Seeing Red

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Thirty years ago this month, I turned 30, a milestone birthday, like the one I'll be celebrating this month, that warrants one of two responses: Either you pull the covers over your head or you seize the day as it were, celebrating the fact that you've lived long enough to know that life at any age is worth celebrating. I was a stay-at-home mom in those days, and my then-husband agreed to send me to the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon on Fifth Avenue in New York City for a day of beauty. Actually, it was my idea, but he paid for it.

Marianne Dougherty
Marianne Dougherty

Before I get into all that, I'd like to share a little history with you. Elizabeth Arden was actually born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1878. In 1907 she came to New York City from her native Canada to start her beauty business. In 1910, she changed her name to Elizabeth Arden, inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Enoch Arden, and Elizabeth Von Arnim's memoir, Elizabeth and Her German Garden. It was her fundamental belief that beauty should not be a veneer of makeup but rather an intelligent cooperation with nature and science to develop a woman's natural assets. In 1928 she opened the first exercise room in a salon. (Her Elizabeth Arden system was a forerunner of aerobics.) In 1934 she opened the first American spa, Maine Chance, in Maine, where clients paid $250 to $500 per week to be pampered.

The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon opened its doors in 1910.
The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon opened its doors in 1910.

The fabled Red Door at the recently remodeled Red Door Salon on Fifth Avenue.
The fabled Red Door at the recently remodeled Red Door Salon on Fifth Avenue.

By 1977 when I signed up for the Maine Chance Day at the Red Door Salon in Manhattan, it cost $100 for a full day of beauty. The day began with an exercise class with Miss Craig, who put us through a half hour of calisthenics. Then we spent 10 minutes in a steam cabinet before being herded into a shower where we were assaulted by beefy Eastern European women wielding fire hoses intended to pummel our cellulite into submission, all of which made the subsequent facial, haircut, color, manicure and pedicure somewhat of a relief. What I remember most about that day, though, was having the doorman hold the door for me as I left the salon and strode confidently down what Miss Arden called the "smartest street in New York."

Marianne Dougherty, editor in chief,
mdougherty@questex.com