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.
Worth a visit.