Helena Rubinstein, Inc.
Helena Rubinstein's name was synonymous with women's beauty products worldwide, during the early twentieth century. Starting out with only a few pots of face cream, a little formal education, and high ambitions she built one of the world's first businesses which mass-produced cosmetics.
Helena Rubinstein was born in Kracow, Poland in 1870. She was the oldest of the eight daughters born to Horace and Augusta Rubinstein, a Jewish couple. Every evening the Rubinstein girls underwent a beauty ritual, at the end of which their mother applied a cream to their faces, telling them it would make them beautiful. While Helena was attending academic high school in Kracow, her business instincts awoke. She began to keep the books for her father, an egg merchant, discussed his plans with him, and made her first "good deal" when she went to a business meeting for him. As her father wished, Helena entered medical school at the University of Cracow. She loved laboratory research, but hated being around sick people.
When she was twenty, Helena left home in Kracow to live with her uncle Louis in Melbourne, Australia. It was there that the very successful career of the woman with straight black hair, pulled back severely into a knot, began. Once Helena became rich, she always wore masses of jewelry in public—especially rubies with ruby red lipstick and nail polish to match them—but she carried her lunch in a brown paper bag. She never followed the beauty routines which she recommended for her wealthy clientele; she was always too busy working.
In 1908, Rubinstein married American journalist, Edward J. Titus. They had two sons, Roy and Horace who later joined the Rubinstein cosmetic business. With the start of World War I, they fled to the United States, but returned to Europe after the War. However, they were forced to leave again with the outbreak of World War II. Rubinstein and Titus divorced in 1937, and in 1938 Rubinstein married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia, a Russian nobleman who became an American citizen. After her second marriage, Helena herself adopted the title "Madame Rubinstein." Helena and her second husband lived primarily in New York City. Twenty years her junior, he died in 1956. Two years later, her son Horace died.
Rubinstein had a hobby of collecting old manuscripts and books on beauty. She wrote several books herself as well. The Art of Feminine Beauty and This Way To Beauty were published in 1936, Food for Beauty in 1938, and her autobiography My Life for Beauty in 1966.
When she went to Australia, Helena Rubinstein took with her twelve pots of her mother's face cream, a special formula developed by Hungarian chemist Jacob Lykusky. Rubinstein soon discovered that skin and hair preparations were desired desperately by Australian women who had to deal with severe variations in climate. In 1890, she got her first job in Mr. Henderson's pharmacy. There she learned how to compound simple formulas and run a business, while she eagerly served her customers' individual needs. One day, she started selling the Polish face cream at Mr. Henderson's store and the demand quickly rose. In 1898, overwhelmed by Helena's new business, Uncle Louis urged her to move out. She then went to Brisbane and worked as a governess for two years.
With the idea of her beauty salon in mind, but without any resources, she went back to Melbourne in 1900. Working in a cafe as a waitress, she met two important individuals—the manager of a tea company who gave her pointers on how to set up her business, and a lady with a poor skin who offered to loan Rubinstein $1,500, her life savings. Rubinstein opened her first beauty salon, where she sold her cream and advised women individually on proper skin care. The Polish cream, sent to her from Krakow, sold very well in Australia. Good word of mouth from satisfied, well-known clients helped her shop prosper, teaching her the importance of publicity. After Eugenia Stone, a popular editor from Sydney, wrote about Rubinstein's salon, Helena suddenly received fifteen thousand orders with money in them from everywhere in Australia. To deal with the rising demand, she worked eighteen hours a day, a pace she never cut back much throughout her life.
Rubinstein urged Dr. Lykusky to come to Australia. He came, and taught her how to mix the cream, which they called "Creme Valaze," and how to make cleansing cream, lotion, and soap. Rubinstein hired Australian chemists, set up her own small factory, and regularly advertised in the Melbourne newspaper. After two years, she traveled to Europe to broaden her knowledge of cosmetics, studying with several well known skin-specialists in various cities. Back in Australia in 1904, Rubinstein opened a bigger salon in Melbourne, invited her sister Ceska to manage her business there, and opened another successful salon in Sydney.
When Rubinstein first met Edward Titus, he offered to help promote the business. She made him an employee and he created the famous scheme of the Rubinstein ads, featuring the elegant, rich and beautiful Helena, dwelling upon her scientific knowledge and always giving a specific reason to women for buying her cosmetics.
Rubinstein brought her sister Manka in to the Sydney salon, so she could move to London. She arrived with $100,000 in capital, rented a four-story house in the elegant Mayfair district for $20,000 a year, and started acquiring a wealthy and leisured clientele. The success of the salon was fueled by Rubinstein's unusual decoration, which copied the vivid decor of Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois for the Ballett Russe. To work on her new idea, natural looking makeup, Rubinstein traveled frequently to Paris, where women were more experimental. Eventually, Rubinstein moved to Paris where she opened a new salon. In 1911, she opened a cosmetic factory outside Paris.
Chronology: Helena Rubinstein
1902: First Beauty Salon opened in Melbourne.
1908: Helena Rubinstein Salon de Beaute opened in London.
1911: Cosmetic factory near Paris opened.
1915: Maison de Beaute Valaze in New York City opened.
1918: US Department stores start selling Rubinstein cosmetics.
1937: Prestigious salon on New York's Fifth Avenue opened.
1937: Day of Beauty introduced.
1950: Over 2 million Mascaramatic sold in first year.
1966: Autobiography, My Life for Beauty, is published.
