For stylish ladies of a certain age, British company Stratton needs no introduction. In the powder heydays of the 1950s and 60s, Stratton was the most recognised and prolific of the world’s powder compact manufacturers.
I first discovered Stratton when, as a 15 year old vintage-addict, I saw an amazing compact in the vintage shop in my hometown. I always regretted not buying that compact, so when I started my own business I couldn’t wait to make up for lost time!
From Stratton Knitting Needles to 1930s Glamour
Stratton started out in 1860 as a knitting needle manufacturer, and marketed their first powder compacts in 1923. These early compacts were imported, part-finished from the USA, and given the less than glamorous name “Stratnoid” – the same brand as the company’s knitting needles!
By the early 1930s, the compacts became “Stratton”s, borrowing the name from the hero in a popular novel. I’d love to discover which novel… I imagine a Mr. Darcy type in a high period romance! The rebrand was a success and by the mid 30s, Stratton produced over half of all compacts used in the British cosmetics industry.
Wartime Struggles to a Must-Have Innovation
However, in 1940, disaster struck. Germany’s WWII blitz of Britain claimed four of the five Stratton factories. Production was forced to a halt. Manufacture resumed after the war, but British shortages meant that raw materials, particularly metals, were in short supply. Compacts of this time can even be found made from aircraft alloy.
Luckily, the arrival of the 1950s brought major success for Stratton. The booming love for cosmetics, particularly the powdered and polished Hollywood look, made compacts a must. Stratton introduced their now famous “self-opening lids”. These inner lids hold loose powder safely, and unclasp automatically as you open the compact. Patented in 1948, the innovation was designed to prevent chips in nail polish… and became a major selling point!
“Glamorizers” & “Convertible” powder compacts
By the 1960s, there were Stratton agents worldwide and the company thrived. Designs changed with trends in cosmetics – the growing popularity of cream (pressed) powder drove new patents, including a great sounding 1956 innovation for “Improvements relating to toilet powder boxes or compacts”. Very Mad Men! “Glamorizer” designs were marketed for pressed powder refills, “Convertibles” for both loose and pressed powders… And artists began to sign the tremendous range of lid designs produced.
But, sadly, you can guess the rest. The 1970s brought radical changes in makeup, and this time the look was au natural… a body blow for powder. Stratton acquired many of their struggling rivals, but failed to reposition quickly enough. By the early 1990s the once global company had become a niche manufacturer, and went on to be sold a number of times.
Rediscovering the Great British powder compact brand
I started Vanroe Powder Compacts as a new mum last year, restoring vintage powder compacts at my kitchen table. During my research on Stratton, I discovered that the company was still based in Birmingham, UK, and still manufacturing! Excitedly I placed an order, and was immediately blown away… I had to stock Stratton's new powder compacts on my site. I’m now lucky to have two sets of customers – those glamorous ladies and collectors of a certain age who have loved Stratton since the 1950s… and ladies like me rediscovering the brand for the first time!
You can now find new Stratton powder compacts and replacement Stratton powder sifters at my shop, Vanroe Compacts. You might also like my post on How to Refill your Vintage Powder Compact, or read more about powder compact collecting!
With thanks to…
Stratton expert, Juliette Edwards, head of the British Compact Collectors Society. Juliette’s book “Powder Compacts – A Collectors Guide” is a brilliant introduction.
This post was first written for Lydia's wonderful The Vintage Mama