The History of Merle Norman

Merle Norman herself

When Merle Nethercutt Norman moved from her humble Midwestern roots to sunny Southern California with her husband in the 1920s, she hardly would have imagined the cosmetics empire she would create…and the transformational effect she’d have on millions of women’s lives.

The birth of the brand

In the early 1900’s, Hollywood glamour became more desirable among average women, and with it, an interest in products that would help improve the look of their complexions.

With a background in medicine and chemistry, Merle set out to create her own skin-enhancing products. Using her kitchen as her first “laboratory,” she mixed ingredients in a large coffee pot to create the very basis of an innovative skin care line she called the “3 Steps to Beauty.” Thus was born Powder Base™, Cleansing Cream™, and Miracol®—the cornerstones of her fledgling business…which are still available in our Studios today.

The 1930's

She began sharing her products with family and friends, and demand grew. So with her typical grit and determination, Merle Norman opened her first Studio in Ocean Park in 1931, launching a brand and blazing a trail that would improve the lives of others.

Passionate to share

Merle Norman was always ahead of her time. By 1934 her enthusiastic converts began opening “Studios” of their own, first in Santa Barbara, then San Francisco. By the end of that year there were 94 independently owned Studios throughout the US, owned predominantly by women.

At a time when women’s work options were traditionally nurses, teachers or secretaries, Merle Norman was giving hundreds of women the opportunity to own their own business and transform their lives and the lives of their customers with Merle Norman Cosmetics.

Why a “Studio”

Merle Norman locations were much more than stores. They were built on providing 1 on 1 relationships between customers and Beauty Consultants whose mission was to offer personalized service to their customers…prescribing the right products with instruction on proper application to ensure customer satisfaction and ongoing success. The locations were called “Studios” as Merle Norman viewed them as places of learning.

“Try Before You Buy”

Merle was so passionate about her formulations that she knew if people had a chance to try her products, they’d become buying customers. Wherever she went, she took the opportunity to share samples with those she’d meet. And in her Studio, everyone who entered would be invited to try her products with a free makeup demonstration. Her famous “try before you buy” philosophy is echoed by many businesses today. And the free makeover is a core service that is still offered in every Merle Norman Studio.

The war years

In the 1940s during the war years, the company struggled with the many manufacturing limitations imposed by governmental controls over packaging materials. But as a deeply patriotic American, Merle Norman herself, along with her company, persevered, making whatever sacrifices were necessary to support the war efforts and the troops. The company continues its dedication to honor our veterans maintaining a wall of plaques at its headquarters bearing the names of every employee who has served in the Armed Forces and by offering special programs for Veterans who want to open their own Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio.

Mid century modern

By the 1950s, Merle Norman Cosmetics had outgrown the beautiful Art Deco Santa Monica building that housed the office and manufacturing facility. Just miles away in Westchester, CA was a bean field that gave Merle Norman Cosmetics more room to grow. A sparkling new facility opened in 1952 representing the sleek styling of the day. Today, Merle Norman Corporate Headquarters is in that same stunning mid-century modern facility, housing manufacturing, distribution, research, marketing and other staff. The products are researched and developed right on the premises, and the company continues to manufacture its products in the US, with very few exceptions.

Award-winning products

Many awards and recognitions followed, such as the prestigious “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for the “3 Steps to Beauty” in 1959…up to present day where top beauty editors recognize Merle Norman’s innovative formulas. Today, Merle Norman Cosmetics is home to a vast array of scientifically advanced skin care products, foundation shades and fashion-forward, trendsetting color products.

An American success story

Merle was joined early on by her nephew, J.B. Nethercutt. His expertise in chemistry was instrumental in helping the company blossom and grow. Merle Norman Cosmetics ran under his dedicated leadership until his passing in 2004.

Leadership Today

Merle Norman Cosmetics continues to remain a Nethercutt family-owned business. Merle Norman’s vision carries on under the guidance of her great nephew, J.B.’S son Jack Nethercutt, who leads the company comprised of over 1100 Merle Norman Cosmetic Studios in the US and Canada. He is committed to ensuring that Merle’s spirit and passion to make a difference in the lives of others lives on in our Studios through the products and transformative experiences women enjoy in our Studios everyday.