Kay) Daly supervising an ad shoot.

He was right. Leigh – a quadruple Taurus with a hothead Mars Rising in Aries – was an instant hit with the female target audience and she became a household name. Her private life and outspokeness fuelled sales, along with Kay Daly’s Fire & Ice ‘temperament’ quiz.

It had questions like Do you secretly hope that the next man you meet will be a psychiatrist?, Have you ever danced with your shoes off? and Do sables excite you, even on other women? The skeevy by today’s standards Fire & Ice concept – a pet hypothesis of Revson’s – nonetheless sparked a million conversations about the Madonna-Whore complex and practically everyone did the quiz.

The last major biz decision the cosmetics mogul made was to go all-out ‘feminist’ with Charlie, “a scent for the working woman.” It was, naturally, named after him but still, it was the first fragrance ad campaign to show women wearing pants – really – and not only that, taking gigantic strides in them.

Charlie was also the first major perfume campaign to feature an African-American model – the dazzling Naomi Sims – and was cited as an early inspiration by none other than Oprah.

Although Revson released it in Feb 1973 to try and stymie the debut of a more sedate scent launch from his long-time rival, his Jupiter-Neptunian vibe was uncanny: two weeks before the launch, the Roe Vs Wade decision affirmed women’s reproductive rights, a seismic shift. From the marketers point of view, it suddenly made feminism ‘cool.’

The astro of the time was pushy and provocative, a Zap Zone for sure. Jupiter in Capricorn was square Uranus in Libra, a catalyst for mass change. January 1973 was a cultural flashpoint for multiple reasons and Revson was at the end of a Uranus-Sun transit.

He’d spent years unsuccessfully trying to oust Estee Lauder out of her ‘prestige’ niche – opening a foo-foo spa, cultivating people he saw as high society, launching Ultima – an upmarket skincare range – and blowing ridiculous amounts of money  – even by billionaire standards – on Ultima II, a mega-yacht.

But while he Mars in Virgoed out on monogrammed hankerchiefs, his arch-rival retained her hold on the market – and social status – he wanted. People would resign rather than deal with his rage over – say – Estee Lauder in the newspaper describing Princess Grace of Monaco as a dear friend. Finally, Revson pivoted back into character and sprung a new scent: Charlie.

A bitter green chypre, it broke fragrance sales record and remained the best-seller for three years. But he did not live long enough to build on that victory, passing from an illness in August 1975.

Side-Note: Venus was Retrograde in Gemini and conjunct Mars: a socialite proposed to him on his deathbed and spent some time with him trying to close the deal. It’s ironic that this arch-hustler and dream-trafficker spent his last earthly hours being hustled by a woman in warpaint. And his last wife – a decades-younger Pisces whom he’d divorced over the telephone – deliberately wore clothes that he’d hated to the funeral.

The company plowed on but there were less – if any – wow factor hits or profitable scandals. In November 1985, the controversial Capricorn businessman Ron Perelman acquired the company in a hostile takeover, evidently burdening it with billions of dollars in debt.

At the time, Pluto and a Solar Eclipse in Scorpio were square Revlon’s (the company) Saturn in Aquarius. And how’s this for eerie resonance?

The 2022 bankruptcy comes with Pluto a few degrees away from being conjunct the same Saturn point. Not only that, it’s one month after a Lunar Eclipse on the same degree of Scorpio.

There will be many suspects in the Revlon demise: corporate raiders, influencers, grunge, social media, the decision to downsize Flex shampoo, feminism, the debt, analogue thinking, non-with-itness, neo-liberalism, supply chains, whatever.

But maybe the real factor is that the high-Qi manic gusto of its founder kept the vibe going for ages even after Revson left the realm but it finally spluttered to a halt.

Estee Lauder continued to bag him out – elegantly of course – for his vulgarity and stunts such as apparently purchasing an enormously expensive atomic absorption spectroscope to examine the colors in her eyeshadow.

She also admitted to having ‘taught him a lesson’ via some stealthy espionage of her own. But then one day she softened, saying “I must admit when he died, something was lost in our business, some subtle enjoyment, some jolting of complacency. It’s irritating to have competitors hot on your heels but it’s also flattering and stimulating.”

He’d been her Jupiter – too much, garish and overblown – but essentially his Jupiter conjunct her Sun and Mercury made him an expansive influence. And Lauder’s Jupiter in Leo was on Charles Revson’s North Node – she was his Muse, albeit one that this irascible man reviled, even as he sought it.

