PODCAST Fifth Avenue’s role in the ‘revolution’ of beauty, as led by Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, New York’s boldest businesswomen of the Jazz Age.
The Midtown Manhattan stretch of Fifth Avenue, once known for its ensemble of extravagant mansions owned by the Gilded Age’s wealthiest families, went through an astonishing makeover one hundred years ago. Many lavish abodes of the rich were turned into exclusive retail boutiques, catering to the very sorts of people who once lived here.
Their products — beauty! Creams, lotions, ointments and cleansers. Then later: eye-liners, rouges, lipsticks, mascaras. On the forefront of this transformation were two women from very different backgrounds. Elizabeth Arden was a Canadian entrepreneur, looking to establish her business in the growing city of New York. Helena Rubinstein, from Poland by way of Australia, already owned an established company and looked to Manhattan as a way to anchor her business in America.
In this episode we observe the growing independence of American woman and the changing beauty standards which arose in the 1910s and 20s, bringing ‘the painted face’ into the mainstream.
And it’s in large part thanks to these two extraordinary businesswomen, crafting two parallel empires in a corporate framework usually reserved for men.
ALSO: Theda Bara, Estee Lauder, Max Factor and a whole lot of sheep and horses!
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FURTHER LISTENING — Check out our spin-off podcast The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences, in particular, the episode on the invention of the bikini — The Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Revolution
FURTHER READING AND VIEWING: If you liked this episode, you might also like:
Hope In A Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture by Kathy Peiss
Helena Rubinstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty by MichÃ¨le Fitoussi
“The Powder and the Glory” Documentary produced, written, and directed by Ann Carol Grossman & Arnie Reisman
A few images of Fifth Avenue between 50th and 57th, in the years of transition — from residential to retail.
1922 — Fifth Avenue and 57th Street
The Collis Huntington mansion on 57th and Fifth Avenue. Helena Rubinstein moved her salon in here in the mid 1920s.
Helena Rubenstein, photo date 1924
An example of Helena’s Valaze cream, made from lanolin
A selection of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein vintage ads, courtesy Vintage Ad Browser
A variety of facial treatments from a Helena Rubinstein salon, circa 1941
Helena employed many of her family members. Mala Rubinstein, Helena Rubinstein’s niece, shows the ladies how beauty is done at the 715 Fifth Avenue salon
The commercial featured on this week’s show!
A very affected presentation, but this video does show Rubinstein in action!
The “beauty process” was in vogue by the 1930s as evidenced by this short film starring Hollywood film actress Constance Bennett.
Helena Rubinstein latched onto Hollywood celebrities both as a way to inspire beauty regiment — and, of course, to sell more products.
For Theda Bara, Helena even sold a line of ‘vamp’ make-up, tying into her scandalous reputation. (Read more about Theda Bara here.)
Even Marilyn Monroe was an Elizabeth Arden fan, frequently popping into the New York salon.