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Richard Hudnut (1855-1928) was an American businessman recognized as the first American to achieve international success in cosmetics manufacturing. The company once maintained separate US and European headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York City and on the Rue de la Paix in Paris, respectively.
Although his fortune had been built around cosmetics and beauty products, he preferred to be known as a "perfumer".
Hudnut's father was a druggist with a store at Broadway and Ann Street in New York City. After graduating from Princeton University, Richard Hudnut toured France and returned with the idea of introducing French-style perfumes and cosmetics to American women. In 1880 he registered his name as a trademark in both France and the United States.
Hudnut began by transforming the family drugstore into an elegant showroom. The makeover was such that the shop now became a tourist attraction, and Hudnut's business flourished. In time, Hudnut's products became so widely known that he closed the retail store and focused on marketing his product lines through wholesale distributors.
One of the keys to Hudnuts success was that he sold his less expensive fragrances "on approval". After the consumer paid with postage stamps or a money order, Hudnut shipped the perfume. If the customer wasn't satisfied, Hudnut refunded his money.
Having made his fortune, Hudnut sold the business in 1916 and retired to France.
The Richard Hudnut Corporation was acquired in 1916 by William R. Warner & Company, which became Warner-Lambert in 1955. In 2000, Warner-Lambert was purchased by Pfizer Corporation, now the world's largest pharmaceutical corporation.
Early Richard Hudnut fragrances included Violet Sec (1896), Aimee (1902), Vanity (1910), and Three Flowers (1915). Product lines include Violet Sec Toilet Water, DuBarry Beauty Products, Yankee Clover products, Three Flowers products, and a highly successful line of hair care products.
A number of colorful incidents marked Richard Hudnut's life. In 1901, the U.S. Customs Service sent an officer to his house to inquire about certain imports that Hudnut was receiving at a particularly low cost, as no duty was being paid. The officer was told that Hudnut was not at home. In 1905, returning from a summer vacation at his Adirondacks camp, Hudnut discovered that his New York apartment had been looted; even his grand piano was gone. In 1922, after he had retired from business, Hudnut's stepdaughter married Rudolph Valentino, who, as it turned out, had not completed his divorce from his first wife.
Hudnut's beauty products were sold in department stores, an indication of their appeal to a more affluent and sophisticated clientele. To maintain his image, Hudnut required dealers to sign a contract stating that not only would they not discount his products, they would not bundle his products with gifts of any kind (so as to, in effect, lower their purchase price.) Although this policy was outlawed in certain states (i.e., Texas), where it was enforceable, the company enforced it to the extent of the law.
Richard Hudnut died in 1928, at Juan-les-Pins, France, at the age of 73.