Elizabeth Arden, Estée Lauder, Bobbi Brown, Trish McEvoy, Jo Malone, The Kardashians, Pat McGrath, Madame C.J. Walker….the list goes on…are all familiar, extremely successful, innovative women in the beauty business. Make-up, skin care 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 Rubenstein.
Today’s review is HELENA RUBENSTEIN, THE ADVENTURE OF BEAUTY, published by Flammarion. It is dividend into seven chapters, (each written by a different author, a brilliant concept), has a detailed biography, 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 real life and one 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 the beauty, not only of her clients, but of art, fashion, jewels and most importantly the beauty of wellbeing.
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 makes her own beauty cream copying one her mother gave her, she launches the cream in 1901 and it is an instant success. She follows this success with opening the first of her beauty salons.
I really enjoyed the detailed timelines at the beginning of the book and since my space is limited for this review, my focus is on the chapter Helena Rubenstein and Fashion.
Barely five feet tall she 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 stature belied what we think of as the ideal fashion figure. Her taste, style and self confidence made her thin and six feet tall. Her feeling for why she dressed to perfection “I have to look good for the business.”
No detail escaped her discerning eye and 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 hand written document in her archives…in my opinion, a masterwork and 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 Rubenstein’s joie de vivre and her entrepreneurial ambition. I highly recommend the book, fascinating, engaging and insightful.
Nena Ivon, nenasnotes, original review, February 2020, exclusively for The Fashion Map
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