This post has been in the making for literally years. I finally conceded that I couldn't find a complete history of either Benefit's Glamourette compact, released in 2002, or the vintage compact it was based on, House of Platé's Trio-ette (ca. 1944-1947). But I did turn up a few nuggets of information, so figured I'd share the little bit that was readily available.
The House of Platé company was established in 1944 by Robert T. Plate in Detroit. From what I was able to piece together from various archives, it seems Plate was born in 1897 in Lima, Ohio and received a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1923. Specializing in automobile design, his first job was draftsman for the Willys-Overland Company in Toledo. Beginning in 1932 Plate worked for General Motors, and in 1938 he was doing business as the Plate Manufacturing Company. In 1945 he trademarked the Trio-ette compact under Curly Lox Products. The biggest mystery for me is why Plate decided to market cosmetics. I'm assuming it was a side hustle to earn a little extra cash, or maybe he thought he could become the next Max Factor. (As a side note, Plate moved quite frequently throughout his life, bouncing around from Ohio to Michigan to New York to LA...if it's the same Robert T. Plate, I'm not sure whether he was trying to help his business take off across the country or moving for engineering jobs.)
The design of the compact was based on a "quaint Victorian rose cameo hand mirror" according to one ad. This one is reproduced in Roselyn Gerson's book Vintage and Vogue Ladies' Compacts (2nd edition).
It's really fascinating to see how a mechanical engineer who designed cars approached makeup. Compacts with powder, rouge and lipstick had existed for years, but few had the novelty and charm of the Trio-ette's design. (However, one can definitely tell an engineer also thought of the rather unimaginative House of Platé name. I guess Plate thought adding an accent over the "e" would make it sound vaguely French and therefore instantly appealing.) I'm so disappointed that I wasn't able to find patent drawings despite having the serial number. But maybe the trademark is different than patenting the actual design.
The name on the handle is such a sweet little detail.
(image from archive.org)
As the Trio-ette was conceived and launched during WWII, it was made of plastic, specifically tenite, instead of metal. Tenite apparently is the trade name for a cellulosic plastic created by Eastman Chemicals in 1929. (I wish I knew the difference between tenite, bakelite, and celluloid. Alas, I have no clue.) The Trio-ette was also refillable. This snippet from Drug and Cosmetic Industry shows the refill kit, but the really interesting thing about this blurb is that the journal was not falling for the Trio-ette's hype, claiming it was nothing more than a "gadget" and citing the more "streamlined" designs from established big-name brands. It's true: companies had been making triple compacts for a good 20 years by that point.
(image from archive.org)
Whether it was a novelty or a truly handy compact to carry, the Trio-ette seemed popular, or at least, it was readily available across the entire country in department stores as well as drugstores. Plate, though not a businessman by trade, understood the importance of advertising. In late 1945 he hired NY-based firm Norman D. Waters and Associates to oversee a national campaign they would launch early the following year. The Trio-ette allegedly reduced "bag fumbling" and "makeup fatigue".
As with lipstick mirrors, it was considered a social faux pas to be digging through one's purse to look for your makeup, mostly because it was a potential inconvenience for men. Ladies, with the Trio-ette he won't mind waiting for you to touch up since it won't take long at all - all your makeup is in one place so you won't waste his time searching for it. *eyeroll* These ads certainly paint a picture of gender norms, don't they?
There were other products from House of Platé, including a double-ended lipstick called the Duo-ette and the Vista, a lipstick with a built-in mirror (again, you can see my post on those.)
The Trio-ette came in a variety of colors as well as black ones with a pink rose or a rhinestone border. According to collector's guides, the most valuable colors are blue, pink and green. Personally, while I love all the shades, my most-wanted would be the rhinestone version followed by the green and mock tortoiseshell.
(image from pinterest)
(image from etsy.com)
The Trio-ette was quite short-lived. I'm not sure why exactly; it could be that Plate had run into a trademark issue with Curly Lox, or maybe after the war a return to metal compacts was all the rage and plastic fell out of favor. Or it could also be that a copycat was released around the same time. In the UK, a company named Jason released a nearly identical compact in late 1947. The only difference I can see besides the name is that the front of the compact is plain instead of bearing a sculpted rose.
(image from antiquesatlas.com)
According to the British Compact Collectors Society, the Jason Trio-ette was also known as a "three-in-one" and available in blue, green, ivory, black and tortoiseshell and could be ordered by mail from Targett Tools Ltd., London. It's not clear what, or even if, there was a relationship between House of Platé and Jason.
What's undeniable is the impact the Trio-ette had on future compact designs for the bigger brands. Volupté launched a compact with powder, lipstick handle and outer mirror in 1951 within its Demitasse line, and by 1953 it was advertised as the "Lollipop".
