Published in Jul-Aug 2022
When I was a child, I was fascinated by my mother's rouge (as it was called then) – it came in a stick and had Revlon at the bottom. It was creamy in texture and you swiped it across your cheekbones and smudged it in. One afternoon, aged 12, overcome with curiosity, I applied it generously only to end up with two bright apple cheeks. This became the subject of the next family lunch much to everyone’s amusement. Way back in the eighties, Revlon was the only foreign brand available in Pakistan. Medora claimed to be from London but everyone knew better, just as Swiss Miss was home-grown. But Revlon was the real deal with a legacy to boot.
The iconic beauty brand was brought to life in 1932 by three partners (all men!) who created a revolutionary nail enamel. Several years later, lipsticks followed. Revlon’s Fire & Ice Red (created in the 1950s) is still listed in the top 10 classic lipsticks of all time, sharing space with the likes of MAC and L’Oreal. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, while in a taxi, Audrey Hepburn applied Revlon Pink to her lips and made it one of the most sought-after shades for the brand. For most of its lifetime, the brand was number 2 behind Avon, bolstered by celebrity endorsers like Christie Brinkley, Lauren Hutton, Cybill Shepherd, Kim Basinger, Brooke Shields, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington – the last three known as the first of the ‘supermodels’.
Here in Pakistan, Revlon was famous for more than its lipsticks or nail polishes. The real Revlon stars here were the perfume Charlie and the conditioner Flex, the latter launched way before its time, when consumers were not ready for conditioners. And Charlie filled our screens with California sunshine and American wholesomeness.
Charlie fragrances were prized gifts in a country where women waited for relatives visiting from abroad to bring home perfumes. Flex was the first conditioner I used, sold on the promise of soft untangled hair. Meanwhile trips to Agha’s brought Revlon lipsticks to my mother’s dressing table. The nineties brought simplified travel opportunities, multiple channels and the internet. And other brands to the likes of us. Revlon persisted as a drug store staple in the West, ever-reliable. But unable to keep up with competition, with the rise of celebrity backed beauty brands and changing trends, Revlon faltered. Missteps by Ron Perelman the former CEO did not help, such as inexplicably acquiring Elizabeth Arden and Cutex five years ago when the company was already struggling. Post millennium, he was also notably accused of nepotism when his then wife, the actor Ellen Barkin, was hired to do all the voiceovers for Revlon commercials.
Revlon’s bankruptcy may not necessarily mean its demise, at least one hopes. Perhaps it will bounce back like Hertz. I looked up their current product line-up and was pleased to see the stick blush still exists, although in a different look (of course) with a highlighter stick to accompany it. The Revlon red lipstick is still a hero. I might just pick up one on my next trip to the supermarket. Just as a nostalgic keepsake if nothing else, a reminder of a simpler time when beauty was less complicated and all you needed was the right shade of red to make you feel like a million dollars. It will hold its own against my staple MAC Ruby Woo on the dressing table.
Rashna Abdi is CEO, Vitamin C. email@example.com
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