After emigrating to the United States in 1915, Rubinstein opened salons in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and Philadelphia by 1917. She leased a factory on Long Island and employed special sales representatives. Rubinstein went back to Europe after World War I ended in 1918. She moved her Paris salon to a bigger location, modernized her French factory, and refurbished the London business. In Vienna, a young chemist suggested she triple her production and improve quality at the same time with some new machines. She immediately allowed a department store in San Francisco to sell her products, on the condition that orders were worth at least $10,000 and Rubinstein could personally train the saleswomen. Many important department stores in the United States began selling her cosmetics. To keep the business going, she offered them 40 percent in cash for every item sold, 5 percent of the retail price for every advertisement of a Rubinstein product in a local paper, 10 percent commission for the salesperson, and another incentive for the "Product of the Month." She put out a magazine for her salesgirls and had them visit the stores regularly.
Rubinstein spent approximately one quarter of the year traveling. To rescue her marriage, she tried to slow down her pace by selling her American business to a Wall Street firm, Lehman Bros. A year later, after they brought out a cheap line to sell in drug stores, she bought it back. The stock market had just crashed in October 1929, and Rubinstein made a $5.8 million profit. Between 1927 and 1930 Rubinstein opened salons in Vienna, Toronto, and Rome. Some competitors gave up during the difficult Depression years, but the Rubinstein business survived. Finally, in early 1937, she opened her most prestigious salon: a seven-story building at 715 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The rooftop library with rare books on beauty, the miniature doll museum, and the unique "Day of Beauty" program for $35 to $150, contributed to its success.
Continually enlarging its product range, the Rubinstein business distributed 160 different products to 3,000 retailers by 1939. During World War II, Rubinstein employed Polish people who were able to escape to the United States, and developed makeup for disfigured soldiers, rose wages after a strike in her plant on Long Island, and sold her lipsticks in cardboard containers because of metal shortages. Surpassed by aggressive competitor Revlon, her sales volume nonetheless rose from $13 million after the war to $23 million in 1956 and $42 million in 1965. Rubinstein took more and more members of her family into the business, but she never really retired. In her last years, she often conducted business meetings from her bed. She visited her office for the last time just two days before she died at ninety-four years of age on April 1, 1965.
Social and Economic Impact
Helena Rubinstein was among the pioneers in modern beauty culture, creating a huge market for the multi-million dollar cosmetics industry. Helena Rubinstein, Inc. grew into a cosmetics empire with factories, laboratories, flower plantations, and salons in fourteen countries, which in the mid sixties employed 32,000 people around the world. The Helena Rubinstein product line was still on the market in 1998.
Rubinstein foresaw the huge amount of money women would spend on beauty products, and provided a solid product line that oiled, moisturized, tanned, and colored the cheeks of women around the world. In 1941, during World War II, American women spent over $517 million on powder, lipstick, perfume, and cold cream; at the time of her death they spent $7 billion annually. In 1959, Helena Rubinstein officially represented the United States cosmetics industry at the American National Exhibition in Moscow.
A remarkable innovator, Rubinstein introduced tinted face powder and foundation, she developed the idea of the health farm for beauty, her line of men's cosmetics was one of the first in the world, and she trained her salesgirls to teach women the basics of skin care. Other innovations were massage and dieting for beauty and the "Day of Beauty," in which clients at her salons underwent eight hours of reconditioning. In the late thirties, Rubinstein created hormonal skin creams, but with her advertising, claiming the creams would rebuild skin cells, caused runins with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She modified her wording, but continued her research on age retardants, and "Ultrafeminine" became the first beauty product that was approved as a drug by the FDA. In the fifties, Rubinstein first marketed "Mascaramatic", the mechanical mascara applicator, and sold over two million in the first year. She designed self-care evening classes for young working women and participated in beauty therapy programs for the physically and mentally ill.
Rubinstein also understood that cosmetics were not only sold for skin-care. She offered status by selling women world-wide the illusion of wealth and glamour that she cleverly built into her products, using the force of advertising, and promoting herself as a woman of supreme glamour. She opened her New York penthouse to the public for charitable benefits, tours, and journalists. She loved unusual promotional techniques, striking motifs, and creative packaging. To introduce the new perfume Heaven Sent, for example, she rained down five hundred little baskets with angel-shaped bottles, attached to blue and pink balloons, onto New York's Fifth Avenue.
It is estimated that Rubinstein earned $25 million from her business which made her one of the richest women in the world. She acquired five houses in Europe and the United States. Later, Rubinstein donated money to the new State of Israel after World War II, and founded the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv where her exquisite collection of miniature rooms is housed. In 1953, she created the Helena Rubinstein Foundation to fund organizations concerned with health, medical research, and rehabilitation facilities for children. It also supported the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, and provided scholarships for Israelis. Rubinstein's jewelry collection, valued at more than one million dollars in 1943, contained pieces that once belonged to empress Catherine of Russia. In 1964, three burglars entered Rubinstein's Manhattan apartment and demanded her jewelry collection. Over ninety years old, Rubinstein refused, saying they could shoot her. Unnerved, the robbers left with only $200 in cash.
Sources of Information
"Beautician's Booty." Time, 29 April 1966.
"Beauty Merchant." Time, 9 April 1965.
Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985
Current Biography Yearbook. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1943.
Fabe, Maxene. Beauty Millionaire. New York: Crowell, 1972.
Fucini, Joseph J., and Suzy Fucini. Entrepreneurs. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1985.
James, T.F. "Princess of the Beauty Business." Cosmopolitan, June 1959.
Leavitt, Judith A. American Women Managers and Administrators. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.
"Madame." Newsweek, 12 April 1965.
"Madame Rubinstein, the Little Lady from Krakow." Life, 21 July 1941
Rubinstein, Helena. My Life for Beauty. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966.
Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women, The Modern Period. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1980.
"Tiny, Tireless Tycoon of Beauty." Life, 15 May 1964.
Who Was Who in America. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1968.
Zilboorg, Caroline. Women's Firsts. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997
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