Charles of the Ritz Powder Bars


In 1928, Charles of the Ritz launched a complete skin-care and make-up range. One of the features of the make-up range was individually blended powder and rouge. Clients coming to a Charles of the Ritz salon could have their complexion expertly analysed so that a shade of powder or rouge could be mixed to suit their particular colouring.

Individually blended powders

The idea of hand blending powders to suit individual clients was not invented by Charles of the Ritz. Most face powders in the 1920s came in a limited range of shades and, like nail polishes, women who could afford it could have a face powder blended by an expert to suit their complexion.

Only a short time ago one of the bright, particular stars that beam on Broadway attracted attention by having a famous Parisian beauty specialist make a minute examination of her skin with a view to determining just what kind of face powder would be best suited to her complexion.
We all cannot have powders especially made for our own use, but we can blend our own special variety. The vogue of mixing your own powder, in addition to being fashionable, is sound common sense artistically. There are so many different types of complexion, so many subtle adjustments to color harmony in hair eyes, and skin, that it is really too much to expect that half a dozen shades of powder will furnish the perfect shade for every skin.
If, for instance, you like the basic tone of rachel, but feel the need of a little more color in your powder, you can add a tiny bit of Peaches and Cream powder, or even a faint flush of pink. If neither naturelle nor rachel seems to march your skin, you can combine the two shades—and perhaps the result will be the perfect shade for you.

(Heloise, 1924)

At first Charles of the Ritz only offered the powder blending service through his salons but by 1932 at the latest he began to set up powder bars in department stores across the United States and elsewhere. These were staffed with ‘blending experts’ who could mix a face powder to match the skin tone of any customer with the money to pay for the privilege.

1932 Charles of the Ritz

Above: 1932 Charles of the Ritz in the Ritz-Tower. Jars containing powders of various shades can be seen on the powder blending desk at the front left.

Doraldina, Inc. (Hollywood) offered a similar powder blending service but used a mechanical blender rather than doing it by hand.

Automatic Powder Blender
A machine for blending powder in three minutes. … The blender is intended for use in the toilet goods department for the blending of powder to individual customer’s needs and is offered as a means of stimulating sales.

(From a note about Doraldina in AP&EOR, 1938)

Charles of the Ritz acquired the Doraldina Powder Blender technique when it purchased Doraldina in 1939 but does not appear to have used the machine.

Powder Blending Service

Charles of the Ritz made a number of claims for their individually blended powders.

1. Individually blended powder meets the challenge that no two women have exactly the same shade of skin. Your skin is as individual as your personality.
2. Individually blended powder enhances the naturally good values of your skin tones.
3. Individually blended powder, by subtle mixing, disguises any defects in your skin tones.
4. Individually blended powder enables you to wear many fashion colors which hitherto have been unbecoming by “toning up”—or “toning down” your complexion.
5. Individually blended powder, because it blends so perfectly with your natural color values, does not make constant re-powdering a tiresome necessity through the day.
6. Individually blended powder brings the effect of new life to your skin, for it complements rather than covers the natural beauty of your skin.
7. Individually blended powder gives you the same assurance of personalized beauty as does having a hat, a dress, a jewel made especially for your own personality.
8. Individually blended powder brings you the artistry used by great portrait painters in depicting skin tones which individualize each subject.
9. Individually blended powder is economical in that, because if belongs to you, and you alone, it does not go out of fashion.
10. Individually blended powder permits you to have your own formula altered as you wish it, by your Charles of the Ritz consultant, to meet seasonal changes in your complexion, without discarding a half-empty box.

(Charles of the Ritz brochure, c.1941)

There were some changes to how they blended the powders over the years but the operation remained essentially the same until it disappeared in 1970s. Given the possible variations in skin tone mixing a correct shade on the spot required skill. Fortunately, the process could be simplified in a number of ways and here is my suggestion as to how it was done.

Charles of the Ritz training

Above: Women training to operate a Charles of the Ritz powder bar in the U.K. in the 1960s.

Selecting colours

The blending expert could first select a base powder she thought was a good match and test this on the client’s skin, probably on the jawline. She could then select colours to adjust the base so that it more closely matched the client’s colouring. The powders used are not primary colours so it is likely that consultants memorised colour combinations for a range of blends that would cover most skin tones. The consultant would use one of these remembered recipes to mix the blend she thought would give the closest match. This required skill and a good memory but would not have been markedly more difficult than selling manufactured face powders with a large colour range. In essence, a consultant is not trying to mix a face powder to match a skin tone, but rather make up one blend (from a set) that she thought would best suit the client. Of course, experienced consultants could make adjustments to the standard recipes.

