‘Powder and Glory’ Puts Face on Women’s Issues

Sara Purington

Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Cain and Abel, Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drego in their respective fields, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein were fierce competitors in the cosmetic industry.

Arden and Rubinstein were mavericks in the world of women and makeup. In the early 1910s they both set up their own salons and began to market their own brands of beauty products. During 50 years of working in the same industry and living in the same city they never met or spoke to each other.

The PBS movie “The Powder and the Glory,” about the remarkable lives of these women, was screened on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in CS 117. The documentary, produced, written and directed by Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman, travels through time from the 1910s to the 1960s and tells a story of passion, beauty and rivalry as Arden and Rubinstein rose to power in the multibillion-dollar industry.

The movie used quotes from Arden and Rubinstein as well as interviews with significant people in the industry, historians and even people who knew these women. Through graphics, old photos and movie footage the audience gets a glimpse into the history of the cosmetic industry.

For Arden, life began in Canada in 1881. Independent and strong willed, she became swept up with enticing city life where young women were starting to rise up and soon made her way to New York City. She started her business out small, doing everything herself. Business boomed and soon her trademark “Red Door Salon” was on everyone’s mind.

Rubinstein was born in Poland in 1870 and was the oldest of eight daughters. She was very high spirited and rebellious. When she was in her 20s she was kicked out of the house by her father and moved to Australia where she used her strong character to open a salon selling face cream based on her mother’s recipe. Her business sparked and spread throughout Europe. World War I brought Rubinstein to New York City where she opened a high-end salon in 1915, only blocks from Arden’s salon.

These two women were distinctively different from each other which was reflected in there business. Arden was feminine and loved pink and frills. Rubinstein was edgy, urban, and bold.

They were both mavericks of their time; they faced many barriers with business sense and intelligence. Women running their own businesses were very uncommon, however, the cosmetic and fashion industry gave women the opportunity to create their own companies because they were experts in the field. Also at the time makeup was not yet popular but was seen as something only prostitutes and performers wore.

With women hesitant towards using a lot of makeup, Arden and Rubinstein needed to find ways to change women’s mind sets. Arden used the slogan “Every woman has the right to be beautiful,” after seeing the suffragists wear bright red lipstick as a sign of their solidarity. They also received help from the movie industry, which helped to change people’s assumptions about makeup by using it in movies, which everyone watched.
They also created images of their brands. Arden used her trademark Red Door and emphasized the connection of beauty and health.

Rubinstein marketed a lifestyle of high end living and art-deco influence. These marketing strategies paid off and by the end of the 1920s the cosmetic industry was a $2 billion industry and Arden and Rubinstein were among the richest women in America.

Even through the Great Depression, these women were able to keep their businesses making high profits. Rubinstein’s face cream was sold for 85 cents. Her profit was 80 cents. Both these women also continued to come up with more and more innovative products. They seemed to always be ahead of the curve. Arden’s eight-hour cream is still popular today. Rubinstein created the first waterproof mascara.

When World War II started, Arden and Rubinstein were able to sustain business by creating products for the army, such as first-aid kits, camouflage makeup and simple makeup for women in the army. Lipstick was still in high demand because it was a crucial part of female morale as women took over the work while men were at war. Arden created a big selling leg film when stockings were rationed. Arden and Rubinstein knew that to maintain their businesses they needed to be innovative.

After World War II makeup began to evolve. The younger generations became a bigger market and advertising became very crucial. More competitors also emerged including Revlon, Cover Girl, and Estee Lauder, and Avon. But this didn’t stop Arden and Rubinstein. Their companies continued to flourish into the 1960s.

When Rubinstein died in 1965, her estate was worth $100 million. When Arden died a year later she had over 41 salons.

At the end of the movie students discussed the positives and negatives of makeup. Students saw the positives as, makeup makes you feel better about yourself, helps you look younger, it’s a luxury, self expression, and it attracts men. For the negatives makeup was seen as something which forces you to conform, creates materialism and consumerism, and it doesn’t always live up to the hype of making you feel better about yourself.

Throughout their lives Arden and Rubinstein embodied beauty, class and confident businesswomen. They were trailblazers for future female executives and they shaped a multibillion-dollar beauty industry. Those who attended the movie used the word, “inspiring,” to describe these women.