Perhaps Estee Lauder – the woman, not the company – was the Fire and Ice that Revson idolized?

75 thoughts on “Farewell Revlon”

  1. Great read. Loved ‘the decision to downsize Flex shampoo.’ We never had it but I remember the sleepovers and standing in many a strange shower thinking why does everyone have this? As an aside I miss that weird feeling of going into other friends homes for the first time back then. Everyones house had such a particular vibe and scent and personality. It gave you so much to think about. Like some unsolvable mystery. Thanks MM.

  2. Mystic you could write any story with intrigue but the ones that have some already are an ultra potent delivery.

    Youth Dew was just too much and too common and somehow Estee Lauder seemed too stuffy. Revlon was too boring and never had the dimension of French anything. Besides, it was drug store. In I Magnin on Union Square (perhaps equivalent to a Barney’s West) in San Francisco when it was a glamorous petite city, I found Hermes Calache and wore that for many years as my signature scent, until they changed the formula.
    I remember Charlie’s as laughably hideous — the scent, the image, the exaggerated manly stride and the brand. It was even crude and overt.
    While traveling to India not too many years later I found essential oils, attars and extracts and wear them all to this day. Rare exception, Clive Christian X, with a distinct sillage or Turquoise by Régime des Fleurs

  3. Ughhh …. what horrible people. I’d rather neck myself than hang around people like that – genius or not. Besides, I was put off Revlon as well as many other skincare and makeup companies in my teens, when it was revealed they tested their products on animals. I was not the only one. Many people were disgusted by the practice of animal testing so people could wear some stupid eyeshadow or whatever.

    The boycotting of these companies and their products lead to massive changes to the industry. I doubt that they miraculously grew ethics and a moral compass, more like an obvious drop in sales and terrible PR optics. I still don’t trust them. The primary brand I use is designed so that you don’t have to wear makeup – or very little.

  4. The Mercurial “Game-Stonk”-ers started a briefly successful Revlon meme-stock campaign yesterday, carrying the price up from plummeting to as much as 35% (a curiously timed distraction for the “bros” from the crypto markets tanking).

    Meanwhile…. at Estee’ Lauder:
    Stock priceEL (NYSE) $254.50 +6.59 (+2.66%)

    While not related to the aforementioned post, I would be curious to know the chart/details for Arinobu Fukuhara (founder of Shiseido) Born May 10th 1848. There’s an interesting backstory there as well….

    1. Prestonian, you seem like you know things – what IS up with the Revlon stock price? And thank you re Arinobu Fukuhara reccie, I shall investigate!

  5. Well this 5ft 5′, 35 year-old Venus in Taurus & triple Aries was IMMEDIATELY drawn to Ms Leigh! We LOVE to see an unconventional success story!

    Wonderful story Mystic – you tell it like the mysterious anti-romance of the Hollywood Babylon underworld it truly is.

  6. I just watched the house of Gucci film with Adam Driver and Lady Gaga.
    The elevator pitch of this story eclipses that one before we’ve even started casting actors or writing a treatment.

  7. This is a modern-day myth! If one digs beneath the surface, the many themes run so deep! I wonder if they had 7th house connections? This true tale definitely represents how partners can also be rivals/ open enemies, but at the end partners (even when not on the same team). Great post!

    I also found it so fascinating how this man could tap into the emergences in the collective female psyche. I’m curious about how that came about.

  8. Look how independent the women are in the ads! Something has been lost in poster advertising of the current day regarding the vibe of the women. Less boldness , more drug-influenced bling-laden sleaze or aloof wealth.

  9. That copy for the ad for “Stormy Pink” truly is excellent. (and of course I love it has a horse). :p. I love that Revson tapped into the feminine imagination at its major turning point and created this vision.

    Gotta say I’m a Lauder girl tho. Briefly worked at one of their counters in college and am a big fan of Dr Jart who they acquired.

    1. lauder girls United
      double wear foundation and lbd lash primer are two products as never want to be without.

        1. It’s double the price of a drugstore mascara but it’s the only thing that doesn’t smudge or come off on my eyelids or leave black marks on my cheeks. I cry a lot in public on public transport. I also sweat profusely. So the lash primer (also known as LBD the little black dress of mascaras) is ideal. It’s not hellaciously obvious and doesn’t give the push-up effect of normal mascara because it’s meant to be used underneath your normal mascara. I use it on its own. I also mix double wear foundation with moisturiser and sunscreen and apply it sparingly, like a concealer over a tinted moisturiser)

  10. Love love!!! Estée Lauder does indeed encapsulate Fire and Ice. What a fascinating journey and so well written. It’s sad to think of Revlon’s demise although I’ve not brought a product since the 90’s… strangely, I remember Fire & Ice and Charlie filling my nostrils like it was yesterday.

