BY: NENA IVON
Estée Lauder, Bobbi Brown, Trish McEvoy, Jo Malone, the Kardashians, Pat McGrath....the list goes on...are all familiar, extremely successful, innovative women in the beauty business. Make-up, skincare, and well-being have been with us through the centuries and are multi-billion dollar contributors to the international economy. That being said, if we look back to the early twentieth century, we would find a mostly male-dominated industry until two women changed all that...Elizabeth Arden and today’s subject, Helena Rubinstein.
This month’s book is HELENA RUBINSTEIN, THE ADVENTURE OF BEAUTY, published by Flammarion. It is divided into seven chapters (each written by a different author, a brilliant concept), has a detailed biography, a list of exhibition works, and a bibliography along with a magnificent collection of photographs, many published for the first time. Is it a scholarly book, yes, but it reads like the best of fiction...that being a life that was well-lived. I must admit I don’t do negative reviews primarily because I don’t finish a book if it isn’t interesting to me. This one fills all my requirements for a successful book.
It gives us an extraordinary in-depth look at a self-made person who believed in beauty. Rubinstein believed not only in the beauty of her clients, but of art, fashion, jewels, and, most importantly, the beauty of well-being.
Born in 1872 in Krakow, Poland, the cosmetic titan, art patron, fashionista died in 1965 in New York City (she was buried in Yves Saint Laurent Couture). She immigrated to Australia in 1896 and made her own beauty cream by copying one her mother gave her. She launched the cream in 1901, and it was an instant success. She followed this success by opening the first of her beauty salons.
I enjoyed the detailed timelines at the beginning of the book. For this review, my focus is on the chapter Helena Rubinstein and Fashion. Barely five feet tall, Rubinstein wore Couture, first from Worth, Jacques Doucet, and Paul Poiret to Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and, of course, Chanel and Schiaparelli...all of whom she befriended. Her taste, style, and self-confidence transformed her presence into a towering and svelte force. Her feeling for why she dressed to perfection, “I have to look good for the business.”
Her feeling for why she dressed to perfection, “I have to look good for the business.”
No detail escaped her discerning eye. She collected Couture the same way she collected jewelry, usually large pieces, art, and homes. Only the best would do.
Included in this chapter is a piece entitled “Why I Love Jewels,” a handwritten document in her archives...in my opinion, a masterwork. I quote the last line, “Yes, jewels are indeed a girl’s best friend, not, necessarily because of their value — which helps — but because they lend the ‘just right’ note to a woman’s femininity and individuality.”
One has to admire Rubinstein’s joie de vivre and her entrepreneurial ambition. I highly recommend the book - fascinating, engaging, and insightful.
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