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If you missed the tale of Aphrodite’s birth when your teacher covered Greek mythology, here’s the skinny: The parentless chick appeared out of nowhere, riding into the world on a wave of sea foam. She wound up on a famous painting by Botticelli, but her birth remains an enigma. The origins of Alexandra de Markoff are equally intriguing, though her beauty products have delighted women only since the early 20th century. Both Alexandra and Aphrodite prove that classic beauty transcends time, even if the girls both come from dubious roots.
Fiction or Truth?
The story surrounding the Alexandra de Markoff Company is romantic and mysterious. It goes like this: A sophisticated Russian noblewoman lent her name to the brand and as the patron behind the cosmetics, she may even have financed the first products produced by the company during the first decades of the 20th century. Alexandra de Markoff makeup and skincare products were considered premium brands. Advertising copy proclaimed them the finest cosmetic preparations in the world, backing the claim with packaging fit for a czarina and price tags that could have financed the Russian Revolution.
When Alexandra Met Charles
The world of makeup and cosmetics is a tad cannibalistic. Manufacturers fly solo for years and if they're successful, they tend to be bought out. That’s exactly what happened to the Alexandra de Markoff collection sometime after 1935, when Charles of the Ritz, another upscale makeup brand, acquired the collection. Alexandra de Markoff was a premier member of the Charles of the Ritz family, and marketers used Russian culture to promote the hypothetical Russian roots from which the brand emerged. One of the most successful ad campaigns launched the career of Russian actress Victoria Fyodorova, who came to the U.S. from the then-Soviet Union in 1975 to find her father. She become the face of Alexandra de Markoff cosmetics and was profiled in “People” magazine.
Meet the Countess
An aristocratic brand calls for creative license, and the most popular product formulated by the Alexandra de Markoff division of Charles of the Ritz was Countess Isserlyn Creme. In 1977, the company implied that Russian royalty and Old World recipes were involved with the cream's creation. The hype must have justified the $25 price tag on a 2-ounce jar, because women snapped it up. At about a buck an ingredient -- Countess Isserlyn Creme contained 20 inexpensive ingredients divided into moisturizers, emollients and pigments -- imagine how much money the company made in 1978, when the most expensive ingredient in the mix cost just $3.30 a pound.
The Mystery Continues
Revlon acquired both the Charles of the Ritz and Alexandra de Markoff brands in 1987. The first thing Revlon did was launch a prestige fragrance division. Perfumes bore an Alexandra de Markoff logo designed to suggest a royal crest from the House of Romanov. The fragrance helped Revlon move into the premium brand arena, and since then, Alexandra de Markoff products have continued to grab market share based on quality, exclusivity and intrigue. In light of the fact that neither Alexandra de Markoff nor the Countess may ever have existed, branders didn’t miss an opportunity to infuse the product line with intrigue: eye makeup is sold under the Little White Lies brand and a popular Alexandra de Markoff fragrance is aptly named Enigma.