(images from etsyc.com)
Around 1952 Coty launched its Parisienne vanity, similar to the Volupté Lollipop, but with no mirror on the outside of the compact.
(images from etsy.com)
Perhaps another reason for the Trio-ette's brevity was simply that Plate couldn't compete with the more well-known brands, who in addition to name recognition, also had a far bigger advantage in terms of marketing savvy. Coty's Parisienne, for example, was somewhat misleadingly advertised as a "4-in-1" even though it actually only contained two products - the mirror and puff were considered the 3rd and 4th items. While some ads describe the design as a miniature hand mirror just like the Trio-ette, some others claim the Parisienne to be a "replica of a Cartier-designed original," which sounds way fancier than a Victorian hand mirror. Maybe if Plate had hired an agency with sneakier copy writers to advertise the compact differently, it might have had some longevity. As I noted earlier, he was educated as a mechanical engineer and not a businessman, so navigating the world of ad agencies and cosmetics marketing was a tricky prospect.
Anyway, House of Platé dropped the accent over the "e" and inexplicably shifted to making plastic toys by mid-1948, which continued through 1951.
(image from archive.org)
Unfortunately Plate was no longer running a legitimate business at that point. According to a 1951 FTC ruling, essentially the House of Plate was mailing people products they did not order and then demanding payment. It's a common scam that persists today in the form of "free trials" of various products. (A few years ago my own mother was the victim of one of these schemes in the form of a trying out a "free" face cream she was sent.) In 1951 the company was officially dissolved. Plate passed away on December 10, 1966 in Athens, Greece.
Now let's investigate Benefit's Glamourette. First, a little background. Founded as a San Francisco boutique called The Face Place by twin sisters Jane and Jean Ford in 1976, the company was renamed to Benefit in 1990 and launched at Henri Bendel in 1991. The cheeky names and retro vibe quickly made their products best-sellers across the country. In 1997 Benefit made its international debut and was acquired by LMVH in 1999. Using vintage mannequins as their mascots and creating packaging inspired by everything from '20s face powders to '70s lip glosses, Benefit was widely recognized as a fun brand that lightheartedly saluted beauty products of yesteryear.
(images from archive.vogue.com)
The company had firmly established its playful kitschy take on cosmetics by the early 2000s, but why they decided to draw on the Trio-ette specifically is unclear. None of their other products seemed to be literal remakes of a particular piece of makeup from earlier times. As with the Trio-ette, I wish I could hunt down the patent drawings for their version of the compact. I also wish I could find anyone who worked for Benefit during that time and see if they have any inside information as to what inspired the company to update the Trio-ette. We know that the Ford sisters were vintage collectors, so maybe one of them came across a Trio-ette and thought it was the perfect compact to use in their line, but why?
Let's compare the Glamourette with the Trio-ette. I would have done a smackdown because they are nearly identical but pitting a spry 20-year-old against a 70+ relic didn't seem like a fair fight. Obviously the formulas for the makeup itself were updated with newer ingredients.
The lace pattern on the inside of the lid is a nice nod to the pink floral pattern that appears on the insert included with the Trio-ette.
Instead of a rose on the lid Benefit used an abstract squiggle design. Also, I don't think the Glamourette was offered in other colors; to my knowledge, only black plastic was available.
The lipstick mechanism appears to be the same between the two compacts, but Divine's rosy brown hue is unmistakably '90s/early 2000s. Instead of the company's name on the cap there's a sticker saying "lipstick". I would have strongly preferred Benefit's name rather than a totally unnecessary sticker. I know people are dumb but it's pretty obvious it's lipstick...no need for a sticker.
Interestingly, the powder and blush are reversed from the Trio-ette, i.e. the blush is on the inner part of the compact and the powder is on the outer side. You could also swap out the powder for Fancy Lady cream highlighter.
The shade range for the face products had not improved since the 1940s. In fact, I suspect the Glamourette's was even worse. I'm not 100% sure, but it's my understanding from reviews that Fancy Lady didn't come in any other shades besides a pale ivory/champagne. And while I can't make out this tiny photo, it looks like Fascinating Finish powder, appallingly, also only came in one very light shade.* I know it was 2002, but I was pretty into makeup by then and I distinctly remember just about every line having at least 3 options for face powders and tinted moisturizers by then: light, medium and dark. It's absolutely inexcusable that Benefit didn't offer the bare minimum for face powder shades in the Glamourette compact.
(image from amazon)
Getting back to comparing the two, unlike the Trio-ette, the Glamourette came with a wristlet that could be used as a storage pouch. It's a very sheer piece of organza that I don't think would have been too helpful in terms of preventing wear and tear, but interesting to note.
