“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.” –Helena Rubinstein
For the first time in France, the Musée d’Art et d’histoire du Judaïsme (MAHJ) curates an intriguing exhibition in homage to Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965.)
Chaya Rubinstein, one of thirteen children, born into a modest Orthodox Jewish family in Kraków, created a brand and cosmetics empire, reinventing beauty by adapting it to the modern world, a visionary who wanted to empower women with her lotions and potions. Refusing an arranged marriage her parents decided to send her to live with family in Australia. In her luggage– what was to become the foundation of an empire: 12 pots of her mother’s home made face cream. And, during the voyage she changed the name on her identity papers to Helena Juliet Rubinstein.
With the creams and recipe, HR studied – then applied science to cosmetics and, in 1902, opened her first beauty salon in Melbourne. It’s still there today – the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1935, acquiring the license for the first waterproof mascara, Helena Rubinstein launched it with an aquatic ballet at New York World’s Fair in 1939. Still a bestseller, long lash waterproof mascara is available online and at 129 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the 8th arrondissement.
She was twice married; first to American/Polish journalist Edward Titus and, in 1938, becoming Princess Gourielli with her second husband Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia. Madame, as she was known, collected art and posed for Raoul Dufy, Salvador Dalí and Marie Laurencin, wearing the creations of top couturiers of her time (Poiret, Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior) dividing life between New York, London and Paris, the city she particularly loved.
In Paris her vast art collection ranged from the painters of the School of Paris to Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and George Braque. Passionately interested in architecture and the decorative arts, she commissioned architects of the Modern Movement to design her beauty salons and buildings.
Encouraged by her success, Madame had a laboratory built at Saint Cloud to produce her creams industrially, replaced by a factory in the early 1930s. She created makeup for Josephine Baker, star of La Revue Nègre, and cosmetics suitable for all types of skin. In Paris flea markets she sourced antique powder compacts and boxes – had them copied for her beauty products – bringing cosmetics, formerly the preserve of prostitutes and actresses, into the mainstream.
In 1988 the brand was acquired by L’Oreal. “Madame showed women how to take care of themselves, always mindful that beauty, ‘this new power,’ should accompany their emancipation,” explains Michèle Fitoussi, the exhibition’s curator, author of Helena Rubinstein. The Woman who Invented Beauty (Gallic Books, 2013).
The exhibition, “Helena Rubinstein. The Adventure of Beauty,” showcases the life of an exceptional woman in the cities that played key roles in her life: Kraków, Vienna, Melbourne, London, Paris, New York and Tel Aviv. Featuring more than 300 exhibits from her eclectic collection of objects, garments, photographs, etchings, books, paintings, sculptures and tapestries, there are pieces by Marc Chagall, Michel Kikoïne, Sarah Lipska, Louis Marcoussis, Elie Nadelman and Maurice Utrillo – the show records the life and career of the woman dubbed “the empress of beauty,” by Jean Cocteau.
Madame died in New York on 1st April, 1965 aged 93 and was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Queens.
Complementary events accompany the exhibition. In the MAHJ auditorium: themed visits Sunday 12th May, 2019 at 11h, Thursday 4th July and Friday 23 August at 14h30 a walk entitled “Helena Rubinstein’s Paris.” Plus children’s workshops.
Showing until 25th August 2019. Closed 1st May. Tues-Thurs-Friday from 11h-18h. Wednesday – 11h-21h. Saturday-Sunday 10h-19h.
Catalogue – published jointly with Flammarion (€35)
Hôtel Saint-Aignan, 71 rue du Temple, 3rd. Metro: Hôtel de Ville
Tel: +33 (0)1 53 01 86 65
Lead photo credit : In the factory Saint-Cloud, 1924. Credit: Archives Helena Rubinstein-L'Oreal-DR
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