Monroe and Max Factor: The Business of Looking Good #GlamJan

Monroe and Max Factor

Max Factor’s newest campaign, ‘#GlamJan’, is a celebration of 80 gloriously lacquered years in the business.  Of course, no campaign is complete without an inspirational brand ambassador that reflects the contemporary consumer – Gisele for Chanel, Cara Delevingne for YSL, Kendall Jenner for Estée Lauder… But Marilyn Monroe for Max Factor?

The choice to use Monroe’s image perfectly reflects the ‘timeless’ and ‘iconic’ heritage of a brand that was the first to make cosmetics that were initially designed for the silver screen commercially available. Max Factor’s Global Creative Design Director, Pat McGrath, underlined Monroe’s enduring relevance, crediting the star with making the ‘sultry red lip, creamy skin and dramatically lined eye’ the most famous beauty look of the 1940’s. It would seem therefore, that Max Factor, rather than choosing a current catwalk star, has chosen to resurrect an archetype of past glamour, in recognition of consumers’ continued love of nostalgia.

The campaign uses headshots of Marilyn – procured through CMG, the directors of her estate – with the slogan “From Norma Jean to Marilyn Monroe, Max Factor, the man who created icons.” The company’s website draws attention to the oft-cited link between Monroe and Max Factor, who it claims, convinced her to dye her hair, thus kick-starting the transition from Norma Jean to Marilyn. However, this claim, plus the campaign’s focus on the 1940s, is somewhat misleading. Indeed, Sarah Churchwell, a leading biographer of Monroe, has stated that not only is Max Factor’s influence over Monroe undocumented, but in the 1940s she was a relatively unknown, mousey-haired actress until – at her agent Emmeline Snively’s suggestion – she went blonde in order that she could be ‘photographed in any light’.  Her star persona, including that iconic make-up look, would seem to be a product of the 1950s.

Some have therefore cried foul of the company’s posthumous use of Monroe’s image – which is only guaranteed to garner much publicity for Max Factor. This seems mildly hypocritical, however, considering Dior never received such criticism for their inclusion of three of Hollywood’s biggest icons in its ‘J’adore’ campaigns, not just Monroe, but also Greta Garbo and Marlena Dietrich. However, unlike Max Factor they didn’t claim ownership of these actresses’ signature looks.

Well, let’s hope Monroe’s long-time makeup artist, “Whitey” Snyder would be pleased that his work is still seen as relevant and aspirational for the twenty-first century woman.