Obviously the advertising for the Glamourette was similar to its 1940s counterpart. Both touted ease of use, refillable products and chic, vintage-inspired packaging. Bag fumbling was still presented as a tedious time waster for the new millennium's busy modern woman. Perhaps as a sort of snooty counterpoint to the golden age of trashy reality TV and super glossy, frosty makeup finishes that appealed more to teens than adults, the Glamourette was also described as "discreet" and something a "real lady" would carry, whatever that means.
The Glamourette was generally well-received. There are a few reviews on Makeupalley gushing over its cuteness and convenience while acknowledging it was a gimmick. One reviewer mentioned she would pass it on to her 11 year-old daughter in a few years, so Benefit helped rekindle the notion of makeup as a keepsake. While most MUA'ers felt the amount of product was a bit stingy for the price point, overall they loved the style and found the compact practical for a night out. Several reviews also pointed out the similarity to the black plastic packaging of Anna Sui's line.
Speaking of product amounts, I don't have the exact numbers for the Trio-ette, but if they were the same as the Glamourette, the latter was actually a better deal. The Trio-ette retailed for $5.50 in 1946, and according to an inflation calculator it would have cost about $51 in 2002 when the Glamourette was being sold. Glamourette's retail was $38 ($55 CAD and £32.50 in the UK). I also find it amusing that the reviews commented on how streamlined and tiny the compact was when Glamourette is actually a smidge larger than the Trio-ette, which was described as "bulky" in the Drug and Cosmetic Industry article. As we know, makeup packaging gradually got bigger over the years, so the Glamourette demonstrates how both design and consumer expectations changed.
Despite the amount of press and good reviews, the Glamourette was a limited edition item that did not return to the market after its brief two-year stint. Even against the backdrop of '90s/early aughts' nostalgia for mid-century styles (see also Too-Faced's Quickie Chronicles) maybe the Glamourette was too retro for most customers. I know when I laid eyes on it I thought it was cute but overly vintage-looking for my taste. It could also have been the type of products included. While there absolutely was and will always be a demand among those sticking to simple polished looks and makeup classics in neutral tones, in the early 2000s traditional lipstick, face powder and blush weren't the most wanted product categories among the younger crowd. Says one Makeupalley reviewer, "It has powder and blush which I never use to touch-up, so I'd never carry this with me. And it also has lipstick, and I'm not a fan of lipstick. If they replaced it with concealer, bronzer, and lipgloss, I'd sell my soul for it!!" Perhaps a tiny sifter of body glitter may also have been more palatable for a Y2k audience. Finally, the lack of shades for anyone whose skin was deeper than mayonnaise obviously eliminated a good portion of the market.
I still can't wrap my head around why Benefit chose this exact compact. I'm just spitballing here, but maybe it's precisely because House of Platé wasn't a well-known brand that's still sold today. Perhaps Benefit didn't want to risk running into copyright issues that may have occurred if they chose to release an updated version of, say, Revlon's Futurama cases. The patents for those designs may have expired, but the companies are still around and significantly larger than Benefit was - although it was owned by LMVH by that point, Benefit's rivals had the potential to take legal action if the company tried to update an iconic product from their archives.
Even though there's a 55 year age gap between the Trio-ette and the Glamourette, their advertising and reception were remarkably similar. So much had changed between 1947 and 2002, yet the design appealed to totally different audiences. As Drug and Cosmetic Industry noted with the Trio-ette, people love a novelty product even if the underlying concept - in this instance, having three makeup products in one attention-getting case - has been done before. It got me thinking about how a third iteration of the compact would be marketed and received today. The small sizes and refills would be attractive to today's makeup consumers, but the compact would have to be made out of sustainable packaging; plastic won't play well. Maybe the products could be even smaller to make space for brushes rather than puffs. There would probably have to be some kind of emphasis on "wellness" and "self-care" or at the very least, "clean" (sigh), vegan and ethically-sourced ingredients. Most importantly, the shades would need to accommodate all skintones. One parting thought: I'd also be curious to see what would happen if a company released it not today but 55 years after the Glamourette. I wonder how makeup customers in 2057 would react.
What do you think of the designs of these compacts? Do you have a preference for one or the other? And do you like having your makeup all in one place? I could see using something like this for touch-ups, but it would still fall short. Until a product is developed that combines concealer, powder, blotting sheets and lip color all in one, I'm destined to dig around in my bag.
*There was an article in Global Cosmetic Industry from 2002 that lists the following colors for Glamourette blush and lipstick refills. It doesn't make any mention of multiple shades being available for the highlighter and powder. "Rouges in Divine, Fickle and Coy, Fascinating Finish Translucent Powder and Fancy Lady Highlighting Creme are priced at $11.00 each. The line offers Lip shades priced at $9.00 each in Keen (champagne pearl), Vain (vibrant red), Divine (rich plum), Swell (dusty rose), Prim (pink-cocoa pearl), and Coy (mocha apricot) varieties." I cannot for the life of me locate the article now but I know it existed!