Helena Rubinstein; The Empress of 1940s Makeup
Helena Rubinstein is a woman who can only be described a phenomenal! She rose from humble beginnings to found a giant cosmetics empire in an era when women were expected to stay home and take care of their children and husbands. She was born in 1872 in Krakow’s Jewish ghetto, the eldest of eight daughters of a kerosene dealer. By her late teens, she had abandoned Poland for Australia, where she began cooking up vats of face cream. She called it Valaze, and claimed that it was the creation of an eminent European skin specialist named Dr. Lykuski and had been “compounded from rare herbs which only grow in the Carpathian mountains.” She rented a storefront in downtown Melbourne, and peddled her concoction at a staggering markup.
In just over a decade, she had become a millionaire. She expanded to London, then to Paris, then to New York—and from there to almost every other major city in the world. She added one product after another, until Helena Rubinstein Inc. comprised sixty-two creams; seventy-eight powders; forty-six perfumes, colognes, and eaux de toilette; sixty-nine lotions; and a hundred and fifteen lipsticks, plus soaps, rouges, and eyeshadows. In December of 1928, she sold her business to Lehman Brothers for the equivalent of eighty-four million dollars in today’s money—and, when Lehman’s mismanagement and the Depression brought the stock price down from sixty dollars to three dollars, she bought her firm back for a pittance and took it to even greater success. She was four feet ten and spoke an odd combination of Polish, Yiddish, French, and English. She insisted on being referred to as Madame. At the time of her death, in 1965, she was one of the richest women in the world. Be inspired!