Helena Rubinstein: Creating a Market

A Polish immigrant to the United States who forged her own path in the beauty industry and helped make it more approachable for women across the globe.

Here is the full video transcript:

One famous story about her is she wanted to buy this triplex apartment at 625 Park Avenue and she was turned down because she was Jewish. So, she turned around and bought the whole building.

Born in Poland in 1870, Helena Rubenstein was the oldest of 8 girls and was never considered very pretty. Her parents tried to marry her off at age 17 but instead, she ran away to live with relatives far away in Australia. The rest of her life would stem from this first bold act of independence.

I was always in awe of her courage and what I called her chutzpah – her not being afraid of anything.

Australia was the first place she ever felt beautiful. People commented on her soft, smooth skin. Feeling beautiful made her feel confident and her instincts told her this was a marketable concept. Self confidence in a compact.

She said that every woman could make herself more beautiful based on the characteristics that she already had. If you had beautiful hair, then make the most of it. If you had beautiful eyes, then make the most of them. She formulated and started selling in small batches of what she called Valaze cream.

Demand for the cream, and her natural skills in marketing enabled her to open a single-room beauty salon in Melbourne, Australia.

She was considered the first person to consider science with beauty. She was not a doctor. She did not study medicine. But that was the illusion of her products. After Melbourne, Helena opened a second salon in Sydney, then decided to prove herself in Europe. But women were not allowed to take out bank loans. So, she laid out her own $100,000 to open up a salon in London. Then, she opened in Paris. But she was still growing. And she decided, what was the best place to open a salon? In New York! 5th Avenue!

And what’s extraordinary about that salon is that she created an environment of beauty. There were classrooms to teach you how to put on makeup. There was a theatre where people gave lectures. You were immersed in a culture. A culture of beauty.

By the mid-1920’s, Rubenstein had almost single-handedly built the first global cosmetics empire. Before Elizabeth Arden, Revlon and Estee Lauder became household names, Helena Rubenstein was who women looked to, to help them to find their own standard of beauty.

In 1928 after she had quite some success in New York, she decides to sell the company to Lehman Brother for $7.8 Million. A year later, she manages to buy her company back for only $1 Million. She developed it into a multi-million-dollar company again. At the end of her life in 1965, Rubenstein had salons and factories in 15 countries, employed 32,000 people and was worth over $100 Million. She had armed 20th century women around the world with self-confidence in a compact.

Chutzpah is a very wonderful word. Because it means having the courage and yet not caring what other people think. You just follow your own road.