As a mother of four boys, I seldom had the opportunity for fun with cosmetics, but now all the boys are married or in a relationship I’ve got four women to call upon! While out shopping in Carnaby Street with my son’s girlfriend last week, we visited the Benefit shop (amongst many others) – this prompted me to share the Benefit story with her (in the Girl Power section of the Wonder Women book) – and now you can read it on the website.
I particularly love the exotic dancer story that led to the development of the first bottle of Rose Tint which became the bestselling Benetint, as well as their core belief that laughter is the best cosmetic.
We’re not only in the makeup business…we’re in the feelgood business. Why? Because when we are laughing & having fun, that’s when we are at our most beautiful.
After graduating from Indiana University, Jean and Jane, six-foot-tall identical twins, moved to New York to try to break into the modelling world. While they got some I. Magnin and Macy’s catalogue work, they had to supplement this with sales clerking and apartment cleaning.
So, in 1973, they decided to move to San Francisco. “I came to find a husband,” Jane later admitted, while Jean felt she needed to move before she was shoved. As Jean says, “I came because I’d burned every bridge with my partying. Oh, honey – reckless abandon. I loved every minute of it. Whatever happened to Quaaludes? Those were great days.”
A year later, they got what was to be their most famous modelling assignment as the girls in the Calgon Bath Bead commercials. “They’d wanted blond twins,” the distinctly brunette Jean says, “and couldn’t find any that could talk. So, they showed us a script and said, `They can speak! Sign them up!’ It was a major gas.”
A couple years later, and after receiving a stern ‘Don’t waste your education’ letter from their mother, they decided they’d better try to put their modelling to good use. After much discussion, it came down to two ideas. Unable to make up their minds, they agreed to leave the final choice to chance – the toss of a coin: heads, they’d open a casserole café; tails, a cosmetics store.
Tails it was, and in 1976 the sisters opened the Face Place in San Francisco’s Mission District.
The transition from beauty store to cosmetics brand started soon after with an unusual request from an unusual customer.
In an article in Elle in 2011 by Holly Hillea, Jean picked up the story …
“One morning, a worn-out stripper walked into the store. Her shirt, some tie-dyed thing. The fishnets broken up. She was wasted. She put both arms on the counter, and she said, `Hiii.’ Drunk. She said, `I need somethin’ special,’ something to keep her nipples pink. Apparently, whatever she was applying was wearing off mid-performance because, ‘when I dance, I sweat.’”
“So, Jane and I looked at each other and said, “We have that. It’s just not here right now. Come back tomorrow.” Jane came over to my apartment, and we got a bunch of red food colouring, glycerin, rose petals … and we put it in the blender and boiled it down to a reduction. It was so strong!”
They poured some into two little glass vials that had corks in them. Jane drew a rose and added the words ‘rose tint,’ and they glued it onto the bottles.
Jane recalls, “The gal comes in the next day – same outfit – to get her goods. She came back a week later and said, `I’ve run out, and all my friends want it.’ She said, `My tribe needs this.’ We said, `Friday we’ll have 24 more bottles for your weekend.’”
From there demand took off and, as Jean remembers, it was initially a very targeted crowd. “Strippers, ballerinas, gay guys, all coming in: `I want that rose tint,’” but soon it began selling to a much wider audience. It was renamed Benetint in 1990 and is now marketed as a lip and cheek stain. It is still the brand’s bestseller with over ten million bottles sold to a clientele that now includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson and romance novelist Danielle Steel.
The brand is now known globally as Benefit, and it’s not just a brand by women for women but one that lives by the girls’ own quirky philosophy perhaps best summed up by the line from their Benefesto – “We believe laughter is the best cosmetic.”