Helena Rubenstein C.1930. with African Mask.
Born in Poland, Helena Rubinstein (born Chaja Rubinstein, December 25) emigrated from Poland to Australia in 1902.
Helena Rubenstein was born in this house in Krakow, Poland.
‘Chaja’ Rubinstein arrived with no money and little English but her stylish clothes and milky complexion were her greatest selling feature. She brought with her from Europe jars of beauty cream for which she soon found enthusiastic buyers. Spotting a market, Rubenstein began to make her own. Fortunately, the key ingredient ‘Lanolin’ was readily at hand.
To disguise the pungent odour of her product’s essential component, Rubinstein experimented with lavender, pine bark and water lilies. She lived with her uncle in Victoria where an abundance of sheep and their product ‘lanolin’ could be had. However, that didn’t last long. The strong willed Rubenstein had a falling out with her uncle and was forced to take odd jobs as a bush governess, and a job as a waitress at the Winter Garden tearooms in Melbourne. There, she found an admirer willing to back her with the funds to launch her newly created product ‘Crème Valaze’, supposedly including herbs imported “from the Carpathian Mountains”.
Rubenstein’s Creme Valaze flew off the shelves.
Costing ten pence (20cents)and selling for six shillings ($1.50), 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”.
Helena Rubinstein diagnosed her clients’ skin and prescribed products.
Sydney was next, and within five years Australian operations were profitable enough to finance a ‘Salon de Beauté Valaze’ in London. As such, Rubinstein formed one of the world’s first cosmetic companies. Diminutive at 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 London and began what was to become an international enterprise. (Women at this time could not obtain bank loans, so the money was her own.)
Helena Rubenstein in her salon in London. C.1900.
In 1908, she married the Polish-born American journalist Edward William Titus in London. 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 Paris 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.
Kiki Montparnasse….famous model of her time.
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 New York City, where she opened a cosmetics salon in 1915, the forerunner of a chain throughout the country.
Helena Rubenstein and her husband Titus.
This was the beginning of her vicious rivalry with the other great lady of the cosmetics industry, Elizabeth Arden were both social climbers and 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.
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 actually that of a middle-age model with an elegant 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 U.S. cities. Her subsequent spa at 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.
Helena Rubenstein’s portrait by Salvador Dali placed on a pendant as a gift for her importance clients.
Rubenstein divorced Titus in 1938, and the social climbing Helena readily married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia (23 years younger than her). Prince Artchil, whose somewhat clouded materlineal claim to Georgian nobility, stemmed from his having been born a member of the untitled noble Tchkonia family of Guria. Rubenstein urged the ambitious young man to appropriate the genuine title of his grandmother, born Princess Gourielli to which he became the self styled Prince Artchil. Artchil’s marriage to Rubenstein was claimed was a marketing ploy, including Rubinstein’s being able to pass herself off now as ‘Helena Princess Gourielli’.
The ‘supposed’ Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia married Helena who became a ‘Princess’
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 Australia.
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.
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.
Brandishing the slogan “Beauty is Power,” she succeeded as few others had in the male-dominated business world of the early 20th century, especially as a Jewish woman from Central Europe establishing herself in the world’s fashion capitals. She also happened to have very good taste in art, and her adventurous spirit gravitated to the avant-garde.
Helena Rubenstein in her portrait gallery of herself.
Works from her collection include works by Picasso, Matisse, Léger, Miró, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Leonor Fini, and Andy Warhol, a testament to her understanding of the advanced art of her day. Rubinstein was a longtime friend of Dalí, who she commissioned to decorate her various apartments in Paris, London, and New York. With Picasso, she shared a love of African art, and became something of an expert in the field. One memorable display in the show features her extensive collection of marble sculptures by Elie Nadelman juxtaposed with some of her prized African wood carvings.
Helena Rubinstein by Pablo Picasso. C.1955
Far ahead of her time, Rubinstein, whose employees and friends alike referred to as “Madame,” explored the concept of branding her own image to help promote her cosmetics business. She was not a beautiful woman in conventional terms, but her sense of fashion and glamour come across in the many portraits of herself she commissioned. Outstanding here are paintings by Marie Laurencin, Christian Bérard, and especially a large, resplendent 1957 canvas by Graham Sutherland, one of the best examples of the British artist’s portraiture.
Helena Rubenstein by acclaimed artist Graham Sutherland who also painted such historical figures as Winston Churchill
Mme. Rubinstein died April 1, 1965, and was buried in Mount Olivet 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.
Helena Rubenstein in her famous lighted ‘Lucite Bed’
One of Rubinstein’s numerous mantras was: “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” 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.
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. The shrewd, successful, Chaja Rubenstein was a woman who started from nothing and became one of the greatest businesswomen of all time.
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