Geoffrey Jones

 

On his book Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry

Cover Interview of January 03, 2011

In a nutshell

This book tells the story of how a small, often morally dubious, craft industry in the nineteenth century grew to be the $330 billion global powerhouse.

There are many books written about the beauty industry.  But few treat it seriously as a business, and even fewer take a global view of how this industry grew, and what are the consequences.  This is the gap I wanted to fill.

Beauty Imagined is the product of five years research, in archives around the world, and numerous interviews with many of the leading figures in the industry today.  And I pursue three big themes.

First, I try to uncover the entrepreneurs and firms in each generation who built the industry.  The journey takes me through a rich tapestry of colorful figures, from Fran├žois Coty, who smashed his first perfume on the floor of a prominent Parisian department store to get attention, to Charles Revson, the brilliant if misogynist entrepreneur who build Revlon through crooked TV game shows and eavesdropping on the telephone calls of competitors.

Beauty, it turns out, is a social construct.  My second big theme is the role of business in shaping what we today think is beautiful.

The third theme is whether this is a legitimate industry. Beauty is a big business, whose products we use every day.  But it should also be seen as playing another and very important role in all our lives.  Attractive people earn higher wages, and are more likely to be acquitted by juries, than people deemed to be less attractive.  I explore whether the beauty industry has done a good job as a gatekeeper of what is considered attractive.