May 2, 2021

Behind the Red Door

Behind the Red Door: How Elizabeth Arden’s Legacy Inspired My Coming-of-Age Story in the Beauty Industry

by Louise Claire Johnson

Published date: May 4, 2021
by Gatekeeper Press

Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs/Non-Fiction/History

Nearly a century before #girlboss culture, Glossier ads, and glammed-up influencers were even glimmers on the horizon, there was Elizabeth Arden – the alter ego of Florence Nightingale Graham, a small-town Canadian girl who pioneered the global beauty industry (valued at $532B today!) and became the world’s wealthiest self-made woman.

By the end of the 1930s, it was said “there are only three American names known in every single corner of the globe: Singer Sewing, Coca-Cola, and Elizabeth Arden.” And yet, so few today know her story — which, with the passage of time and the company changing hands in recent years, is under greater threat than ever of being lost to the footnotes of history. 

Now, journalist Louise Claire Johnson embarks on a mission to change that with Behind the Red Door: How Elizabeth Arden’s Legacy Inspired My Coming-of-Age Story in the Beauty Industry, set for release in hardcover and ebook with Gatekeeper Press on May 4, 2021. 

In just under three-hundred compulsively readable pages, Behind the Red Door takes readers on an exhilarating journey alongside two young women from the Toronto suburbs who arrive in Manhattan with big ambitions and bigger work ethics: Elizabeth (“Liz”) Arden and Louise (“Lou”) Johnson, who began an internship at Arden’s NYC headquarters in 2008 and worked her way up to senior global marketing manager before leaving to pursue a degree at Harvard in 2014.

A unique blend of biography and memoir, Behind the Red Door is structured chronologically in alternating “Liz” and “Lou” vignettes, following both women as they turn themselves into the success stories they once dreamed of becoming… and discover their true joys, hopes, fears, and inner strength along the way.

In Liz’s timeline — peppered with fascinating facts about the cosmetic industry’s history, scenes of New York City at peak old-world glamour, and bold-faced names including Queen Elizabeth II and Marilyn Monroe (both fans and friends) — the book charts new territory in revealing the extraordinary, stranger-than-fiction story of the first woman to grace the cover of TIME Magazine, reclaiming Elizabeth’s place as a feminist icon who redefined beauty and paved the way for generations of entrepreneurs, activists and independent women to come. 

In 2008, exactly one hundred years after “Liz” moved to Manhattan with dreams of becoming a self-made woman, the author makes the very same journey to begin her dream internship at Elizabeth Arden HQ. The age of social media is just beginning to dawn, the hustle-and-grind lifestyle is de rigueur, and at eighteen years old, “Lou” knows next to nothing about the beauty industry, but finds spiritual kinship with the woman who built it. In a few short years, her lifestyle looks a lot like the Millennial dream, with junior executive positions in Manhattan, Geneva, London… but as she ultimately uncovers in her diary entries addressed to Liz, it doesn’t quite feel like her dream after all.

My Thoughts:

I loved this book!! It’s incredibly well-researched and full of interesting details. The way the author weaves her own experiences into those of Elizabeth Arden is clever and very effective. It almost reads like dual-period historical fiction, but it’s all true. Once I started reading this, I was instantly transported to Manhattan and even Geneva. The descriptions are vivid and the prose is exceptional. I have already recommended this book to several people.

Thanks to NetGalley, Gatekeeper Press, and Louise Claire Johnson for providing me with an advanced copy for review purposes.

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