Helena Rubinstein (born Chaya Rubinstein, December 25, 1870 – April 1, 1965), a Polish-born American business magnate. A cosmetics entrepreneur she was the founder and eponym of company Helena Rubinstein, Incorporated, which made her one of the world's richest women.
Rubinstein was the eldest of eight daughters born to a Jewish couple, Augusta - Gitte (Gitel) Shaindel Rubinstein née Silberfeld and Horace - Naftoli Hertz Rubinstein; who was a shopkeeper in Kraków.
Rubinstein immigrated from
Poland and arrived in in 1902, with no money
and little English. Her stylish clothes and milky complexion did not pass
unnoticed among the town's ladies, however, and she soon found enthusiastic
buyers for the jars of beauty cream in her luggage. Spotting a market, she
began to make her own. Fortunately, a key ingredient was readily at hand. Australia
Victoria, where her uncle was a shopkeeper, might have been an
"awful place" but it did not lack of that ingredient. Sheep, some 75
million of them, were the wealth of the nation and the Western District's vast
mobs of merinos produced the finest wool in the land, secreting abundant
quantities of a grease, chemically known as lanolin, in the process. To
disguise this essential component of her product's pungent odour, Rubinstein
experimented with lavender, pine bark and water lilies.
She also managed to fall out with her uncle. After a stint as a bush governess, she got a job as a waitress at the Winter Garden tearooms in
There, she found an admirer willing to stump up the funds to launch her Crème
Valaze, supposedly including herbs imported "from the Melbourne Carpathian
Mountains". Costing ten pence and selling for six shillings,
it walked off the shelves as fast as she could pack it in pots. Now calling
herself Helena, Rubinstein could soon afford to open a salon in fashionable Collins Street,
selling glamour as a science to clients whose skin was "diagnosed"
and a suitable treatment "prescribed".
4 ft. 10 in. ( 147 cm), she rapidly
expanded her operation. In 1908, her sister Ceska assumed the Melbourne
shop's operation, when, with $100,000, Rubinstein moved to and began what was to become an
international enterprise. (Women at this time could not obtain bank loans, so
the money was her own.) London
In 1908, she married the Polish-born American journalist Edward William Titus in
. They had two sons, Roy Valentine
Titus (London, December 12, 1909–New York, June 18, 1989) and Horace Titus
(London, April 23, 1912–New York, May 18, 1958). They eventually moved to London where she opened a
salon in 1912. Her husband helped with writing the publicity and set up a small
publishing house, published Lady Chatterley's Lover and hired Samuel Putnam to
translate famous model Kiki's memoirs. Paris
Rubinstein threw lavish dinner parties and became known for apocryphal quips, such as when an intoxicated French ambassador expressed vitriol toward Edith Sitwell and her brother Sacheverell: "Vos ancêtres ont brûlé Jeanne d'Arc!" Rubinstein, who knew little French, asked a guest what the ambassador had said. "He said, 'Your ancestors burned Joan of Arc.'" Rubinstein replied, "Well, someone had to do it."
At another fête, Marcel Proust asked her what makeup a duchess might wear. She summarily dismissed him because "he smelt of mothballs." Rubinstein recollected later, "How was I to know he was going to be famous?"
At the outbreak of World War I, she and Titus moved to
where she opened a cosmetics salon in 1915, the forerunner of a chain
throughout the country. This was the beginning of her vicious rivalry with the
other great lady of the cosmetics industry, Elizabeth Arden. Both Rubinstein
and Arden, who died within 18 months of each other, were social climbers. And
they were both keenly aware of effective marketing and luxurious packaging, the
attraction of beauticians in neat uniforms, the value of celebrity
endorsements, the perceived value of overpricing and the promotion of the
pseudoscience of skincare. New York City
From 1917, Rubinstein took on the manufacturing and wholesale distribution of her products. The "Day of Beauty" in the various salons became a great success. The purported portrait of Rubinstein in her advertising was of a middle-age mannequin with a Gentile appearance.
In 1928, she sold the American business to Lehman Brothers for $7.3 million, ($88 million in 2007). After the arrival of the Great Depression, she bought back the nearly worthless stock for less than $1 million and eventually turned the shares into values of multimillion dollars, establishing salons and outlets in almost a dozen
Her subsequent spa at U.S. 715 Fifth
Avenue included a restaurant, a gymnasium and rugs
by painter Joan Miró. She commissioned artist Salvador Dalí to design a powder
compact as well a portrait of herself.
