Helena Rubinstein, L'Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good
By Ruth Brandon
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061740404, 304pp.)
Publication Date: February 1, 2011
List Price: $26.99*
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The gripping story of Helena Rubinstein, Eugene Schueller, and the dark side of the beauty business they helped to create
Helena Rubinstein and L'Oreal's Eugene Schueller both started out in the beauty business during the first years of the twentieth century, and, by the time World War II broke out, had come to dominate it. However, their motivations could not have been more different. Rubinstein, a Polish Jew, claimed the world of paid work for women, and working women's enthusiasm for her products made her the first self-made female millionaire. Schueller, a French conservative in the Henry Ford mold, thought women belonged in the home, and during the Nazi Occupation he used his company as a source of cash to buy economic and political influence.
Schueller eventually won the long fight for supremacy: in 1988 his company swallowed Rubinstein's. But the victory cost him his reputation when, in the wake of the takeover, he was exposed as a Nazi collaborator. Deepening the scandal, his wartime activities were shown to have been abetted and condoned by a cadre of young men who, by the time the news broke, had scaled the peaks of wealth and power in postwar France.
By then Schueller and Rubinstein were both long dead. But cultural historian and biographer Ruth Brandon argues that the battle they began continues to this day. She examines their conflict to ask important contemporary questions about beauty standards and the often murky intersection of individual political aims and the role of business. Filled with remarkable twists, turns, and larger-than-life characters, Ugly Beauty is a riveting true story about what lies beneath the flawless exterior of the cosmetics industry.
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.