Another Life

31 May 2023
The Merle Norman cosmetics box bag features in the current MoDiP Reuse exhibition as part of the Another Life case, which looks at other uses for packaging in which some products are offered for sale.

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Image credit: MoDiP

The Merle Norman brand of cosmetics is not familiar in the UK but it is a well-established brand in the United States with a long history.  Born in Longsport, Indiana in 1887, Merle Norman began her cosmetics business from a kitchen table, using her training and knowledge in chemistry to produce quality products. She rapidly developed a chain of franchises, known as studios, throughout the 1930s being one of the few companies to thrive throughout the Depression era.  During World War II cosmetics production was paused, concentrating instead on producing gun oil and camouflage sticks for the U.S. military.  Post-war, Merle Norman cosmetics grew to be a multi-million dollar business with thousands of franchises throughout North America, predominantly owned independently by women. Its success continues today.

MoDiP’s box bag was created to boost Christmas sales of Merle Norman cosmetics in December 1975, it’s relatively low-cost materials and production methods enabled it to be offered as a cost-effective incentive. It was available free with a coupon and any $20 purchase.  Advertisements show that it contained ‘a Holiday Collection of six beauty enhancers’ and described the bag as having ‘a charming mock tortoise shell and crystal look’ making it ‘a versatile fashion accessory for daytime dress or elegant evenings’.

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Box bags became fashionable in the mid 1940s, their designs and materials varying greatly. Well known U.S. maker Wilardy produced many beautiful designs from lucite, an acrylic resin by DuPont. A Wilardy clutch bag can be found in the MoDiP collection showcasing the material’s crystal like clarity and demonstrating the maker’s skill. 

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Image credit: MoDiP

Although not made from the same materials as the Wilardy bag, the lid of the Merle Norman cosmetics box bag with a moulded geometric design, has echoes of crystal, encouraging consumers to value and give another life to this container.

Image credit: Pam Langdown

Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer