“For her, there are no ugly women, only lazy”

At the Museum of Art and History of Judaism in Paris, the exhibition “Helena Rubinstein, the adventure of beauty” tells the story of an extraordinary woman. Insatiable businesswoman, Helena Rubinstein imposed a culture and a beauty industry. Interview with the curator of the exhibition, Michèle Fitoussi.

Helena Rubinstein in her laboratory in Saint-Cloud in the 1930s © Paris, Archives Helena Rubinstein – L’Oréal – DR

Nothing destined Helena Rubinstein, a modest Polish born in 1872 in Krakow and arriving in Australia at age 30, to build the first empire of the beauty industry. It all started with the sale of jars of cream that her mother had slipped into her suitcase. In nearly sixty years, Helena Rubinstein has invented herself, shaping a strong-willed, enterprising, nomadic, cultured and flamboyant character. Nicknamed “Madame”, she followed a mantra, as one lets oneself be guided by a compass, “Beauty is power”.

Three questions to Michèle Fitoussi, curator of the exhibition.

“There are no ugly women, there are only lazy”

FRANCE INTER: How Helena Rubinstein did she invent a fighting beauty?

Michèle Fitoussi: “She says so in a book from the 1950s. For her, self-care and the search for beauty allow women to become equal to men. Chanel and Poiret freed women’s bodies from their corsets. , dressed them in soft clothes that allow them to be active. Rubinstein encourages women to go to work, to be independent and in control of their identity. She herself has had her photos regularly retouched. From 1903 she pronounced her mantra, ‘Beauty is power. ‘She said to the women:’There are no ugly women, there are only lazy ‘. It means ‘fight, shape yourself who you want to be’. This is what she did for herself. She was quite round, with a face that was not necessarily sublime, but she had her signature thanks to her bun, her allure, her lipstick line and her jewelry. She wanted to tell women to take charge, to be actors of their appearance and therefore of their place in society. It is a beauty of dignity that she defended. “

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Facial massage exercise taught to women in beauty salons Helena Rubinstein
Facial massage exercise taught to women in beauty salons Helena Rubinstein / L’Oreal / Helena Rubinstein

“Women produce a fairly conformist discourse”

Over time, this attention to beauty may have turned into bondage rather than liberation. Finally “Beauty is power”, could be understood as “Beauty is my power”, in the sense “I will become powerful by imposing my brand of beauty products “ stated by itself and for itself no?

Michèle Fitoussi: “Rubinstein was a feminist in a sense, but in her firm her hierarchy was male. She had to confront the men ruling the business world all the time. Then, in the 1920s, the consumer society exploded. Helena Rubinstein understood that it was necessary to industrialize its production in order to address all women. At the beginning the advertisers are women, led by men, and they produce a fairly conformist discourse. Marketing has not made women freer. The goal was to compete with other brands like Elizabeth Arden, Revlon and later Estée Lauder. During the war women set to work, find an essential place, but with peace, they return to their homes, facing their pots of cream. This is the phenomenon of ‘desperate housewives’. At that point the sociology of beauty changed. ”

In the Saint Cloud factory around 1924
In the Saint Cloud factory around 1924 / Paris, Archives Helena Rubinstein – L’Oréal – DR

“It is a dream of luxury, beauty and wealth that Helena Rubinstein sold to women”

As a fight, isn’t it rather a fight for luxury that she has led?

Michèle Fitoussi: “She invented accessible luxury for women. She invented a culture, as much as an industry: even when you have no money, you buy an expensive jar of cream. It’s a dream of luxury, beauty and wealth that Helena Rubinstein sold to women. She was a formidable marketer. She was also in love with luxury items for herself such as her toilet, her furniture and her collection of works of art. art.”

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Helena Rubinstein, quai de Béthune, Paris in front of her collection of primitive arts
Helena Rubinstein, quai de Béthune, Paris in front of her collection of primitive arts / Paris, Archives Helena Rubinstein – L’Oréal – DR

Helena Rubinstein The Adventure of Beauty exhibition, at the MAHJ in Paris, until August 25, here

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