Freed of her former marriage vows, in 1938 Helena readily married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia (1895–1955), whose somewhat clouded materlineal claim to Georgian nobility, as that of Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia (sometimes spelled Courielli-Tchkonia; born in Georgia, February 18, 1895, died in New York City November 21, 1955), stemmed from his having been born a member of the untitled noble Tchkonia family of Guria, enticing the ambitious young man to appropriate the genuine title of his grandmother, born Princess Gourielli.
Self-styled Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia, was 23 years younger than Rubinstein. Eager for a regal title to call her own, Rubinstein pursued the handsome youth avidly; coming to name a male cosmetics line after her youthful prized catch. Some have claimed that the marriage was a marketing ploy, including Rubinstein's being able to pass herself off as Helena Princess Gourielli.
A multimillionaire of contrasts, Rubinstein took a bag lunch to work and was very frugal in many matters, but bought top-fashion clothing and valuable fine art and furniture. Concerning art, she founded the respectable Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv and in 1957 she established the Helena Rubinstein travelling art scholarship in
In 1953, she established the philanthropic Helena Rubinstein Foundation to provide funds to organizations specializing in health, medical research and rehabilitation as well as to the America Israel Cultural Foundation and scholarships to Israelis.
In 1959, Rubinstein represented the
U.S. cosmetics industry at the American National
Exhibition in . Moscow
A £300 annual Rubinstein Prize was awarded for portraits by Australian artists from 1958. Prizewinners included Frank Hodgkinson 1958; Charles Blackman 1960; William Boissevain 1961; Margaret Olley 1962; Vladas Meskenas 1963; Judy Cassab 1964, 1965; Jack Carington Smith 1966.
Called "Madame" by her employees, she eschewed idle chatter, continued to be active in the corporation throughout her life, even from her sick bed, and staffed the company with her relatives.
Mme. Rubinstein died April 1, 1965, and was buried in
Cemetery in Queens.
Some of her estate, including African and fine art, Lucite furniture, and
overwrought Victorian furniture upholstered in purple, was auctioned in 1966 at
the Park-Bernet Galleries in New York.
One of Rubinstein's numerous mantras was: "There are no ugly women, only lazy ones."
A scholarly study of her exclusive beauty salons and how they blurred and influenced the conceptual boundaries at the time among fashion, art galleries, the domestic interior and versions of modernism is explored by Marie J. Clifford (Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 38). A feature-length documentary film, The Powder and the Glory (2009) by Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman, details the rivalry between Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden.
Her methodology has been described thus:
She was "the first self-made female millionaire, an accomplishment she owed primarily to publicity savvy. She knew how to advertise—using 'fear copy with a bit of blah-blah'—and introduced the concept of 'problem' skin types. She also pioneered the use of pseudoscience in marketing, donning a lab coat in many advertisements, despite the fact that her only training had been a two-month tour of European skin-care facilities. She knew how to manipulate consumers' status anxiety, as well: If a product faltered initially, she would hike the price to raise the perceived value."
In 1973, the company Helena Rubinstein, Inc. was sold to Colgate Palmolive, and is now owned by L'Oréal.
'Helena Rubinstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty', by Michèle Fitoussi - review
BOOKS 0 Comments Nicky Haslam 13 April 2013 / http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/8883751/park-avenue-princess/
Helena Rubinstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty Michèle Fitoussi
Gallic Books, pp.497, £8.99, ISBN: 9780730496502
My unique encounter with the woman Cocteau called — not, given her machinations, without a touch of irony — the ‘Byzantine Empress of Beauty’, encapsulated her self-made aura: her battle against blemishes, her extravagant style, canny acumen and her famously brusque manner.
The friend I’d been meeting was a tall, elegant and extremely witty Irishman named Patrick O’Higgins. To say he ‘worked’ for this monstre maquillée is not the half of it. He walked her, arranged her contracts, travelled the world with her, was the shoulder she cried on, made amends for her manners, held the heavily jewelled hand when husbands and sons died. And he wrote an amusing, touching, critical but finally sympathetic book, simply titled Madame, about his many years with Helena Rubinstein.
Michèle Fitoussi’s biography of the same subject puts much factual flesh on Madame’s funny-bones. It is credibly researched, fairly accurate, without too many invented conversations and written in powder-pink, though somewhat cliché-ridden, prose. Exclamation marks dot paragraphs like beauty-spots, and there are more ‘such as’s followed by lists of long-forgotten rivals than you can shake a lipstick at.