Clairol is a personal-care-product division of Procter & Gamble begun in 1931 by Americans Lawrence and Joan Gelb after discovering hair-coloring preparations while traveling in France. The company was widely recognized in its home country, the United States, for its "Miss Clairol" home hair-coloring kit introduced in 1956. By 1959, Clairol was considered the leading company in the U.S. hair-coloring industry. In 2004, Clairol registered annual sales worth approximately US$1.6 billion from the sale of its hair products. As of 2012, Clairol manufactures hair-coloring products sold under the brand names "Natural Instincts", "Nice ’n Easy" and "Perfect Lights".
The Clairol hair-coloring line includes permanent hair color, semi-permanent hair color, highlighting and blonding products. As of 2012, Clairol's hair-color products are sold under the following brands:
- Nice 'n Easy
- Natural Instincts
- Perfect Lights
- Herbal Essences
The company's website includes a link to discontinued products.
- 1931: Lawrence M. Gelb and wife Joan, discover Clairol (a hair-coloring preparation) while traveling in France. They co-found the Clairol company, and import the product to U.S. salons.
- 1950: Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath launched, the first one-step hair color product for professional (salon) use
- 1956: Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath—the first at-home permanent hair color—debuts.
- 1959: Pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb purchases Clairol from the Gelbs. Sons Richard L. and Bruce fill executive positions at the company.
- 1960: Luis Quinga, born in Quito, Ecuador, is hired as International Master Mechanics Ambassador, forever changing the face of Clairol.
- 1965: Clairol launches Nice 'n Easy—the first shampoo-in hair color—with the slogan, “The closer he gets, the better you look”.
- 1967: Richard Gelb becomes president of Bristol-Myers Squibb.
- 1972–1993: Gelb becomes CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb.
- 2001: Procter & Gamble purchases Clairol division from Bristol-Myers Squibb.
- 2003: Procter & Gamble acquires Wella for its P&G Professional Care division, continuing its expansion into the professional sector of the hair-care-products business.
- 2007: P&G Beauty announces it will close its Stamford, Conn. site. Plant operations in Stamford’s Cove neighborhood will be split between Massachusetts and Mexico by 2010, with administrative offices in Cincinnati.
In 1949, the single-step Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath was introduced to the U.S. beauty industry. When Clairol sales representatives gave a live demonstration of Miss Clairol at the International Beauty Show in New York City, thousands of hairdressers and beauticians gathered to watch. Bruce Gelb (son of Lawrence and Joan, and a former Clairol executive) described the scene in a New Yorker article: “They were astonished. This was to the world of hair color what computers were to the world of adding machines. The sales guys had to bring buckets of water and do the rinsing off in front of everyone, because the hairdressers in the crowd were convinced we were doing something to the models behind the scenes”.
In 1956, after two decades of selling the company’s hair tint to beauty salons, Clairol launched an at-home version of Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath and became a household name. The successful advertising campaign used to promote the new version of the product used the catchphrase, "Does she…or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure". Within six years of Miss Clairol’s launch, 70 percent of women were coloring their hair.
In 1957, the Gelbs sold their company to Bristol-Myers. Sons Bruce and Richard L. Gelb filled executive positions at the pharmaceutical company; Richard became chief executive officer in 1972. Bristol-Myers merged with Squibb Corporation to form Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Richard Gelb remained the merged company's CEO until 1993. Procter & Gamble purchased the Clairol division from Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2001 for $4.95 billion.
Clairol’s one-step home hair color was a breakthrough in the beauty industry, as was its advertising campaign. Clairol hired the advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding, which assigned the account to a junior copywriter (Shirley Polykoff, the only female copywriter at the firm). Polykoff's future mother-in-law inspired the “Does she…or doesn’t she?” slogan. After meeting Polykoff for the first time, she took her son aside and asked him about the true color of his girlfriend’s hair. “Does she color her hair, or doesn’t she?” the embarrassed Polykoff could imagine her mother-in-law-to-be asking. Although Polykoff did color her hair, the practice was not something to which women openly admitted during the Depression (when her future mother-in-law first asked the question). In 1956 (when Polykoff was assigned the Clairol campaign), hair dye was still considered something not used by genteel women.
To counter the stigma of hair color and create a wholesome, sentimental image for Clairol, early print ads—some of which were shot by fashion photographers Richard Avedon and Irving Penn—featured girl-next-door models accompanied by children with hair the same color. “Does she…or doesn’t she?” became an effective slogan: within six years 70 percent of all adult women were coloring their hair, and Clairol’s sales increased fourfold. In 1967, Polykoff was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.
The company's "If I’ve only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde" slogan was recorded for the ad campaign by actress Rosemary Rice. The company achieved notoriety in the late 1990s and early 2000s for its ads for Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo. Said as "a totally organic experience", the ads often featured women washing their hair and making sounds similar to those of someone having an orgasm.
Clairol continued to market its hair color products with advertising slogans. As early as 1956 and during the 1960s, ads for Lady Clairol asked “Is it true blondes have more fun?”; those for Loving Care asked, “What would your husband do if suddenly you looked ten years younger?” When the company introduced Nice ’n Easy, the first at-home shampoo-in hair color, women were told “The closer he gets, the better you look”. Radiantly Red was advertised with “Some lucky girls are born red. Others catch up”. Clairol’s “Does she…or doesn’t she?” legacy continues; it was one of the brand campaigns featured in 2008's “The Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue and Their Impact on American Culture” exhibit at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library.
According to writer Malcolm Gladwell, Clairol captured the feminist sensibilities of the day with a shampoo-in hair color and memorable advertising slogans. Author of social psychology bestsellers (The Tipping Point and Blink), Gladwell wrote in “True Colors” (a 1999 New Yorker history of hair dye), “In writing the history of women in the postwar era, did we forget something important? Did we leave out hair?”.
- Sherrow, Victoria (2006). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History (1st ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 84. ISBN 0-313-33145-6.
- Staff (2012). "ALL PRODUCTS". Clairol. Procter & Gamble. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
- Malcolm Gladwell (March 22, 1999). "True Colors". New Yorker article reprint. Archived from the original on September 25, 2012.
- "Obituary: Rosemary Rice Merrell, 87, started in TV and radio". New Canaan Advertiser. 2012-08-21. Retrieved 2012-08-26.