Ugly Beauty: The Ugly Face of the Beauty Business

Ugly Beauty: The Ugly Face of the Beauty Business

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by Ruth Brandon
     
 

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From acclaimed novelist and cultural historian Ruth Brandon comes a captivating dual biography of the legendary founders of the cosmetics industry, Helena Rubinstein and Eugène Schueller, creator of L’Oréal. Brandon’s gripping and sometimes disturbing story of gender, power, and politics stretches back from the darkest days of World War II, to…  See more details below

Overview

From acclaimed novelist and cultural historian Ruth Brandon comes a captivating dual biography of the legendary founders of the cosmetics industry, Helena Rubinstein and Eugène Schueller, creator of L’Oréal. Brandon’s gripping and sometimes disturbing story of gender, power, and politics stretches back from the darkest days of World War II, to the emergence of the modern fashion and makeup industries, with magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan and game-changing product lines such as Avon and Mary Kay. Ugly Beauty resonates as well with its implications for modern culture, as we enter an era when haute couture and cosmetology exert an ever more powerful influence upon society at large.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
Beauty became a huge business in the last century, largely through the pioneering efforts of Helena Rubinstein and L'Oréal creator Eugène Schueller. Brandon (Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres) provides a deep, probing account of how their companies grew to dominate the market and how their merger combined not only products but the founders' opposing philosophies. Rubinstein never quite left behind her humble origins in the Kraków ghetto of late 19th-century Poland during her incredible evolution into the world's first-ever, self-made woman tycoon. Her competitor and ultimate purchaser of her empire Schueller was himself of "humble" origins but through formal science study followed a very different path. Brandon skillfully proceeds from individual histories to explore the improbable phenomenon of bringing together the life's work of these business giants, whose goals, ethics, and backgrounds could hardly have been more incompatible. The final result was an enormously lucrative global enterprise. VERDICT This engaging book should appeal not only to beauty enthusiasts but also to students of corporate histories, who will relish the compelling aspects of the unlikely crossing of paths of two hugely successful entrepreneurs.—Richard Drezen, Brooklyn, NY
Kirkus Reviews

A sprawling exposé on how the blending of two cosmetics behemoths reopened a shameful era in French history.

After charting the life of self-made beauty entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein (1865–1970), cultural historian and novelist Brandon (Caravaggio's Angel, 2008, etc.) examines the enormous ramifications of hair-dye industrialist Eugène Schueller's collaboration with the Nazi occupation's economy and the insidious reaches of today's beauty industry—e.g., plastic surgery, of which the author herself inquired. The life of Rubinstein is an astounding tale of self-invention and sheer drive. The eldest of eight sisters born to a kerosene dealer in Krakow's Jewish ghetto, Helena, then Chaja, refused to marry the suitor chosen for her and expelled herself from home for good, staying with relatives in Vienna then Australia, where she finally settled on Melbourne as the place from which to launch her own beauty-cream business in 1901. Cooking up her facial creams from her kitchen and marketing them for single working girls in pots labeled "Valaze by Dr. Lykuski," she learned fast the seductive powers of advertising ("rare herbs which only grow in the Carpathian Mountains" was "pure snake oil," the author assures us). By staffing her growing shops over the world with her family members, convincing women of all the different products they needed and employing huge markups, she made herself a wealthy woman in a few short years. Meanwhile, Schueller, a baker's son turned research chemist, invented a safe hair dye that propelled his own business, L'Oréal, which became so popular during the 1920s and '30s that he established his own magazine and theories of management and social responsibility. While not enamored of Hitler, Schueller was pragmatic, and believed that Europe needed a new "economic order." The extent of his financial backing of the French fascist movement La Cagoule would emerge only in 1991, several years after L'Oréal's buyout of Helena Rubinstein Inc.

A wildly convoluted tale as bizarre as it is intriguing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062041562
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/01/2011
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Ruth Brandon is a cultural historian and biographer. She has also written five detective stories and two literary novels. Brandon lives in London with her husband, art historian Philip Steadman.

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Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oreal and the Blemished History of Looking Good 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago