Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good

Ruth Brandon, Harper, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-174040-4
With wonderful attention to detail and real affection for her subjects, Brandon tells the story of Helena Rubinstein (1870–1965), a Polish Jew from a poor family with a small salon in Australia, who became the first woman tycoon and self-made millionaire. Her timing was excellent: she struck at the moment when decent women, for the first time, were allowing themselves makeup and were willing to shop for it publicly. At the same time, a young French chemist named Eugène Schueller (1881–1957) was making his name in hair dyes (and later collaborating with the Nazis); it was his company, L'Oreal, that swallowed Rubinstein's business. The descriptions of Schueller's political scandals are fascinating, but the story shines when Brandon returns to Rubinstein, a stubborn, spirited woman who responded to a luxury Park Avenue apartment's "No Jews" policy by buying the entire building, and who calmly thwarted robbers in her home at the age of 91. A clearheaded discussion of current beauty standards, vanity, and the gender politics of the modern cosmetic industry rounds out this lively history of the founding of the beauty business as we know it. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/08/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7710-1754-4
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-06-174041-1
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-06-204156-2
Open Ebook - 978-1-55199-359-1
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-0-7710-1730-8
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