“Heads and we’ll start a casserole café; Tails and it’ll be the beauty boutique.” Jean and Jane Ford’s future rested on the toss of a coin.
After graduating from Indiana University, Jean and Jane, six-foot-tall identical twins, moved to New York to try and break into the modelling world. While they got some I.Magnin and Macy’s catalogue work they had to supplement this with sales clerking and apartment cleaning.
So, in 1973, they decided to move to San Francisco. “I came to find a husband,” Jane has later admitted, while Jean felt she needed to move before she was shoved! “I came because I’d burned every bridge with my partying. Oh, honey—reckless abandon. I loved every minute of it. Whatever happened to Quaaludes? Those were great days.”
A year later they got what was to be their most famous modelling assignment as the girls in the Calgon Bath Bead commercials. “They’d wanted blond twins,” the distinctly brunette Jean says, “and couldn’t find any that could talk. So they showed us a script and said, `They can speak! Sign them up!’ It was a major gas.”
A couple of years later, and after receiving a stern “Don’t waste your education” letter from their mother, they decided they’d better try and put their modelling? to good use. After much discussion it came down to two ideas. Unable to make up their minds they agreed to leave the final choice to chance – the toss of a coin: heads they’d open a casserole café; tails a cosmetics store.
Tails it was, and in 1976 the sisters opened “the Face Place” in San Francisco’s Mission District.
The transition from beauty place to cosmetics brand started soon after with an unusual request from an unusual customer.
Jean picks up the story…
“One morning, a worn-out stripper walked into the store. Her shirt, some tie-dyed thing. The fishnets broken up. She was wasted. She put both arms on the counter, and she said, `Hiii.’ Drunk. She said, `I need somethin’ special,’ something to keep her nipples pink. Apparently, whatever she was applying was wearing off mid-performance because, ‘when I dance, I sweat.'”
“So Jane and I looked at each other and said, `We have that. It’s just not here right now. Come back tomorrow. Jane came over to my apartment, and we got a bunch of red food coloring, glycerin, rose petals…and we put it in the blender and boiled it down to a reduction. It was so strong!”
They poured some into two little glass vials that had corks in them. Jane drew a rose and added the words “Rose tint” and they glued it onto the bottles.
Jane recalls: “The gal comes in the next day—same outfit—to get her goods. She came back a week later and said, `I’ve run out, and all my friends want it.’ She said, `My tribe needs this.’ We said, `Friday we’ll have 24 more bottles for your weekend.'”
From there demand took off and, as Jean remembers, it was initially a very targeted crowd. “Strippers, ballerinas, gay guys, all coming in: `I want that Rose Tint'” but soon it began selling to a much wider audience. It was renamed Benetint in 1990 and is now marketed as a lip and cheek stain. It is still the brand’s best-seller with over 10 million bottles sold to a clientele that now includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, and romance novelist Danielle Steel.
The brand was renamed in 1990 and is now known globally as benefit and it lives by the girls’ own quirky philosophy –
We believe in whistling while you work it
And faking it ‘til you make it
We believe in fast & fabulous beauty solutions
And that glamour is grabbing life by the giggles
And not letting go
We believe if at first you don’t succeed, apply more lipstick
That sexy gets you everywhere
And if you can’t be good be gorgeous
We believe laughter is the best cosmetic!