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April 06. 2013 12:11AM

Charles Revson


 

"Look kiddie. I built this business by being a bastard. I run it by being a bastard. I'll always be a bastard, and don't you ever try to change me." - Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, to a senior executive within his company.

Charles Revson might have been a hard-nose boss, but his perfectionist personality drove him to be a phenomenal success over five decades. Revson, who was born in 1906, was raised in a six-family tenement building on Conant Street on Manchester's west side and was a graduate of Manchester (West) High School. His father, Samuel Morris Revson, worked for R.G. Sullivan rolling cigars by hand, and his mother, Jeanette Weiss Revson, worked as a saleswoman and supervisor at a store called Nightingale's. His family lived in a cold-water flat (no hot water) on the first floor of the tenement. Charles had two brothers, an older brother Joseph and a younger brother Martin. The boys belonged to a "gang" known as the "Squogs," a name they took from the nearby Piscataquog River where they used to fish and swim. The Squogs played baseball with other neighborhood gangs and raised money for their gear through their paper routes. His family later relocated to New York City, where his father became an insurance salesman. Charles went to work for the Pickwick Dress Company. He later joined a cosmetics company selling nail polish.

Charles started his own cosmetics company in 1932 at the age of 25, with his brother Joseph and a chemist by the name of Charles Lachman. That company was Revlon Cosmetics.

The three founders put their resources together and developed a product — nail polish — and a unique manufacturing process. They used pigments instead of dyes; the pigments produced rich opaque colors in a variety that had never been available before. The nail enamel was originally sold to beauty salons and later to department stores. Over the following years, they introduced matching lipstick and later added a line of perfumes. Within six years, the company became a multimillion dollar organization and a well-developed "brand" within the cosmetics industry and it remains so today. Its winning media campaigns, like the one for Charlie® Perfume in the early 1970's, were an international success. Charlie® became the number one fragrance in the world.

The company went public in December 1955 and began to trade their stock on the New York Stock Exchange. They surpassed $1 billion in sales in 1977.

Revson was the President of Revlon until 1962 and later served as Chairman of the corporation until his death in 1975. Revlon was sold to a subsidiary of MacAndrews and Forbes Holdings in 1985. By the 1990's the company became the number one brand in mass color cosmetics. In 1996, Revlon again became a public company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Charles Revson was often the object of controversy. He was married three times, feuded with his brother, feared by his employees, and had two sons and two step-sons. He had many a business partner that severed ties with him over the years. And, he was well-known for his overbearing eccentric personality. He was a "Don't you know who I am?" character. Revson however, was not uncharitable. In 1956, he developed the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which he funded with $10 million over his lifetime. The Foundation was used to fund schools, hospitals and service organizations that served the Jewish community in the New York area. Revson willed half of his estate (approximately $68 million) to the Foundation for future development. Today the Foundation gives away $9 million per year in grants and endowments.

He may have been a bit ornery, but there is no doubt the Charles Revson was a man ahead of his time. The concept of "branding" which is well-understood today thanks to moguls like Donald Trump, was unheard of when Revson was building a multi-billion dollar company from the ground up.


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