Jane Ann Ford: Co-founder of Benefit Cosmetics known for creativity, business sense
Jane Ann Ford, who co-founded the global Benefit Cosmetics line with her identical twin sister, the late Jean Ford Danielson, died Dec. 1 at her Tiburon home after a long illness. She was 73.
The Ford sisters started their business on a shoestring by opening a small makeup store called The Face Place on San Francisco’s Mission Street in 1976 and built it up to a highly successful cosmetics company known for its creativity and attention to the beauty concerns of the proverbial “girl next door.”
The Face Place also became known for its whimsical packaging and product names — including Lemon Aid color-correcting eyelid primer, BADgal mascara and Dr. Feelgood complexion balm — and for a business motto that seemed to tilt at irony: “Laughter is the best cosmetic … so grin and wear it.”
In 1990, the Fords renamed the company Benefit Cosmetics and went national with a Benefit counter at the luxury store Henri Bendel in Manhattan and, in 1997, at the famed Harrod’s department store in London. They scored a big public-relations coup that year when Princess Diana made a surprise appearance.
The Fords sold Benefit in 1999 to luxury brands giant Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, retaining a minority stake. They sold back the rest of their interest in 2012 and exited the company, but Benefit continues to have counters in 2,000 stores in 30 countries, according to the company’s website.
Singer Kylie Minogue, actress Ashley Tisdale and Kim Kardashian number among the company’s regular customers, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
Benefit Cosmetics now has more than 5,200 stores, 2,500 brow bars and 85 boutiques in more than 50 countries. It reportedly grosses more than $500 million in sales every year, according to company-provided information. The brand remains headquartered in San Francisco’s Financial District.
In 2005, the Fords were awarded the Cosmetic Executive Women Achiever Award.
Their attention to detail, their desire to surprise and delight and their unmatched business savvy were responsible for their success, said Jean’s daughter Maggie Ford Danielson of San Francisco.
Jean-André Rougeot, chief executive officer of Benefit, who went on to head Sephora Americas, said in a 2019 Women’s Wear Daily story about the Ford sisters after Jean Ford died of cancer in 2019 that the Fords refused to give up. He said the sisters were very loyal to each other.
“It was probably the start of indie brands,” Bob Mettler, former chief executive officer of Macy’s West, said in the same story. “I’m a twin myself, and seeing the closeness and what they came up with, it’s kind of amazing. Many people may have not even, if they weren’t close enough, understood that through all of the fun and through all of the crazy names, etc., they were very smart business people.”
In a statement released through Ms. Ford’s family, Peter Born, beauty editor-at-large for Women’s Wear Daily, called Ms. Ford “a great and gracious soul.”
“Known for her keen business mind, she shared with her beloved sister and co-founder, Jean, a penchant for spontaneity, rule-breaking and a love of the dramatic,” Born said. “Jane had a heart full of creativity, and it was fearless.”
Born Aug. 7, 1947, Ms. Ford and her sister grew up on a farm in Indiana. They attended North Central High School and went on to Indiana University, where Jane earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1969. She and her sister were both members of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.
She and her sister were both more than 6 feet tall, dark-haired and beautiful. After college, they moved to New York City together to pursue careers in modeling. Two years later, they got their big break, landing a Calgon bath-beads campaign.
With the money from that advertising campaign, the sisters, then 29, packed up their old station wagon and drove to San Francisco. When they opened The Face Place in 1976, the timing was perfect, as a new generation of post-hippie young women embraced makeup.
One day in 1977, an exotic dancer called Rosie walked into the 455-square-foot store asking for something that would make the color of her nipples more pronounced, for the benefit of the customers at the back of the room where she performed her act.
Overnight, the Ford sisters worked on a concoction and came up with a stain tinted by boiled rose petals. It became the company’s first product, Benetint cheek and lip stain, and they went on from there.
Ms. Ford and her husband, Chris Petrin, had homes in Tiburon and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, and enjoyed entertaining friends and family at both.
“An unapologetic perfectionist, she surrounded herself with beauty and whimsy, always resulting in a magical experience for all,” Ford Danielson said.
“In her free time, she loved crafting, making these beautiful cards and custom envelopes,” Ford Danielson said. “Her aesthetic and her attention to detail were like nothing I’ve ever seen. Jane was particularly good at interior design. She was incredible at creating spaces that felt warm and welcoming and cozy.”
Ford Danielson said that, whereas her mother, Jean, was known for her creativity, her aunt had a keen business mind and was really good at facts and figures.
“Jane was really creative, but more in her personal life,” she said. She described her aunt’s sense of humor as dry and witty.
In addition to Petrin and Ford Danielson, Ms. Ford is survived by two brothers, Lee R. Ford III of Carmel, Ind., and Brad Ford of Innsbrook, Mo.; nieces Ann Ford Danielson, Alison Murnane, Kelly Fiore and Amy Pugh; and nephews Lee R. Ford IV and Brad Ford Jr.
Donations in her memory may be sent to MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas, P.O. Box 4486, Houston, TX 77210-4486.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.