I’ve been in the beauty business long enough now to remember Smashbox’s horrible history in the UK. Owned jointly by Davis and Dean Factor (great grandsons of Max Factor), it first came to the UK in 1998. However, its launch was horribly tainted when the PR who helped the brothers with the launch was drug raped by an assailant thought to be a friend of the Factors the very evening of the launch in Selfridges. It transpired that the man accused had been at school with Davis and was introduced to the Smashbox PR (who will remain nameless) by Davis as ‘my best friend’. A few days later she reported it to the police, but anyone who understands about GHB will know that memories are hazy or often non-existent so the story took a very long time to piece together properly. On behalf of the PR, a newspaper sent a private detective to LA and the police went to interview the Factor brothers. News of this spread around the beauty community and effectively Smashbox was given little or no coverage; some editors still refuse to countenance coverage of the brand; until very recently I had continued a blanket ban of ever featuring it. I thought though, that maybe enough time had passed and I could possibly start to include the brand again in features. For a little while I did. Nobody at Lauder, who recently purchased Smashbox, is going to thank me for bringing the subject up – as it was raw for a very, very long time, but I think it is an important part of the brand’s history. In other countries, it doesn’t hold any such connotations for make-up lovers, but in the UK, the beauty industry turned its back on the brand, and it even struggled to find anywhere to stock them.
Interesting too that Andrew Luster, a cousin of the Factors and also a great grandson of Max was subsequently (although not related to the said PR) found guilty of 89 counts of sexual assault, all of them involved him using the drug GHB on his victims.
However co-incidental the Factors claimed at the time it was, the fact that their PR was working for two great grandsons of Max Factor when she alleges (and I have to use that word because in fact, the ‘friend’ was never charged; no DNA) she was raped by one of their friends using GHB and two minutes later (metaphorically speaking) their cousin, goes down on 89 counts, there will always be the obvious air of uncomfortable suspicion. At the time – I’m quoting here from an Evening Standard newspaper article, Davis Factor, who won’t ever get a gentleman of the year award said, ‘I feel sorry for X (the PR that I can’t name); I hear she had a boyfriend at the time and he dumped her because of this. Maybe she used the excuse of being drugged.’ Whoops. You see, it just keeps on tasting nasty.
So, can Lauder re-write history on Smashbox and does Lauder ownership erase the past wrongs of the previous owners? I’d love to know if this sours the brand for you, or if you think it isn’t relevant to where the brand is today. I for one see it as an uphill climb, at least in the UK, because these aren’t memories one easily erases, unless of course, we just choose to forget all about it?
In case you wonder what happened to the PR, she is now married with children and is still a beauty PR wonder-worker, who, in horribly misplaced thoughtlessness has since been asked by (pre-sale to Lauder) Smashbox to represent the brand in the UK – not once but three times!

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