  11. I love that Charles Revson was gender bending stereotypes in the depression era, with the painting of his nails much to the disdain of the macho-manly men lol.
    Mystic you really tapped into a magical scribe vibe with this blog post! 😍😍

  12. Lux Interior Is My Co-Pilot

    This might be one of your finest articles.
    He was the James Hunt to her Niki Lauda…

    1. Lux Interior Is My Co-Pilot

      Despite the products being fairly average Revlon always kept that ‘edge’ when it came to the women it chose to rep the brand–Megan Thee Stallion was their latest.

  13. Flex! You can buy a replica scent on Etsy to make your own whatever. It still has a surprisingly large fan base. Nostalgia or something else? I have a (now) scent free memory of its smell but I’d recognise it immediately. I have no desire to resurrect it. I like memories to be what they are. Vale Revlon. All things have their season.

    Large cycles of time are so good for looking at astro patterns. Very interesting.

    1. Hi Centaurus! That’s amazing that there is a scent on Etsy which replicates the scent of the Revlon shampoo. The way in which scents can take you back to a certain time and place keeps amazing me. It’s a consolation I think and the closest thing – together with music – we have to a time machine…

      1. Hi Calcifer 😊👋 Yes, I have to agree – it instantaneous and hard wired for a lot of us.

        If you look for camay soap type fragrance oil I am fairly confident youll locate it. Sorry – not really comfy putting a buy/sell link here but all mountains can be climbed 😉 xx

        1. Thank you Centaurus, never came up with that idea myself!
          You are right about ‘All things have their season’, by the way. That’s a comforting thought, too 🌝

          1. Yes, I find it a comfort as well and often a sign of upgrades incoming. Discomfort of change is always outweighed by what’s around the corner or, there after the dust settles when viewing the landscape with the eyes and optimism of an early gold prospector hehe – yes maybe the harsh conditions and probability of failure also but really that comes down to how we measure success and failure personally.

            So…interesting right – yes you can probably find that scent again and have it in real time but I wonder if part of the memory invoked is expressed as a passive desire or an I wish, if only… but it’s just the way that kind of memory functions and the real reason it exists is to experience a happy memory and some nostalgia not to take action. Does this make sense? I think humans confuse this often. At the very least it is interesting to think about as is how caffeine improves my keystroke output. Oops, gotta get cracking 😃

            1. Yes, I like what you say about change. I am resistant to change with my Taurus Moon, but deep down I always know it’s the way to go. Also appreciate the metaphor of ‘viewing the landscape with the eyes of a gold prospector’. (Re gold prospectors, did you read Eleonora Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’ by any chance?)

              And very interesting reflections on the why of scent nostalgia, Centaurus. Going to do some soul searching on that!

    2. By the way, there are some scents from the past that I would so much like to smell again. The original Armani scent from 1984 for instance, or the way Camay soap smelled in the 1970’s…

  14. What a fascinating story! I had read Estee Lauder’s autobiography a long time ago – (which was a candid and fascinating “rags to riches” story that the Lauder family would have preferred to have disappear, I am sure!) and it had made me aware that the world of cosmetics, especially back in the day, was a lot more cutthroat than the pastel palettes suggested… And now has come the moment to read Fire and Ice — the “enemy’s” point of view….

    On another note, just because Revlon filed for bankruptcy does not mean that they will necessarily go out of business… It could just be a legal maneuver to restructure the company without being financially bludgeoned…

  15. E Elizabeth Scordato

    Love these stories of the beauty-industrial titans. I saw the Helena Rubinstein show on Bway w Patti LuPone and it was great! Do her horoscope, plz!

    1. Snap! Was just thinking of Helena Rubinstein as she & Revlon were abundant on my mother’s dressing table.

  16. I love the eerie synchronicity of the beginning and ending of Revlon. Also the beneficial aspect of an open enemy.

    1. This thing, the beneficial aspect of an open enemy is a fascinating topic. I think it’s one of the most romantic or inspiring kinds of relationships to have. It appeals and feels more productive and logical, conducive to achievement and satisfying than the ideal of the one true love soul mate as lover.

  17. Wish Upon a Star

    I love how Estee Lauder gracefully avoids any involvement with Revson’s shenanigans.

    I am sad that Revlon is going. They had a good products. .

  18. Fabulous article MM….!!! REVLON was great coverage and colours..As a Beauty Therapist and make up artist in.UK in the 80’s I worked in the AnN stores offsets of Harrods. I used mainly REVLON on transvestites trangenders etc..ladies with severe 5o’clock shadows etc..was able to use all makeup houses but this was always the best for the purpose and stay on back then.Now sadly we have multitudes of plagiarism in whatever brand.💅💄💋
    Once again Fabulous article MM Thank you.🦂

  19. Kristine Ditchfield

    I suppose everyone has their era
    such a great story
    🙏 again for what you bring forward

  20. Beautiful piece, Mystic!
    I read Estée Lauder’s autobiography ‘Estée A succes story’ (1985) when I was in my teens. One of the things which struck me when reading that book was Estée’s quote, ‘The thing that will make you stand out from a crowd on a dreary day, is glow’. I found it a bit discouraging, as I am naturally quite a pale person with little cheek color. It also represented a VERY American view on beauty, I thought. RevIon I found too unsophisticated any way (if I had known everything I know now, after reading this piece about him, I wouldn’t have found him unsophisticated, by the way). And from then on I decided to stick with the French brands, Chanel and Lancôme which I use to this day 😄

  21. Fabulous read!

    Kay Day sounds like a model for Peggy Olson on Madmen. I need to look her up!

    As a child of the 70s-80s I soaked in the Charlie dream (they also had TV ads with a very memorable jingle), read every beauty mag I could get my hands on 100x and ended up working in advertising and branding for the beauty biz. The first company I worked for was acquired by Lauder and that was a trip. I will never forget the peek into Estee’s original office which, in 1998 at least, was preserved like Graceland within the Lauder building.

    Their rivalry would be an amazing movie. I can’t believe no one’s done a biopic on Estee.

      1. So epic. Yes. I can see the tv series like a Halston meets Dynasty ? knots landing? Not sure why I go there from Halston.. but it has that kinda thorn birds meets the sopranos potential complexity.
        The breaking bad of beauty biz.

  22. Charlie was my first signature fragrance, my 8yo self was obsessed for years.
    It was definitely peak rebel girl 70s vyyb. Estee was very at home in the 80s rich girl cache marketing (and I did like her sci fi blue tube of “future perfect skin” stuff).Wow, the end of Revlon Red!

  23. What a great article! All the elements I love. Interestingly when I think of Revson, I see Halston. I will have to look and see if they knew each other.

      1. I love this pic but it’s one of Revson’s sons and as the series goes on the girl casually rolls a joint. I am sure their paths crossed though and I can see Kay Daly’s influence all over the Cosmo cover-lines.

  24. I loved those big bottles of Flex. They were a classy shampoo back before salon products became the norm. It had a lovely smell too. I can’t remember the smell of Charlie but imagine I would if I came across a bottle. That biography sounds like a good trashy read. Excellent article Mystic.

    1. I don’t believe so, but there is a different link in that Shelley Hack, who modeled in the Charlie fragrance ads until the early ‘80s, also appeared in one season of Charlie’s Angels. I vividly remember how modern and strong she looked in the fragrance ads – they occupied prime real estate in the magazines my mom used to buy in those days.

  25. Fascinating, the life of elite moguls and business. How the other half (well 5%) live and pass. Watch all the Revlon fans start hoarding, like Elaine and her favourite condoms? They should/could have moved to non-plastic and natural products eg Hemp everything but they probs have ties to big pharma.

    1. The company started a weird policy in the early mid 90s. Change the formula of a great product making it unusable but keep the same name. Rip off. I was a student then; I would find a good foundation of theirs, they woulld change the main ingredient. The last bottle you paid for you can’t use. I ditched them forever. I wondered if they had a secret more expensive brand elsewhere and Revlon brand was just short term testing the product on customers before selling under a prestige label

  26. Wow. I love hearing the dynamic of this relationship and the personalities. There is a visceral and visual sense of the experience reading this. The eeriness of the bankruptcy timing too. I want to learn more about this story of timing in the world. Thanks for sharing Mystic.

  27. Wow. Great post. I still think the 1970s were a revolutionary period – much more than the 1960s and I’m so glad I lived through them. Feminism! Working women! Sassiness was in style. Then we went backwards in the 1980s/90s until now…

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