Jazz is a room filled with bluish smoke, stolen kisses, women in flapper dresses, the band twisting music into the magic that curls and coils, and caresses our hearts until we all fall blissfully into its rhythms. Women in the jazz age were flappers, shameless, and happy, and as inexorable as a thunderstorm in July, still, they contained hidden depths. Not a few of them were entrepreneurs.
Like any other human endeavor, entrepreneurship was practiced by both men and women throughout history. Let’s not forget Julia Felix, who was the owner of a restaurant, a bath, and other properties she ran for profit in ancient Pompeii. Still, the notion of women entrepreneurs has been more widely accepted starting from the early 20th century.
This time, we want to introduce you to just some of the many women entrepreneurs of the jazz age.
Once crowned as the “undisputed leader” of American fashion by Life magazine, Hattie Carnegie had risen from a messenger girl to a true fashion maven.
Originally from Vienna, Hattie moved to New York in 1900, and only 9 years later established Carnegie Ladies Hatter with a seamstress, Rose Roth. Along with Rose’s help, Hattie learned the secrets of the fashion business from the ground up. After buying Rose out the business, Hattie moved on to specialize in the design of custom dresses.
What was special about Hattie’s clothes was not their design, but the way Hattie chose and refined the design of others. As early as 1920, only 11 years after establishing her first business, she was a well-established taste-maker and had a column in Vogue called “Vogue points from Hattie Carnegie.” Her business outlived her, closing in the 1970s when her style of both life and clothing was replaced by the younger designers of the 60s.
After leaving Canada and moving to Manhattan, Elizabeth Arden rose to become one of the most influential beauty industry makers. She learned her craft while briefly working at a pharmaceutical company, and then as a “treatment girl” for Eleanor Adair, one of the early beauty culturists.
She founded the Red Door in 1910, and from there, her rise to the top hardly ever slowed. After coming back from Paris with tinctures and rouges of her own design, she began expanding her business. It has never stopped growing since.
You can say that Elizabeth Arden was one of the first, if not the first, woman who understood the value of a good tutorial. Both in her salons and her marketing campaigns, she put great stress on teaching others how to use makeup, coordinate the colors of the face, and the importance of a good formula. She was also responsible for fixing makeup’s reputation from something suitable for prostitutes to something proper and appropriate for ladies.
You’d think that a woman who partnered with a gangster to open a club, and who once said “‘Get hot!’ is my slogan, to encourage bedlam and get the crowd wild,” would be a true jazz age flapper, a model of a party girl. Texas Guinan, in fact, didn’t drink. She was a woman with a mind for business, a former actress who saw an opportunity and was capable of snatching it up before it disappeared.
Her nightclub was one of Manhattan’s firsts, and even in the time of Prohibition, Texas Guinan’s speakeasies remained in operation.
None of us can ever experience the true speakeasy, however, the spirit of the jazz age is alive and well. At George’s, we take pride in New York’s rich history, and the atmosphere in our restaurant is that of an early 20th-century movie sets.