Measuring

The consultant used a set of scales to measure out the amount of each colour to be used. This would have been crude at best but would have been necessary for her to make up a set recipe and to measure out appropriate amounts of powder for boxes of different sizes. It also made the process appear more ‘scientific’. The original double-pan balances were later replaced with single-pan models which meant that weights did not have to be used.

Bar scale

Above: A single-pan beam balance with a base made of lucite. This replaced earlier double-pan models.

Mixing

Mixing the powder to avoid streaking also required skill. It was done on a piece of clean paper where repeated heaping, subdividing and spreading blended the powder into an homogeneous colour. Although this might not mix the powder as well as a mechanical blender, in skilled hands the result would be good.

Client cards

Once a colour had been satisfactorily determined it would be entered on a client card so that further batches could be made up quickly when the client returned for a refill or requested further batches by post. Other information – such as recommended colours for rouge and lipstick – were also noted. Charles of the Ritz client cards also indicate that different formulations were made up for day and evening wear, altered seasonally to allow for changes in skin colour or mixed to suit current fashion colours and consultants could adjust the colour of an existing powder if the skin colour of the client changed, as for example, if they acquired a tan.

Powder press

In 1956, presses were introduced into the powder bars enabling the made-to-order powder to be compressed into a compact. The press used a hydraulic hand pump to compress the powder and had a gauge at the top to let the operator know when enough pressure had been generated to avoid cracking the cake. The resulting thin wafer was placed into a Charles of the Ritz compact and a puff added before it was handed to the client.

1957 Powder bar

Above: 1956 Charles of the Ritz powder bar in in San Francisco. The blending expert on the left is checking a powder match. She is working in ideal conditions for this due to the ample sunlight streaming in from the window to her right. The other consultant is using a powder press, only partly visible, to make up a compact while giving instructions, answering questions or making further sales. At the back a woman is viewing the effect of her made-to-order powder in the mirror of her compact (LIFE).

Mixing face powder

Above: A 1958 British Pathé film which provides some insights into the Charles of the Ritz mixing process and the production of a compact. The beauty specialist featured in the film is Mary Sanders, the fashion model is Isabelle Babianska.

A set of equipment associated with a Charles of the Ritz powder bar that came up for sale included two metal cylinders along with the usual jars, scales and press. It is possible that these were used for additional mixing of the powder before it was placed in the press as they seem to be about the same diameter as a compact; however, this is just speculation.

Charles of the Ritz equipment

Above: Two images from set of Charles of the Ritz Powder Bar equipment. Left: The cylinders to the left and right of the press suggest that they have been used to further mix the powder or to settle it in the pan before it was compressed. Right: A close-up of the top of the press showing the pressure gauge and the open and close switch.

Gift boxes

Charles of the Ritz leveraged the idea of the powder bar by running advertising campaigns to sell empty gift-wrapped powder boxes. The recipient would take the box to their nearest Charles of the Ritz powder bar to be filled with a custom-blended powder. Advertisements for these boxes were often aimed at men – particularly at Christmas – as they could buy the box without knowing what powder shade or weight their wife or girlfriend used.

Worry about sizes, colors, styles? Not me! For Xmas I give her an empty powder box by Charles of the Ritz. What a cinch! No shopping to do … no worrying whether she’ll like it. She’ll love it! Especially the way the Ritz expert studies her … fusses over her … fills the empty gift powder box (she brings back) with her own face powder made-to-order right before her eyes exclusively for her—from me!

(Charles of the Ritz advertisement, 1947)

As well as making it easier for a man to buy a cosmetic for his wife or girlfriend, the tactic also brought new customers to the Charles of the Ritz counter and established a personal contact with them through the initial interview. This created an opportunity to establish a long and profitable relationship with a new client, a useful tactic in the competitive space of the department store.

See also: Charles of the Ritz

Updated: 20th March 2017

Sources

The American perfumer & essential oil review. (1939). New York: Robbins Perfumer Co.

Charles of the Ritz. (1932). Beauty in the modern mode [Booklet]. New York: Author.

Charles of the Ritz. (c.1939). Beauty in the modern mode [Booklet]. London: Author.

Charles of the Ritz. (c.1941). Personalized beauty care.[Pamplets]. New York: Author.

Heloise. (1924). “Mixing your own” as applied to face powder in order to have the exact shade. The Brooklyn Standard Union, Sunday, September 7th, 2.