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Helena Rubinstein, Inc. - Lehman Brothers Collection

Helena Rubinstein, Inc.

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Helena Rubinstein (1870-1965), a cosmopolitan émigré who spent her youth in Poland and Australia, established a cosmetics dynasty based on her cold creams and spa treatments. Her company bore her name. Rubinstein was the eldest of eight daughters born to a merchant Jewish family in Krakow. While still a teenager, she opened her first salon in Melbourne, Australia, at the turn of the twentieth century.

Her success stemmed only partially from her cosmetics, which she developed in laboratories to suit women's varied skin types. Her innovation was to stress a specific beauty regimen, customized for individuals, with cosmetic application techniques, visits to salons, and a holistic approach to making women beautiful and attractive. Rubinstein also pioneered makeup for everyday wear, instead of only on the stage. Her glamorous appearance was itself an advertisement, since she advocated a lifestyle as well as a product. Indeed, in her autobiography she wrote, "There is no denying that the beauty business is made up of part theater, part glamour" (My Life for Beauty, 59).

Rubinstein expanded her operation to London in 1908 and subsequently opened salons throughout Australia, Europe, and North and South America. She enlisted her sisters to run her salons and business throughout the world.

Rubinstein designed beauty products to be used in planned regimens; she explained that this would maintain women's appearances and make them feel better about themselves. She developed treatments for skin and hair, for use in the bath or afterward, and for everyday and special-occasion use. Her first product, a cold cream called Crème Valaze, was soon followed by many others. Rubinstein worked on new products in her "kitchen," in truth an experimental laboratory. She employed an army of workers trained in administering beauty treatments, recommending makeup and products, and encouraging the clientele.

Rubinstein's appealing products and shrewd marketing brought success to her company. She mixed fantasy and practicality in her products, building on women's aspirations and treating their shortcomings. Rubinstein made her business personal in many ways, by stressing its family ownership and operation and by emphasizing her own personal appearance and life to her customers. Her marriage to Prince Artchil Gourielli, for example, added to her glamour and to her products' marketability. After Rubinstein's death in 1965, her company continued under family stewardship. Colgate purchased the company for $125 million in 1973. It was later acquired by L'Oréal.

Rubinstein wrote an autobiography, My Life for Beauty, in 1964. Other books analyze her beauty empire, notably Lindy Woodhead's War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden (2003) and Kathy Lee Peiss's Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1999).

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