Celebrities hawking products, as well as proper-name-branded items, go back a long way – probably since commerce was invented, really. In more recent times, we’ve grown accustomed to wearing clothes identified only by the designer’s name, like Calvin Klein or Coco Chanel, while women’s skin care and makeup still relies on brand names like Max Factor and Estée Lauder. The difference between a product bearing the name of Max Factor, a man recognized as a pioneer in cinematic makeup, and one “developed” by Cindy Crawford, a woman famous for a mole on her face, is one of integrity – or perhaps pedigree is a better word.
Max Factor (né Maximilian Faktorowicz) spent years developing makeup for actors in early Hollywood, and soon became an authority on cosmetics. Estée Lauder (née Josephine Esther Mentzer) worked with her uncle, a chemist, selling and marketing face creams until she could launch her own cosmetics company. Elizabeth Arden (née Florence Nightingale Graham) traveled around France, learning about beauty products and techniques in Paris beauty salons. Even Mary Kay Ash (hey! That’s her real – married – name!) bought a secret formula which had been developed by a tanner’s daughter (it kept hands surprisingly soft). Somehow, Cindy Crawford and her cantaloupe just don’t measure up.
Maybe what bothers me is just the disconnect between the celebrity and the product. Part of the genius of George Foreman Grill was the appropriate and yet amusing, even ironic-in-a-hipster-way, association of a world heavyweight boxing champ and an electric clamshell grill. Foreman could certainly represent healthy eating – it’s part of what helped his comeback in 1994 – but no one ever thought he invented the damn thing. He just made an offbeat and very visible spokesperson for a product that actually worked. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with DeGeneres’ pushing Halo pet food on QVC; she owns half the company, but before that she was well-known for her love of animals and support of organizations like the Humane Society.
Which brings me back to Cindy Crawford, who is no doubt a fine-looking woman without make-up on. But knowing how the modeling biz operates, I just don’t believe her when she says her cantaloupe cream will make me look younger. Models rub Preparation H under their eyes to get rid of bags, so I’d trust Kate Moss if she tried to sell me some, but I don’t think she’s going to appear as their mascot any time soon.