Tag Archives: Cosmetics

Jew of the Week: Helena Rubenstein

First Self-Made Female Millionaire

Chaya Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) was born in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, the oldest of eight daughters in a very religious family. Her cousin was Martin Buber. At age 16, she was arranged to be married but refused to go along with it, instead running away to Switzerland, and then Australia. Although she spoke no English, the local ladies fell in love with her fashion sense and makeup. After agreeing to sell off most of what was in her luggage, she realized she could start a business. With help from an aunt, Rubinstein found her way to the region of Coleraine, famous for its millions of sheep, which produce lanolin, the key ingredient in her creams. Rubinstein worked as a waitress by day, and experimented with her creams by night. With some help from a wealthy admirer, Rubinstein launched her business. It didn’t take long for her to open up her own shop in the heart of Melbourne. Within five years, she opened two more locations: in Sydney and London, England. At the time, women were barred from getting bank loans, so Rubinstein saved up all the money herself and paid in cash. In 1912, she moved to Paris with her first husband, and there opened a new salon. During World War I, the family fled to New York, and Rubinstein opened up shop there as well. Business boomed, and Rubinstein expanded to another twelve cities. She soon became the most famous businesswoman in the world—and the richest. She has been credited as the world’s first self-made female millionaire. After her first marriage fell apart, Rubinstein tied the knot with a Georgian prince, and took on the title “Helena Princess Gourielli”. Rubinstein was a huge philanthropist, and her charity distributed around $130 million to causes around the world. She had a great life-long rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, of whom she said: “With her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world.” Rubinstein faced a tremendous amount of adversity, as well as anti-Semitism. (In 1941, she was rejected from living in a Park Avenue apartment because she was Jewish, so she bought the whole building!) Nonetheless, she persevered through it all and became a pioneer in the cosmetics industry, in business, and in marketing, continuing to work into her 90s. Among her innovations were waterproof mascara and what may be the first sunscreen. Today, her company is owned by L’Oréal, which presents the Helena Rubinstein Women in Science Awards yearly in her honour.

Words of the Week

We have been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?
Golda Meir, to King Abdullah of Jordan in a May 10, 1948 meeting, when he asked not to “hurry” to declare independence.

Helena Rubinstein cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of her Museum of Art in Tel-Aviv (1959)


Jew of the Week: Estée Lauder

Beauty Queen, Business Genius

Estee Lauder

Estée Mentzer (1908-2004) was born in Queens to Hungarian-Jewish immigrants. She took an early interest in her chemist uncle’s nascent beauty products business. Soon after high school, she began selling some of his concoctions and found success. After marrying Joseph Lauder, the two opened their own cosmetics company and Esther quickly became famous for her ingenious marketing strategies. In 1953 she created a new fragrance – “Youth Dew” – which sold 50,000 bottles that year. By 1984, it sold 150 million. No wonder she was the only woman named to TIME’s list of 20th century business geniuses. She also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her son Ronald Lauder is a fervent activist for Israel and Jewish causes worldwide. In 2007, he was elected president of the World Jewish Congress. For these reasons, Estée Lauder is frequently the focus of anti-Israel boycott groups. Little to these groups know that Estée Lauder encompasses 27 brands including Clinique, Aveda and MAC. Words of wisdom from Esther: “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell hard.” She wasn’t just talking about beauty products.

Words of the Week

King David said, “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:15) This means: Seek peace for your friends, and pursue it among your enemies; seek peace where you dwell, and pursue it in all other places; seek peace with your body and pursue it with your all your resources; seek peace for yourself and pursue it for others; seek peace today, and pursue it for tomorrow.
– Sefer Ma’alot HaMiddot