The British Compact

Legacy Matters

The Charles Mallory London chapter is written of, by, and for modern women. Nonetheless, every decision we make is inspired by our respect for the long legacy of movements in beauty, fashion and craftsmanship that have shaped compact mirrors throughout history. Read the whole story below.



The earliest Compacts were cherished possessions of the kings and queens of ancient Greece. The box mirrors of those days were polished bronze, lavishly adorned with images of Pan, Eros, and Aphrodite, gods of playful mischief, passionate desire, and a more true kind of love.

French powder advert, 1930.

Although our compacts are of and for the modern world, the carefully carefully curated selection of designs offered by Charles Mallory London stay true to those same timeless elements.

The first Powder Compacts were built in the French perfume houses in the time of Louis XIV, but the designs were quickly adapted and perfected by the superior British jewelers. Although the addition of powders made them more pragmatic, compacts would remain an extravagant novelty until the mid 19th century, when advances in metalwork and machining would bring them to the newly forming middle class.






The First Golden Age

Following the first Great War, production of makeup and cosmetics boomed. Women had carried the country on their shoulders while the men were at the front, securing for themselves new social freedoms and a sense of independence contrary to the stifling ideals of the past.

Women producing military supplies during WW2.

The shifting trends in fashion and beauty during the 1920’s and 30’s made it clear that women were moving out from under the patriarchy. Great Britain lead the worldwide boom in compact sale and production, and women armed themselves with a growing variety of ever more practical compacts to face this evolving world. This trend was put to a temporary but utter halt with the rise of the Third Riech and the devastation of WWII.

Lipstick factories were converted to assemble shell casings, and makeup companies shifted production to camouflage and foot powders to help the efforts on the continent. As in the U.S. British women provided the bulk of the labor during these difficult years. Unlike their allies safe across the Atlantic, however, those working in English factories did so under the mortal and perpetual danger posed by Luftwaffe bombs. Many of these ruined factories yet remain, living testaments to the indomitable will of British women to keep calm and carry on even as civilization seemed to be unraveling.

Marilyn Monroe, circa 1955.

With victory for the Allies came a new renaissance for fashion and women’s liberation. From the rubble of the old world women would build a society open to them in new and profound ways. They fearlessly proclaimed a new type of femininity, one founded upon independence, beauty and glamour.

Compact production resumed at full throttle during the 1950’s.  Blushed cheeks and red lipstick were all the rage as women aspired to the glamorous stars of the silver screen such as Marilyn Monroe and Joan Mansfield. Not bound to their husbands or fathers in the same way, the women of this era learned from their idols to take pride in being beautiful on their own terms.

In a few short decades, putting on one’s makeup had evolved from something obsequious, done in secrecy, into a proud and public expression of a women’s agency over her own life and circumstance.





Decline and New Renaissance

Since the 1970’s, rampant consumerism, mass production, and economies of scale lead to a precipitous decline in the quality and craftsmanship of compacts. The careful attention to detail and loving labor that went in to creating eminently dignified works of art had been replaced by industrialized and soulless assembly lines pumping out cheap, unremarkable plastic cases.

Whilst the compact is still an essential in every handbag, the over saturation of low-cost, mass production undercut small companies who had been hand crafting Compacts for decades. One by one these businesses were strangled, and the peerless craftsmanship, refined majesty, and attention to detail that had been synonymous with British design were lost, any mirror of remarkable quality relegated to antique stores, no more than a collectors curiosity – until now.


CML Today

Charles Mallory believes that a mirror should be as well put together as the woman it reflects: no expense is spared in creating our compacts. Ingeniously wrought from the highest quality brass and gold, our Compacts achieve a durability, consistency of quality, and dependability only possible with the combination of bespoke, hand done craftsmanship and  21st century machining. Properly cared for, a Charles Mallory London compact will be passed down for generations.

Catering to all tastes, our varied and expertly curated designs make finding the perfect gift for yourself and your loved ones an easy task. The richly hued and carefully applied artwork means that whether Powder or Dual Mirror, the face of each Charles Mallory London compact will shine for decades with the unassuming elegance and beauty that make our products truly without equal.

Masterfully designed and artfully crafted, Charles Mallory Compacts have reclaimed a place for classic British elegance in the modern woman’s handbag.