Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power or.. Don’t Forget Lipstick!

I reached into my deep purple suede satchel to retrieve my small makeup bag. I needed to reapply lipstick before our meeting. Alas! No bag in sight. In my haste to switch from my everyday purse to the one-that-matched-my outfit, I’d forgotten to toss in the makeup kit.

I told my husband: I needed to stop at a drug store for 5 minutes. He looked at me askance; noting we were already running late, but relented. Into the next Duane Reade I went, grabbed a couple Revlons (Spicy Cinammon and Goldpearl Plum) and a Burt’s Bees lip balm (peppermint), and immediately felt much better.

I don’t feel dressed without earrings or lipstick. I’m a minimalist most the time with make-up, but insist on these two things. I remember years ago my college friend Carol asked me if I could apply lipstick without looking. We commented that our mothers were particularly adept at this task. Then, since we didn’t have kids, and were less busy, we needed mirrors. It wasn’t long before we both mastered lipstick application without any visual aids.

Later in the day, we strolled into Manhattan’s Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. A lot of well- dressed women wearing lipstick and much more were lined up to enter. It’s a museum that often has excellent exhibits and we were intrigued about the latest one about Helena Rubinstein.  I figured my husband was humoring me and we probably wouldn’t spend too much time before heading to the gift shop.

We were more fascinated with the story of this woman and her art than I could have imagined. Born Chaja Rubinstein in 1872 in a Polish shtetl, she fled an arranged marriage and landed in Melbourne, Australia. She coined the term “beauty is power,” and established a successful business empire, creating beauty products for women, collecting art, and espousing to women the need to use sunscreen and eat healthy diets. Her salons were gathering places modeled after the literary salons of Europe, as much about sharing ideas as about making up faces. She’s credited for bringing the use of cosmetics to the average woman, empowering them to practice self-expression. She opened her first salon in New York City in 1915, on the heels of the women suffragists who had marched a few years earlier, wearing lip rouge as a badge of emancipation.

Obsessed with the female face, she amassed vast collections of art, including African and Oceanic, and had her own portrait painted by many different artists, ranging from Picasso to Dali. In a time when anti-Semitism was ingrained in the elite, she maintained her surname, opting instead to change her first name to Helena, like the great beauty of Greek mythology. On display are immense jewels, for a petite woman less than 5 feet tall, she wore huge bracelets, rings, and necklaces. The exhibit includes her collections of miniature rooms, some designer clothing, letters and advertisements and a film.  One can’t imagine her in jeans and a sweatshirt, and certainly not without lipstick.images

Worth a visit.







This entry was posted in art, Fashion, Friendship, Judaism, Museums, galleries, New York City, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power or.. Don’t Forget Lipstick!

  1. Sounds fascinating! Thank you for taking me along!

    And me too — as long as I’m wearing lipstick, I feel all dressed up. 🙂


  2. Earrings and lipstick… me, too!! 🙂 ❤


  3. jfrances40 says:

    Me three! Earings and lip gloss, otherwise no makeup. I will visit this exhibit my next trip to NYC!


  4. Love it. “Beauty is power!”


  5. susanissima says:

    Even on a mountain hike, earrings and lipstick are essential! Lisa, have you visited Style Crone yet? You might, for fun, want to check out this wonderful blog. http://stylecrone.com/


  6. madtaylor says:

    There have been times I’ve turned around and gone back home (easy to do when one lives across the street) – if I’ve gone off to work without earrings – and EYE LINER. For me it’s all about the jewels and eye make up. I do sport “Cork” lip liner by MAC but if I forget it – not the end of the world (then again, I DO keep a spare of THAT in my desk drawer (along with hair gel) at work….
    Great post!


  7. She certainly had no lack of courage and had an entrepreneurial spirit, Lisa! Her story would be inspirational today, let alone in the time period it actually took place.
    Diana xo


  8. Drjcwash says:

    Thank you Lisa. I must admit I love eye shadow, blush and lipstick. I don’t wear foundation unless I have a special event and even then, I just add it very lightly to make the rest of the make-up stay fresh. It was a different time. If you want a glimpse of Melbourne Australia around that time, check out Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The make-up, clothes and jewelry is well done.


  9. Excellent piece. Whart an amazing career and what an interesting woman.


  10. Kathleen Jackson says:

    Great piece!


  11. Huffygirl says:

    How interesting! And can someone please tell me how to get lipstick to stay on? It seems mine is gone in 5-10 minutes, and the 5 or 10 minutes it does last, it’s all over my teeth.


  12. hugmamma says:

    What an enchanting story about something we take for granted…


  13. Mom says:

    Beauty is power…that’s one heck of an observation. I like it! I used to slather my face with her incredible silk foundation in the 70s. It actually had ground silk powders in it. I’ve never found anything even close to that magic!


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