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This 19th Century Cosmetic Industry Pioneer’s Name is Synonymous with the Creation of Safe Mascara

by: Geoff Ficke

If a consumer walks into almost any mass market retail beauty product counter In the world they will encounter a wide array of cosmetic and skin care products under the Brand name Rimmel. The line seems ubiquitous, common, moderately priced and well-marketed to attract the mid-price shopper. And yet, the Brand has an amazing provenance and is an important pioneering innovator in the creation of the modern cosmetic industry.

Born in France, but reared in London, Eugene Rimmel was the son of the manager of a perfumery on London’s swank Bond Street. As a young man he apprenticed in the shop under the tutelage of his father and became adept at creating scents, lotions and cosmetic products that satisfied the needs of the gentry of the day. In the year 1834 he opened his own perfumery, The House of Rimmel.

In collaboration with his father, Rimmel became one of London’s most successful cosmetic formulators. He quickly became the leading creative force in the emerging beauty
product industry
and was especially appreciated for the advances he developed in the areas of hygiene and product efficacy. Eugene Rimmel became the leader in promoting the still nascent habit of regular bathing.

The House of Rimmel became famous for their “vinegar water, pomades and one of the first effective mouth rinses, the precursor to modern mouthwash. However, it was the development of the still rarely used, expensive and unsafe product called “mascara” that made Eugene Rimmel’s reputation.

Mascara was widely known, and users appreciated the cosmetic effect that mascara provided in embellishing and dramatizing the eye lashes. However, the available compounds of the early 19th century were difficult to apply, unstable and very often lead to eye irritation and even disease. Rimmel developed the first commercial, non-toxic mascara.

Rimmel Mascara was an immediate hit. As sales of the mascara exploded so did sales of the Company’s other products. This lead to the organization of international
distributors
and Rimmel became one of the first cosmetic businesses to be sold in wide international distribution. Because the Rimmel mascara was so popular, this silver bullet product became the appellation for mascara in many languages. In Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, Turkish, Persian and other languages the word used to designate mascara is “Rimmel”.

Not only did Rimmel pioneer safety and hygiene in its research and development, the Company excelled in marketing the Brand. At a time when consumer product Branding and Marketing were primitive, Eugene Rimmel proved to be a master brand builder. He was among the earliest pioneers of the use of direct mail catalogs. A particular effective technique which he developed was to advertise in theatrical play bills wherever Rimmel products were sold.

One of Rimmel’s proudest achievements was being awarded 10 Royal Warrants from European monarchs for his fragrances, toiletry and cosmetic product creations. Great Britain’s Queen Victoria was a particularly avid supporter of The House of Rimmel.

When Eugene Rimmel died in 1887 the New York Times proclaimed him to have been “The Prince of Perfumers”. He was succeeded in managing the Company by his sons and the family held continual control until 1949. Since then the business has been owned by a series of multi-national corporations. Today the world-wide owners of Rimmel are Coty, Inc.

Today, the importance of Eugene Rimmel’s pioneering efforts has lost significance with contemporary consumers. Rimmel cosmetics seem to be a brand name of no unique value, no personality that we can relate to. The mass market products carrying the Rimmel name compete with a host of other low to mid-priced cosmetic lines. This dilutes the historic provenance and importance that this visionary entrepreneur applied to building his Company and his legacy.