Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good

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9780061740404: Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good

From acclaimed novelist and cultural historian Ruth Brandon comes a captivating dual biography of the legendary founders of the cosmetics industry, Helena Rubinstein and Eugène Schueller, creator of L’Oréal. Brandon’s gripping and sometimes disturbing story of gender, power, and politics stretches back from the darkest days of World War II, to the emergence of the modern fashion and makeup industries, with magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan and game-changing product lines such as Avon and Mary Kay. Ugly Beauty resonates as well with its implications for modern culture, as we enter an era when haute couture and cosmetology exert an ever more powerful influence upon society at large.

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From the Back Cover:

The gripping story of Helena Rubinstein, Eugène Schueller, and the dark side of the beauty business they helped to create

Helena Rubinstein and L'Oréal's Eugène 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.

About the Author:

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.

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