Helena Rubinstein, a female pioneer in the cosmetics industry, made her reputation based on face creams. Rubinstein’s glamorous public persona and her own natural complexion were her best advertising for women’s beauty routines. Like her rival, Elizabeth Arden, she became known as a groundbreaking cosmetics entrepreneur, philanthropist, and prominent international businesswoman.
Early Years and Immigration
Born the eldest of eight children to a Jewish family in Cracow, Poland, Rubinstein studied medicine for a short time before immigrating to Australia sometime in the 1890s. Working as a governess and possibly a waitress, Rubinstein sold face creams made by her family’s friend, Jacob Lykusky. Rubinstein opened her own beauty salon in Melbourne around 1900, and she was shortly thereafter joined by her sisters Ceska and Manka. With a $100,000 stake, Rubinstein traveled to London where she met and married her first husband, American journalist Edward Titus. She opened a shop in Paris in 1912, but at the beginning of World War I she and her family immigrated to New York City, where Rubinstein opened a Fifth Avenue beauty salon. Shortly thereafter, her skin care products were selling in department stores across the country.
Beauty and Professional Philosophy
The Rubinstein reputation was built on skin care products, specifically face cream. Rubinstein’s promotion of the beauty routine took the Puritan work ethic and adapted it to the beauty industry, but especially toward the regularity of individuals’ beauty routines, centered on the use of the triad: cold cream, astringents, and moisturizers. Like her rival grande dame, Arden, Rubinstein pushed the beauty culture into high-volume sales and high-end advertising. Much of Rubinstein’s success was to be found in her salon personnel’s personal touch. This effort was directed at luring middle-class customers into the use of specialty cosmetics. She also helped develop the 1920s view of the New Woman, specifically, the beauty specialist as a professional. Rubinstein herself became a model for the new sophisticated and independent woman.
Later Years and Legacy
In 1928, Rubinstein sold her American interests to Lehman Brothers and then bought the company back after the stock market crash in 1929. Rubinstein divorced Titus in 1938 and married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia, lending an additional European, aristocratic element to her image. Her personal migrations from Poland to Australia, London, Paris, and New York City, gave Rubinstein a truly international background. Other immigrant or working-class women could aspire to these heights of success. Rubinstein maintained control of her extensive business interests through direct involvement and family members until her death in 1965.
However, the later period in Rubinstein’s life involved a shift in focus to include a growing reputation as an art collector and patron and supporter of Israel. As an art patron, her collection illustrated her eclectic tastes; African sculpture, Oceanic and Oriental art, Egyptian, as well as modern paintings are a prominent legacy of her artistic eye. Because she believed that education was an important avenue for career development, especially for women, she focused many of her philanthropic efforts in areas that encouraged young women to pursue higher education and nontraditional careers. The Helena Rubinstein Foundation was created in 1953 and supports education, the arts, and special programs for women. The foundation also continues Rubinstein’s commitment to the welfare of Israel through cultural programs and scholarships. L’Oréal bought Helena Rubinstein’s rights in 1988 and relaunched the company in the United States in 1996.