By and  on June 1, 2009

The foundations of what would become L’Oréal— the world's largest beauty company—were built in a modest Parisian apartment at the turn of the last century. Eugène Schueller, a trained chemist born into a family of artisans, became interested in the complexities of hair dye.

At that time, such rudimentary products had to stay on heads for three hours and — due to the silver salts they contained — could easily turn hair green. Schueller’s goal was to develop effective, nontoxic colorants that would also protect, nourish and bolster hair’s health. Rather than using traditional recipes and prescriptions for that, he took a scientific approach to hair.

In 1909, Schueller set up a firm called La Société Française des Teintures Inoffensives pour Cheveux (or The Safe Hair Dye Company of France) with the equivalent of $165 at current exchange. His kitchen served as a laboratory and the dining room, a demonstration area.

The firm’s leading principles — science and innovation in the interest of individual beauty needs — were established from the outset, as was the philosophy of serving the industry. Schueller, for instance, considered his company as the “ultimate university of hair dyes,” a training center for professionals.

“I did it all: formulas, sales and delivery,” writes Schueller in a diary. “Sales were the worst part. I was shy and had to force myself. I endured many a flat denial.”

He became friendly with some 50 hairstylists, and 10 representatives delivered products on
tricycles. In 1910, the company opened a warehouse in Turin, Italy, starting its international push. By 1930, the firm was selling products in 18 countries (and today, it’s in more than 130 countries).


The colorants the company produced in the Twenties and Thirties included L’Oréal d’Or and L’Oréal Blanc.

Imédia, from 1929, was the first fast-acting coloration process and considered revolutionary.

“The launch of Imédia tint marks the first time the [company] adapted to the fashion preferred by women of the day,” says Jacques Marseille, a historian who penned the book L’Oréal, 1909–2009, which will be published in September by Editions Perrin. “L’Oréal set itself apart as a brand that adapted itself to modern women.”

Schueller tackled developing other types of products, including cold perming and new shampoo formulas.

“The 1928 purchase of Monsavon marked [the company’s] entry into the mass market,” says Marseille of the soap brand.

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