According to both Census Bureau data and anecdotal evidence, women are considered one of the fastest growing segments of American entrepreneurs. That said, two of the first, cosmetics moguls: Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein are getting a fresh look in a new PBS documentary. Scheduled for broadcast on March 23, the 90-minute The Powder & the Glory, (based on the book War Paint by Lindy Woodhead) tells the story of how these two pioneering women and their namesake companies hatched what is today a $150 billion beauty industry.
Theirs is the quintessential American success story. Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, both immigrated to the U.S. 100 years ago, Arden was born Florence Nightingale Graham in Ontario, Canada while Rubinstein was born Chaya Rubinstein in Krakow, Poland. Each started with practically nothing and both reinvented themselves into women of glamour, sophistication, with business acumen to match. Arden opened her first salon in 1910 in New York while Rubinstein opened her first New York shop four years later having already rolled out salons in London and Paris. The two women would go on to compete with each other for 50 years.
According to the filmmakers:
“Operating in major cities all over the world, their competing companies defined the business of beauty, making cosmetics both newly respectable and, finally, indispensable. They developed advertising and marketing techniques that became part of the business landscape, and they themselves became household names and cultural icons. When they started their businesses, makeup was used mostly by prostitutes and performers, and businesses were run mostly by men. They changed the way we look at ourselves, built powerful businesses, and became two of the world’s wealthiest women.”