Cosmetics Company History: Rimmel London
Eugene Rimmel, founder of what would become Rimmel London, was born in 1820 in France. His father, a perfumer, moved the family to London when an opportunity to manage a perfumery on Bond street opened up. Eugene helped around the perfumery. At the ripe old age of 14, Eugene decided to open his own perfumery, the House of Rimmel, where his cosmetic chemistry journey truly began. There, he developed scented pomades, mouthwashes, and the charmingly named “toilet vinegar”, which was an aromatic product that supposedly had emollient and other moisturizing capacities.
I’m sure it was lovely, but a “fountain of toilet vinegar” sounds like something that I would pay NOT to have.
According to an 1864 ad in the Quebec Daily Mercury, “Rimmel’s Toilet Vinegar is far superior to any Eau de Cologne, as tonic and refreshing adjunct to the Toilet or Bath, a reviving perfume, and a powerful disinfectant. Its useful and sanitary properties render it an indispensable requisite, especially in warm climates.” (Gotta say, the term “eau de toilette” ain’t much better etymology-speaking, but it sounds way fancier.)
In case you haven’t noticed, Toilet Vinegar basically stayed in the 1800s. Rimmel’s real contribution to the beauty industry was the invention of the modern mascara. Using a mix of coal dust and Vaseline, Eugene Rimmel developed the first non-toxic, commercial mascara. His mascara-making prowess granted him significant fame. “Rimmel” is the word for mascara in at least seven languages, ranging from Turkish to French.
Because he knew that his products were unique and desirable, Rimmel pioneered modern cosmetics marketing, developing illustrated mail-order catalogs and placing advertisements in theater pamphlets and newspapers. (If you’re interested, the John Johnson Collection blog has uploaded an admirable number of Rimmel’s early advertising efforts here.)
Rimmel’s business was remarkably successful. He was granted ten Royal Warrents from Europeans Heads of State, including Queen Victoria, who started purchasing Rimmel products in the early 1860s. Essentially, this was a celebrity endorsement. It allowed Rimmel to let everyone know, “HEY YOU GUYS, QUEEN VICTORIA USES MY STUFF.”
In 1865, Eugene Rimmel published the Book of Perfume, which touched on the physiology of scent, the history of perfume and cosmetics, and methods of perfume creation. The entire book is available on archive.org here if you want to check it out for yourself. Watch for his, er, orgasmic descriptions of what it is to smell a perfume.
When Eugene Rimmel passed away in 1887, the New York Times printed his obituary with the title “The Prince of Perfumers“. Rimmel left his business to his two sons (but not to his daughter… sigh…), who retained control of the company until 1949. Then, it was purchased by Robert and Rose Caplin, who were the owners of a London advertising agency. The company changed hands a few times throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1996, the brand was purchased again, this time by Coty, Inc., a global manufacturer of beauty products best known for its celebrity fragrance collaborations. When Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, or David Beckham decide to make a fragrance, Coty is the one to get paid. Additionally, Coty owns OPI, Sally Hansen, and Philosophy.