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Book Review of HELENA RUBINSTEIN: THE WOMAN WHO INVENTED BEAUTY by Michèle Fitoussi

She invented beauty, understood women and created a revolution.

Helena Rubinstein, one of the most extravagant and wide-ranging style-makers, built a cosmetics empire that spanned the globe. Her creative, professional and scientific approach to beauty coupled with innovative advice on skincare were an instant worldwide sensation. This visionary businesswoman and entrepreneur lived and breathed her own life’s work. Helena Rubinstein was a breathtaking, stunning original. She struggled, nearly gave up, and triumphed. This is her riveting, rags-to-riches life story, a vivid account packed with fascinating detail, the stuff that romantic fiction is made of.

A true heroine at heart, Helena believed in herself and in her extraordinary power to conquer the world. She turned all her disadvantages into strengths. Her character was forged in iron and steel. Driven by great courage, extraordinary intelligence and an indomitable will to succeed, she invented modern cosmetics, making them accessible to all. To Helena, beauty was a new power to assert independence. Her innate sense of marketing helped her to promote her cosmetics empire successfully. She constantly invented new sales techniques to set high professional standards, using creative advertising to her advantage.

Helena worked tirelessly. Work was her best beauty treatment. She believed in the energizing power of hard work. It kept her young, smoothing the wrinkles from her mind and spirit. She became one of the richest women in the world, amassing a fortune almost singlehandedly, by the power of sheer, hard work. She was a visionary and deserved her hard-won success. Madame, as everyone called her, became a billionaire businesswoman and a highly successful entrepreneur. She even acquired a royal title by becoming a princess later in life. Helena Rubinstein watched the dramatic democratization of beauty, the advent of consumerism and women marching towards freedom and liberty.

What is so interesting about Helena Rubinstein? First encounters are often mysterious. We do not know exactly how things happen. Mostly it is a matter of chance. A person’s story touches us in ways we cannot express. With her name boldly emblazoned on beauty products, the opening lines of her life story are dramatic enough. Born in 1872 in Kraków, Poland, she had seven younger sisters. Aged twenty-four, she sailed to Australia as a pioneer, armed with only a parasol, twelve jars of cream, and inexhaustible energy. She disembarked in Melbourne, in the heart of a foreign land, where she struggled, nearly gave up, then triumphed.

Helena Rubinstein became a sort of romantic heroine who despised the past. Her motto seemed to be ‘Onwards!’. She was a conqueror. Her character was forged in iron and steel. Helena set out to prove one thing alone: ‘Give a girl the right cosmetics and she can conquer the world.’ Her extraordinary and tumultuous life spanned almost a century and across four continents. Inspired by courage and imbued with intelligence and a will to succeed, she built an industrial and financial empire.

More impressively, she re-invented modern cosmetics, making them accessible to all. It was not an easy task for a woman. But she loftily disregarded disadvantages, often turning them into strengths. Her first beauty institute was opened in Melbourne in 1902, when Australian women obtained the right to vote. Helena was a strong supporter of women’s equality, which meant fighting for their rights and their liberation.

For Helena, beauty was a new power through which women could assert
their independence, using the assets at their disposal to conquer the world. Cosmetics existed before Helena Rubinstein but she was the visionary who created the science of modern beauty. Her extraordinary and tumultuous life spanned almost a century and across four continents. Inspired by courage and imbued with intelligence and a strong will to succeed, she built an industrial and financial empire. She lived through many eras and died in 1965, aged 93.

Miriam Jacob


 

THE INFINITE AIR by Fiona Kidman

https://miriamjacob.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/the-infinite-air-by-fiona-kidman/

THE INFINITE AIR
by Fiona Kidman
Gallic Books
Aardvark Bureau
ISBN 978-1-910709-08-5
© March 6, 2016

Dame Fiona Kidman’s captivating novel, ‘The Infinite Air,’ portrays the enigmatic life of the very epitome of aviation, Jean Batten, one of the world’s greatest aviators, with her record-breaking solo flights around the world. This is the incredible story of an icon of the 1930’s, the ‘Garbo of the Skies,’ a fascinating account of worldwide fame, enshrouded and entombed in secrecy. The Second World War ended Jean’s daring flights. She disappeared to the Caribbean, died in obscurity in Majorca, to be buried in a pauper’s grave. This is her winged story of flight.

Flying in the panoramic expanse of the skies, to explore the immensity of the infinite air, Jean would conquer the world at her feet. She and her mother shared destinies inexorably and inextricably linked together. At her birth in 1909, Nellie placed a picture of Louis Blériot above Jean’s baby cot. He flew across the English Channel, in 36 minutes and 30 seconds, the first person to achieve this feat. Louis Blériot epitomized Nellie’s dream of flying, which Jean brought to life, as they weaved their way “Through Difficulties to Greatness.” Jean was determined to fly to Australia faster than anyone else. ‘Once my mind’s set on anything, it’s useless to swerve me from my purpose. I’m going to finish what I set out to do.’

For Jean, there was no turning back. Out in the sky, she was flying to her destiny, overtaken by delirious joy. The sense of speed and power thrilled her. She was enraptured at the pure sensation of flight. Jean did all the aerial tricks and manoeuvres — flying inverted, circling and looping, slow rolling, tossing the plane, diving, twisting and weaving, flinging it against the skies. At five thousand feet in the air, a sense of exhilaration invigorated  Jean. She flew to Italy. At Rome, she was the first woman to fly non-stop solo from England. A new record for a world class aviator on a peculiar mission, alone in the sky.

On 8 May 1934, Jean set out to fly to Australia. Success was within her grasp. No turning back. On the far horizon, a small dark cloud arose. Australia! She broke the solo record for women by four and a half days. A telegram from King George VI: “Please convey to Miss Batten the congratulations of the Queen and myself on her wonderful flight. George R. I.” In Sydney, sixteen planes flew out in formation to meet her. She made her first public speech. Jean did the largest live radio station broadcast ever organized from Sydney, with a broadcast to the United States. “I’m living in a dream. But it’s a dream of my own making.”

Brazil conferred on Jean the Order of the Southern Cross, for her record-breaking flight linking England with Brazil in the fastest time in history. France bestowed upon Jean the French Légion d’Honneur, the first British airwoman to be honored. Jean was made a Commander of the British Empire. Louis Blériot who had said, ‘The medals are important, but they are not the journey,’ had died of a heart attack in Paris, aged sixty-four. Jean cried, in bitter heartache. ‘Why him?’

Jean Batten’s Record-breaking Flights were: 1934. England-Australia solo flight (women’s record), 1935. Australia-England solo flight, First woman to make return flight, England-Brazil solo flight (world record), First woman to fly solo across South Atlantic Ocean and make England-South America flight, 1936. England-New Zealand solo flight (world record), First direct flight between England and New Zealand, England-Australia solo flight (world record, established on same flight), 1937. Australia-England solo flight (world record), First person to hold both England-Australia and Australia-England solo records at the same time.

Jean Batten died in Palma, Majorca, in 1982. Bitten by a dog while walking, the wound became infected. She declined medicines until her last hours but it was too late. Jean lay dead. She was buried in a paupers’ common grave. Five years elapsed before the details of her death surfaced in 1987. She had vanished into infinity. ‘I’m young at heart,’ Jean once said, ‘because I’ve never really grown up.” An extremely brave, daring and courageous lady, who inspired others to dream of daring exploits, Jean Batten was one of the greatest aviators of all time.

Miriam Jacob