HELENA RUBINSTEIN - 20th CENTURY ENTREPRENEUR
Built an Empire Making Women Beautiful
Born on Christmas Day 1870 in the medieval town of Krakow in Poland, Helena was the eldest of eight daughters. Her father, Horace, was a poor greengrocer; her mother, Augusta, had one great ambition: to marry off her daughters - hopefully to wealthy suitors. To this end she made sure her daughters took great care with their complexions. At that time there were no such things as beauty cosmetics - only white chalk powder and rouge paste for the lips. However there was a local chemist who made a face cream and Mama Rubinstein made sure her daughters used it every night. Mind you Helena was no beauty, standing four foot ten with a large beak nose. At the age of 21 her father arranged for her to marry a sixty year old friend of his. Helena said "no" so her father decided to send her off to Australia to live with her Uncle Louis and his wife.
Helena did not take to living in the outback in the sheep town of Coleraine and after a few unhappy years moved to Melbourne. For the next six years Helena did a range of jobs from waitressing to nannying. Meanwhile her mother would send her jars of face cream. In 1899 she met up with an old friend who lent her £250 which she used to set up her beauty salon. From 1900 to 1907 her business grew and, through mail order, Australian women in their thousands ordered Crème Valaze face cream based on the original cream. By now Helena was a millionairess having built up a range of beauty products. In 1908 she moved to London with her new husband Edward Titus, setting up in Grafton Street. By 1914 Edwardian women had made Helena a millionairess for the second time.
Leaving Rosa Bird as her manageress in London she moved to New York with her family, only to find that Elizabeth Arden had set up business a year earlier. For the next five decades they were to battle it out for market share. An event in 1928 was to make Helena Rubinstein a multi-millionairess - Lehman Brothers, the bankers, bought the American side of the business for $7.5 million. In an amazing coup two years later she bought back the business for just $1 million. Hugely sucessful though she was, her personal life fell apart when her marriage to Titus ended in divorce. She was later to marry again, to the Russian Prince Gourielli-Tchkonia. During the thirties her business flourished on both sides of the Atlantic; however by the end of the forties the Nazis had destroyed most of her interests in Europe. She set about rebuilding and was publicly congratulated for her 'war effort' by President Roosevelt.
From 1950 onwards her cosmetics: face creams, lotions, powders, lipsticks became world-wide products and by 1956 were available even in communist countries. Bestowed with numerous honours she carried on working into her nineties. Then on April 1st 1965 after a routine board meeting she complained of not feeling well. She retired to her bed and died in her sleep aged 95.
Helena Rubinstein was the first corporate woman chief executive of an international conglomerate. The company was sold to Colgate for $125 million in 1973 and subsequently bought by L'Oreal in 1988 where it has remained as a highly successful international brand.
Helena signs off ..............................