|Madame Helena Rubinstein|
Helena Rubinstein (1870-1965) was a revolutionary force in the world of beauty. She was an entrepreneur, a businesswoman, and a marketing genius. During a long and successful career that spanned six decades and made her one of the richest women in the world, Rubinstein operated salons all over the world and launched scores of products that were sold globally. She was a magnificent purveyor of the idea that all women can find personal satisfaction through the pursuit of beauty.
|"A Pretty Complexion" Ad in 1913 La Petite Illustration|
In 1915, Rubinstein opened her first New York salon, the "Maison de Beaute Valaze" at 15 E. 49th Street, and soon, she was the talk of the town. Vogue magazine, in particular, could not get enough of this amazing woman whom everyone called, "Madame."
While Rubinstein would own five homes around the world, and would always have a special place in her heart for Paris, she made a significant impact on New York City. From a first apartment on West End Avenue to a Central Park West flat in the 1930s, Rubinstein eventually moved to the East side, and settled in on Park Avenue. (First at 895 Park Avenue and later 625 Park Avenue. She also had a private residence above her Fifth Avenue Salon.)
|Madame and the Prince: New York Digs, 1941|
|A Vision of Beauty: Rubinstein's Residence (above her salon at 715 Fifth) MCNY, see more here|
|Rubinstein's Park on Park Avenue: A Royal Garden|
|1928 Compact by Dali|
|Organizing the Beautiful: Rubinstein and Her Jewelry|
Here the term "small-scale" is applicable to Rubinstein's love of ordering and decorating spaces (whether that space be an apartment or a female face). Along with all of her other collections, she also collected miniatures and crafted spectacular rooms of various styles. (The rooms are now housed in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, see a slideshow here.)
|A Rubinstein Miniature: Queen Anne Dining Room|
|A Careful Arrangement: Rubinstein and the Miniature|
Rubinstein's approach was different from others in the beauty industry at the time. She herself was out in the world seeing what it had to offer. She was a stylish globetrotter, part scientist, part artist. And she used the image of herself as a modern woman squarely within her product line and approach. (She was famous for posing for portraits and, especially in the first decades of her business, she usually used self portraits to advertise her product, hence connecting her very own "image" with the items she sold.)
|1920 Ad, with a likeness of Madame|
|A Mecca in New York City|
"Visit her now," read an ad in a 1916 issue of Harper's Bazaar, "or write her. . . to free yourself from the freckles, the sunburn, the hateful sallowness--the fine lines and the coarse wrinkles, the black heads and open pores,--let her tell you how that coarseness of skin may be made delicate and fine, and the sweetness and fascination of purity and color be made once more your own."
The idea of making beauty "one's own" was a powerful elixir in an American culture on the verge of liberating women, not only by granting women suffrage in 1920, but by opening up the possibility that a woman could take control of her own life. As a woman in business, in charge of her own empire, Madame Rubinstein indeed epitomized what she was selling.
|Storefront for Beauty: 715 Fifth Avenue|
In 1937, she would move her salon to 655 Fifth Avenue, and later, to 715 Fifth Avenue (where she maintained a private residence on the upper floors). It was that "sleek little salon in New York," Life Magazine reported in July 1941, that would serve as "the capital of the worldwide beauty business."
|A Clean Well-Lighted Place: The Fifth Avenue Salon|
"Behind its slick facade," Life Magazine continued, "the Fifth Avenue salon is a super-garage and repair shop for feminine faces and bodies. Here, in the Rubinstein 'Day of Beauty,' ladies are stretched, exercised, rubbed, scrubbed, wrapped in hot blankets, bathed in infra-red rays, massaged dry and massaged under water, and bathed in milk--all before lunch."
|Repair Room: Beauty is Efficient|
|Keep Your Powder Dry: NYC Class for Salesgirls at Rubinstein's Salon|
|A Laboratory of Beauty: Madame's Elixers|
|Small & Delicate: "Heaven Sent," 1941|
|I'll take it! Compact & Lipstick, c. 1930|
|Four-Cast for Beauty, 1940s|
|"Apple Blossom Time, Jewelled Perfumette," 1938, with Carrying Case|
Making a gift to oneself was a central theme of Rubinstein's philosophy. To pamper and primp and to care for and cultivate one's own appearance was, to Rubinstein, an act of artistry. And in her careful arrangement of the rooms she inhabited, in her collections and arrangements of things in space, Rubinstein viewed the world as a thing to be ordered. The face, the body were both "canvases" upon which cosmetics could be applied, turning a blank surface into a work of art.
|Face time: Rubinstein Demonstrates her Artistic Skills|
|Confronting the World: The Product's Promise|
What Rubinstein offered was clearly what many women wanted. The range of her career--from the 1910s to the 1960s--spanned a time of major changes in the status of women in terms of economics, politics, social boundaries and much more; Her salon was a refuge; her products a gift. Now, women could face that changing world with a sense of control.
|Madame at Work: She retired at age 90|
As she oversaw the success and expansion of her business throughout the years, she must have marveled at the changes witnessed. After all, once upon a time, women did not vote; they did not dine out by themselves; they did not run multi million dollar enterprises, and they did not, heaven forbid, paint their faces.
Helena Rubinstein was just one voice that extolled women to think differently. She may have lived for many decades in New York City, but she truly was a woman of the world.
|Madame: A Woman of the World ( Library of Congress)|