Rubinstein, Helena (1870–1965)

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Rubinstein, Helena (1870–1965)

Polish-born American entrepreneur who founded the Helena Rubinstein cosmetics empire. Born on December 25, 1870, in Cracow, Poland; died on April 1, 1965, in New York City; daughter of Horace Rubinstein (an egg merchant), and Augusta (Silberfeld) Rubinstein; attended the University of Cracow and briefly studied medicine in Switzerland; married Edward Titus (a journalist), in 1908 (divorced 1937 or 1938); married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia, in 1938 (died 1956); children: (first marriage) Roy (b. 1909), Horace (b. 1912).

Helena Rubinstein was born on December 25, 1870, in Cracow, Poland, the oldest of eight daughters of Horace Rubinstein and Augusta Silberfeld Rubinstein . She attended the University of Cracow and briefly studied medicine in Switzerland, before joining an uncle in Australia while in her early 30s. As the oft-repeated story goes, Rubinstein brought 12 pots of her mother's face cream with her to Australia, and soon her new Australian friends were begging her for some of their own. Taking out a loan, she imported cases of the cream and opened a small beauty shop in Melbourne where she also gave one-on-one instruction on skin care. The praises of her influential clients brought business to the shop, and Rubinstein's unflagging energy further bolstered sales. In this first stage of success, she established an 18-hour work day which she would maintain throughout her life. In her autobiography, My Life for Beauty, Rubinstein wrote that she was "confident and relaxed only in business."

By 1908, her sister Ceska Rubinstein took over the Australian business while Helena headed for London with $100,000 to begin her cosmetics empire. She studied dermatology with experts in Paris, Vienna, and London, and set up a successful beauty salon in the latter city with her "Creme Valaze," developed by chemist Jacob Lykusky (also seen as Lukusky), as the founding product. In 1908, Rubinstein married Edward Titus, an American journalist. When World War I began, they moved with their two sons from Paris to Greenwich, Connecticut. Rubinstein built salons in San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia, in addition to selling her wares in department stores. Now known as "Madame," Rubinstein partnered with actress Theda Bara in creating the vamp look.

Rubinstein's return to Paris in 1918 also signaled her entrance into the world of art. In addition to amassing a considerable collection of her own (she claimed she was conditioned from her business to buying in bulk), she surrounded herself with artists who sought her patronage, notably Modigliani, Chagall, Braque and Dufy. Her husband likewise immersed himself in artistic endeavors through his founding of the Black Mannequin Press, which published such modern writers as D.H. Lawrence. Rubinstein's accumulation of wealth led Salvador Dali to portray her chained to a rock with ropes of emeralds as a symbol of her slavery to her material possessions. In actuality, she could be very casual with her belongings, once stashing a million dollars' worth of jewelry—including some once worn by Catherine I of Russia—in a cardboard box under her bed.

Rubinstein's marriage began to fall apart toward the end of the 1920s. Recognizing that the problem lay largely in her inability to scale back her work, she tried to lighten her load by selling her American business. However, when the stock market crashed a year later, she could not resist repurchasing it for a fraction of her selling price. Rubinstein and Titus were divorced in 1937 or 1938, and in 1938 she married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia, a Russian prince 20 years her junior. As a tribute to him, she created a cosmetics line for men and named it for him.

Rubinstein based her success on daily beauty routines which she devised but never followed herself, claiming not to have the time. She emphasized concentrated, individual attention and pampering of customers, and was the inventor of the "Day of Beauty" concept at her salons. She was also skilled at inventing attractive, enticing packaging and promotional techniques. Beyond her innovations in the marketing of cosmetics and beauty treatments, Rubinstein also initiated changes in the development of cosmetics themselves. She championed the use of silk in cosmetics and sold the first tinted face powder and foundation. She also developed various medicated creams (her claims for which once got her in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration) and waterproof mascara. As with the head of any successful business, Rubinstein was not without her enemies. She had a longstanding feud with rival Elizabeth Arden , whose marketing approach was somewhat more deliberately upscale than Rubinstein's. In 1938, Arden hired away Rubinstein's general manager and 11 staff members, but Rubinstein got her revenge by hiring Arden's ex-husband. Arden, too, then married a Russian prince (from whom she was later divorced).

Rubinstein provided jobs to several of her sisters and their children, including niece Mala Rubinstein , as well as to her son Roy, and was generous to causes she believed in. She gave large sums to Israel and founded the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. In 1953, she founded the Helena Rubinstein Foundation to provide funds to health organizations, medical research, and rehabilitation, noting, "My fortune comes from women and should benefit them and their children to better their quality of life." In addition, she gave funds to the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and provided scholarships to Israeli students.

Rubinstein, Mala (1905–1999)

Polish-born cosmetics executive. Name variations: Mala Kolin; Mala Rubinstein Silson. Born Mala Kolin in Cracow, Poland, on December 31, 1905; died in July 1999 at a hospital in Manhattan; niece of Helena Rubinstein (1870–1965); sister of Oscar Kolin (d. 1995, chair of Helena Rubinstein, Inc.); married Victor Silson.

Mala Rubinstein was born Mala Kolin in Cracow, Poland, in 1905. At age 18, she moved to Paris to learn the cosmetics business from her aunt Helena Rubinstein , and worked at the company from the 1920s to the 1970s until its sale to L'Oréal. As vice president in charge of creative services for Helena Rubinstein, Inc., Mala wrote several books on beauty.

Rubinstein's husband died in 1956, and her younger son Horace died two years later. She did not slow down, however, remaining active until the end of her life and never retiring from her business. As she grew older, she held business meetings in her bedroom, directing from her elaborate Lucite-framed bed. She published her autobiography, My Life for Beauty, in 1964, and died of a stroke in New York City the following year, at the age of 94.


O'Higgins, Patrick. Madame: An Intimate Biography of Helena Rubinstein. NY: Viking, 1971.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer, Bayville, New York

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Rubinstein, Helena (1870–1965)

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