Starting with a single product — a new type of nail enamel — the three founders pooled their resources and developed a unique manufacturing process. Using pigments instead of dyes, Revlon developed a variety of new shades of opaque nail enamel. In 1937, Revlon started selling the polishes in department stores and drug stores. In six years the company became a multimillion dollar organization. By 1940, Revlon offered an entire manicure line, and added lipstick to the collection. During World War II Revlon created makeup and related products for the U.S. Army, which was honored in 1944 with the Army-Navy ‘E’ Award for Excellence.
By the end of the war, Revlon listed itself as one of America's top five cosmetic houses. Expanding its capabilities, the company boughtGraef & Schmidt, a cutlery manufacturer seized by the government in 1943 because of German business ties. This acquisition made it possible for Revlon to produce its own manicure and pedicure instruments, instead of buying them from outside supply sources.
Up until the 1940s, Revlon's magazine ads were drawn by hand and mostly in black and white. Beginning in 1945, Revlon began launching full-color photographic advertisements in major magazines and stores across the country. Revlon introduced matching nail polish and lipsticks with exotic and unique names. These ads were taken by the top fashion photographers of the day including Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, and John Rawlings. Some of these ads were for "Paint the Town Pink" and 1945's "Fatal Apple" with Dorian Leigh. In 1947 Revlon introduced "Bachelor's Carnation" and in 1948, "Sweet Talk".
Fire and Ice" and Dorian Leigh
In 1950, Revlon introduced a red lipstick and nail enamel called "Where's the Fire?" Revlon used the word "fire" again later in their "Fire and Ice" ads.
One of the world's first supermodels, Dorian Leigh, starred in some of Revlon's most memorable advertisements of all time. In 1946, Dorian was covered in purple flowers and wrapped in a pale purple sheet for "Ultra Violet." In 1947, Dorian appeared in "Fashion Plate." In 1953, at the age of 36, she appeared in "Cherries in the Snow." Later that year she appeared in the legendary "Fire and Ice" ad shot by Richard Avedon.
Originally, Dorian appeared in a tight, silver-beaded dress with an enormous red wrap. Her black hair had a silver swirl in it and she had her hands, with long red nails, positioned in front of her breasts. Charles Revson rejected Avedon's original ad as "too sexual." They re-shot the ad, this time with her open hand in front of one hip, the other in front of her cheek.
The advertisement became Madison Avenue legend because of the full-page quiz next to the sensual ad. The ad asked, "Are You Made For 'Fire and Ice.'" It further asked:
"What is the American girl made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice? Not since the days of the Gibson Girl! There's a newAmerican beauty. . . she's tease and temptress, siren and gamin, dynamic and demure. Men find her slightly, delightfully baffling. Sometimes a little maddening. Yet they admit she's easily the most exciting woman in all the world! She's the 1952 American beauty, with a foolproof formula for melting the male! She's the 'Fire and Ice' girl. (Are you?)
In November 1955, Revlon went public. The IPO price was $12 per share, but it reached $30 per share within 8 weeks.
Dorian Leigh's 15-years younger supermodel sister, Suzy Parker, also shot numerous Revlon magazines ads. Unlike Leigh, whom Charles Revson was smitten with and wanted to perhaps marry, Revson supposedly hated Parker. Parker said,
"I would do the Revlon ads with Dick [Richard Avedon]. I never had a contract. What Mr. Revson offered me was such peanuts I told him to go...