Helena Rubenstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty

Michèle Fitoussi

pages October 2010 Copies available in French and English Biography

The life of a legend well ahead of her time, who brought skin care and cosmetics to Europe and America while building an empire from scratch and reinventing the modern idea of beauty.

This is the extraordinary story of the woman who created a cosmetic empire and gave it her name, of an entrepreneur who started with nothing except a belief in the strength of women. The tale of a legend, of a pioneer who reinvented beauty for modern times.  

The eldest of eight girls in a poor Jewish Orthodox family, Helena was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1872. When she was banished to Australia at age 24 for refusing to accept an arranged marriage, her mother decided to slip a few pots of skin cream, made by a chemist friend of the family, into her daughter’s suitcase.   Barely two decades later, the cream her mother gave her had become the foundation of her fortune.  

At the forefront of women’s rights movements, Helena opened her first beauty institute in Melbourne in 1902, the year that women obtained the right to vote in Australia. Always ahead of her competitors (Arden, Factor, Revlon, Lauder), she developed marketing and advertising techniques that revolved around skin care and makeup, eventually opening beauty institutes in Australia, London, Paris, and New York. Using science to create cosmetics, she taught women all over the world to do their makeup, to take care of their skin, their bodies, and their well-being.  

Helena married Edward Titus, a Polish-American Jew, journalist, editor, and brilliant publicist who helped her establish her empire, with whom she had two sons. She was madly in love; he made her suffer miserably. But he knew everything one needed to know about culture and art in Europe and America. It was through Edward that she was introduced to Cocteau, Colette, D.H. Lawrence, Man Ray. Avant-garde in all domains, she developed an astounding art collection, was a model for Dali, Dufy, Marie Laurencin, Picasso, and owned homes in Europe and the United States. In 1938, she even became a princess, marrying Georgian prince Artchill Gourielli soon after her divorce with Edward Titus.   She sold her to business to Lehman Brothers in 1928 only to buy it back one year later in the midst of the Depression: making a profit of $6 million, she became one of the wealthiest and most talented businesswomen of her day.

And all the while, from atop her 4’8″, she stuck by her motto:   “If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have.”