Beauty

15 Important Beauty Brands and How They Got Their Names

From compound words, abbreviations, and namesakes, here are the tales behind some of the world's most famous beauty labels.
IMAGE COURTESY SHISEIDO; TOM FORD; CHANEL BEAUTY; JO MALONE LONDON
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In the early days of fashion and beauty, brand names weren’t as difficult to decide on. Many designers chose to patent their products after their namesake brands, while business partners would simply merge names.

The younger beauty brands, however, have put their philosophies front and center, evident in their brand name of choice. 

Here are the stories behind the name origins of the beauty brands we’ve loved and favored for years and counting:

1. Jo Malone London

Known for its luxury perfumes, candles, bath products, and room scents, Jo Malone London and Jo Loves are both namesake brands of its founder, a perfumer-by-instinct, Jo Malone. With a natural affinity to ingredients, she concocts fragrances that are “made from her head” using non-formulas that are based on what just “feels right.”

At one point in her life, Malone was diagnosed with cancer and was worried that it might cause her to lose her special ability to smell instinctively, but post-chemotherapy, her sense of smell seemed to be even stronger. “I can smell anything. I could smell when my husband was sick, when there's something not right with the dog, when it's going to snow,” she told The Independent.

2. Tom Ford

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Having been the creative force behind power fashion brands Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford decided to take ownership of all that he had achieved, and use this to propel his name as a brand of its own Thus, the birth of the Tom Ford multi-brand. From designing clothes for women and men, Ford would also launch his eyewear and accessories collection, and a beauty brand

3. La Mer

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La Mer comes from the luxury brand’s hero product, Crème de la Mer, which translates to “cream of the sea.” Its history dates back to the early 1950s, when a laboratory explosion caused aerospace physicist Max Huber to suffer severe burns.

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This prompted a search for an elixir with intense healing and restorative properties that was so potent, that it would erase all the scars and burns caused by the accident. He soon discovered the prime ingredient in an ocean nearby his California home, which then substantiated the creation of his powerful product, which we know now as Crème de la Mer.

4. Estée Lauder

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Estée comes from the name of Josephine Esther Mentzer, whose nickname is Esty; while Lauder, comes from her husband’s name, Joseph Lauter, whose surname was misspelled as his father was emigrating from Austria to the United States.

Esty first developed an interest in skincare when she witnessed her Hungarian uncle making rich, velvety skin creams in their family’s kitchen. At an early age, she was taught by her uncle to create her own creams and apply these on other women. Esty continued selling cosmetics at beauty salons until she and Joseph officially launched their company called Estée Lauder in 1946.

5. Guerlain

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The luxury fragrance brand has been run by five generations of Guerlains since its creation in 1828. Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain was a master perfumer in Paris, whose creations have been famously worn by Napoléon III and Queen Victoria.

His son Aimé inherited the family formulas and passed on the know-how to his nephew Jacques, the man behind Guerlain's signature Shalimar scent. He would later teach the skills to his grandson Jean-Paul, who would then decide to sell the company in 1994.

6. Nuxe

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Nature plus luxury equals Nuxe. These are the two philosophies that brand founder Aliza Jabès aims to put together, driven by her passion for phytotherapy, which deals with science-based medical practices such as medical herbalism. 

To date, the Nuxe brand has gained popularity among eco-warriors and green living advocates and is considered a cult lifestyle brand in France.

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7. Chanel Beauty

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While it is common knowledge that Chanel is derived from the fashion icon herself, Gabrielle Chanel, or simply, Coco Chanel; not many are aware that her famous Chanel No. 5 was one of the first products she launched early in her career. The Chanel No. 5 would also be the first ever fragrance to feature a designer’s name.

Coco Chanel had a superstitious belief in the virtuous number five and picked the fifth among the fragrance samples presented to her. It was decided that the scent’s straightforward name, “Chanel No. 5”, be retained, and it eventually became one of the most popular scents in the entire world.

8. Lancôme

Founder of the brand Armand Petitjean had one goal: for his brand to deliver and exude French elegance across the world. The ruins of castle Le Château de Lancosme, of which the brand’s name is derived from, was a perfect backdrop to symbolize that elegance. The roses surrounding the ruins are in fact mirrored in the brand’s official symbol, which bears a single red rose.

Lancôme was officially launched in 1935 with five signature fragrances: Tendre Nuit, Bocages, Conquete, Kypre, and Tropiques. The brand soon followed up with its multi-tasking repair cream called Nutrix, and soon, the famous rose-scented pink and red lipstick.

9. L'Occitane

L’Occitane literally translates to “the woman from Occitania.” Occitania refers to an ancient geographic area in southern France. Founder Olivier Baussan, a native of Provence, began L’Occitane when a soap factory, including all its equipment, was donated to him.

10. Shu Uemura

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The heritage Japanese beauty brand takes its name from Shu Uemura himself, who is considered an industry pioneer and innovator who pursued a “makeup and skincare in harmony” approach to cosmetics, techniques, and tools.

After having transformed actress Shirley Maclaine into a Japanese beauty for the Hollywood film My Geisha, Uemura was catapulted into the spotlight and soon became a Hollywood favorite.

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Passionate in his craft, he soon developed his first-ever product, a cleansing oil, and thereafter, he founded a makeup school that taught cosmetic techniques. In 1983, he started his cosmetics boutique, which was first called Japan Makeup, until he decided to call it Shu Uemura Cosmetics in 1983.

11. Shiseido

Often heralded as the world’s oldest cosmetics brand, many may not have been aware that Shishiedo began as a Western-style pharmacy and the first of its kind in Tokyo, back in 1872. It was built by Arinobu Fukuhara, a Japanese navy pharmacist who was literate in western medicine.

As its products are heavily influenced by western pharmaceuticals, yet driven by principles of eastern philosophy, thus the name Shiseido. It is derived from Chinese Yi Jing, the Book of Changes from the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism. Shishiedo literally means “praise the virtues of the earth, which nurtures new life and brings forth significant values”.

12. Clinique

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Clinique is the brainchild of the Lauders and Carol Phillips, who was then a Vogue editor. Together, they envisioned a beauty brand that was, in a sense, rebellious, and empowered women with straightforward information on skincare and beauty.

The name Clinique comes from "Clinique Esthétiques," a place where Parisian women were to go for facials and treatments. Evelyn Lauder, the late wife of Leonard Lauder, son of Estée Lauder, loved how the name advocates “a fresh and clinical approach to skincare, with a touch of French glamor.”

13. Dior Makeup

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Founded in the era of namesake fashion houses, Dior Makeup takes its name from its creator and designer, Christian Dior. Not many are aware that Christian Dior Parfums and Christian Dior Couture began at around the same time. Dior has always regarded fragrances of equal importance to his dresses, considering these scents as a “final touch” to every look.

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The famous Miss Dior was introduced to the public back in 1947, during the launch of the Dior Fragrance House. Its classic lipstick collection was shortly launched in 1954.

14. NARS

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Cosmetics brand Nars is named after its ever-elusive founder, photographer and makeup artist François Nars. His beauty philosophy, “wear makeup, but with a light hand,” is inspired by his muse, his mother who was glamorous yet preferred to be without makeup. His grandmother, on the other hand, was an artist and loved to explore with makeup. Nars’ intention was to achieve a balance of both.

15. M.A.C

In 1984, two industry experts, beauty salon owner Frank Angelo and photographer Frank Toskan, decided that they could no longer tolerate subpar cosmetics that didn’t register well in photographs and wanted to formulate their own.

This birthed the global cosmetics brand that would break the mold: the bold and playful M.A.C., which stands for Make-up Art Cosmetics. Its straightforward name is intended to target professional makeup artists, which was the brand’s initial market.

Having learned what M.A.C. actually stands for, perhaps we’ve been redundantly saying “M.A.C. cosmetics.”

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Patti Sunio
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