The Jewish Museum exhibit, Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power, through March 22, 2015 is the first museum exhibition to focus on the innovative cosmetics entrepreneur and art collector.. By the time of her death, Rubinstein had risen from her humble origins in a small town Jewish Poland to become a global icon of female entrepreneurship and a leader in art, fashion, design and philanthropy. As head of a cosmetic empire that extended across four continents, she was, arguably, the first modern self-made woman magnate.
Rubinstein was born in a small town in Poland in 1872. In 1888, when she was sixteen Rubinstein fled the prospect of an arranged marriage and found her way from Krakow to Vienna to Australia, where she established her first business, Helena Rubinstein & Co., producing skin creams; and at the same time she married her first husband, Edward Titus.
Her talent for business and its inherent feminism reflects her modern thinking. One of the first slogans Rubinstein used to promote her cosmetics, "Beauty is Power," is an advertisement that first appeared in an Australian newspaper in 1904. This was revolutionary at the turn of the century when the use of cosmetics, associated with the painted faces of actresses and prostitutes, was widely frowned upon by the middle class, but Rubinstein found the means for ordinary women to transform themselves. Her business challenged the myth of beauty and taste as inborn, or something to which on the wealthy were entitled. By encouraging women to define themselves as sell-expressive individuals, Rubinstein contributed to their empowerment.
The Salon Format Inspired by the tradition of European literary salons, Rubinstein conceived of her beauty salons as intimate environments where progressive ideas were exchanged under the guidance of a sophisticated patroness. At the outbreak of World War I she moved to the United States, where she founded her first salon in 1915. Today the term 'beauty salon" means a hairdresser or a day spa. But Rubinstein salon was a place designed entirely by women, where a client could learn not only how to improve her looks, but also how to re-conceive her standards of taste, to understand design, color, and art in order to express her own personality. What Rubinstein advocated was new and profound in the early 20th century. She offered women the ideal of self-invention, a fundamental principle of modernity.
The Art Collection Madame (as she was universally known) ruled with a firm hand and empowered
Selections from Rubinstein's famous art collection include works by Pablo Picasso, Elie Nadelman, Frida Kahlo, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Joan Miro and Henri Matisse, among others, as well as thirty works from
Other highlights include Rubinstein's beloved miniature period rooms, jewelry, and clothing designed by Cristobal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli and Paul Poiret. Her savvy for self-promotion is evident in portraits of her made by the leading artists of her day, from Marie Laurencin to Any Warhol. Most interesting are the vintage advetisements, cosmetics products and professional films related to her beauty business.
At The Jewish Museum, located on Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, www.thejm.org.
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