Monday, March 23 at 10 p.m. – The Powder and the Glory
(Rochester, NY)– The Powder and the Glory, airing Monday, March 23 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1), tells the story of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, two pioneering, visionary entrepreneurs who, with next to nothing, created what is today the $150 billion international health and beauty industry. One hundred years ago, these women immigrated to America with the same idea — to build an empire by giving women what they wanted: youth and beauty. They quickly shook off their humble beginnings to become household names, pillars of society, and cultural icons. They transformed the idea of cosmetics from a mark of “easy virtue” into a necessity — for all women in all strata of society. Although they lived and worked just blocks apart, they refused to meet. For 50 years, they were fierce rivals.
Narrated by Jane Alexander, The Powder and the Glory is based on Lindy Woodhead’s War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein & Miss Elizabeth Arden — Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry. The program shows how their competing companies defined the business of beauty, making cosmetics first respectable and, finally, indispensable. Along the way, they developed advertising and merchandising techniques that revolutionized marketing forever, selling not just lipstick but lifestyle. Theirs is a story of perseverance, genuine creativity and continual reinvention, always ready to meet the changing needs and demands of consumers and society. They changed the way women perceived themselves, built enduring brands, and became two of the world’s wealthiest women by turning pots of face cream into pots of gold.
Elizabeth Arden was born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1881 and raised in poverty on a farm in rural Ontario. Enthralled with the high-society life she saw at the nickelodeons and read about in dime novels, she went to New York in 1907 and began work as a clerk in a beauty shop. By 1910 she had changed her name to the more glamorous Elizabeth Arden and opened her own salon. In 1912 she joined a women’s suffrage march on Fifth Avenue and later capitalized on the women’s movement by claiming that, in addition to the vote, “every woman has a right to be beautiful.”
Helena Rubinstein was born Chaya Rubinstein into a lower-middle-class Jewish family in Krakow, Poland, in 1872. She was the eldest of eight daughters, all deemed to have beautiful skin, which Rubinstein credited to the daily applications of her mother’s moisturizing cream. It was made of oils, water, and pine bark, a powerful antioxidant upon which Rubinstein began her career. As a young woman, she fled to Australia where, in 1906, she opened a shop and began selling her cream. Business boomed; in 1914, having already opened salons in London and Paris, she arrived in New York and began a lifelong competition with Elizabeth Arden.
The beauty business was tailor-made for young women entrepreneurs of limited means; products were cheap to produce and could be made at the kitchen table. Profits were high because, as both Arden and Rubinstein were quick to learn, women were willing to pay premium prices for a taste of luxury. Catering to the wealthy, they also sold their dream to the growing immigrant population and the swelling ranks of shop girls. Even beyond their Anglo-Episcopalian and Polish-Jewish roots, Miss Arden and Madame Rubinstein, as they preferred to be called, were very different. The “world of Elizabeth Arden” was more feminine than femme fatale. Her style suggested wealth and status, country leisure and refined city pleasure. Helena Rubinstein’s woman was urban, edgy, glamorous, a woman of dramatic personality rather than glorious beauty. But they shared the habit of reinventing themselves, and their competition drove them both to great creativity and success. Whenever one launched a successful product, the other sought to outdo her rival with a bigger success, and as soon as possible.
The two competitors influenced, and were influenced by, the major movements of the day in art, style, design, and cinema. Rubinstein filled her salon with priceless pieces of avant-garde art; Arden’s sleek salon was George Cukor’s model for the 1939 film The Women. Their salons were showcases of modernist design, elegant temples to beauty that sold dreams as much as rouge.
Told through rare archival footage, modern-day interviews, models, and animation, The Powder and the Glory traces the amazing careers of these two women, from their rise in the 1910s through the Depression, World War II, to their deaths in the 1960s. They were true pioneers who not only built empires but helped usher in the “new woman” of the 20th century — free-spirited, independent, and in every way equal to men.
The Powder and the Glory features interviews with:
• Kitty Carlisle Hart – late actress, singer, arts administrator
• Twiggy Lawson – actress, model, businesswoman, and television personality
• Lindy Woodhead – advisor to the filmmakers; author, War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein & Miss Elizabeth Arden — Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry
• Pablo Manzoni – former creative director for makeup, Elizabeth Arden
• Stephen Glass – former creative director for hair, Elizabeth Arden
• Shirley Lord – journalist and author, senior editor, Vogue, and former executive at the Helena Rubinstein Company
• Kathy Peiss – historian, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Hope in a Jar
• Nancy Koehn – professor, Harvard Business School, author of Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers’ Trust from Wedgwood to Dell
• Rosabeth Moss Kanter – professor, Harvard Business School, and author of Men and Women of the Corporation and Confidence
• Virginia Drachman – historian, Tufts University, and author of Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business
• Lawrence Fuchs – founder of the American Studies Department, Brandeis University (Emeritus), and author of American Kaleidoscope
• Jean Kilbourne – theorist and lecturer, and author of Killing Us Softly and Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
• Marie Clifford – art historian, Whitman College, and author of Helena Rubinstein's Beauty Salons, Fashion, and Modernist Display
• Neil Harris – art historian, University of Chicago, and author of Cultural Excursions
• David Nash – Mitchell-Innes and Nash Gallery; Sotheby’s curator in charge of the sale of Helena Rubinstein’s art collection after her death
• Suzanne Slesin – journalist and editor; author of Over the Top: Helena Rubinstein — Extraordinary Style, Beauty, Art, Fashion, and Design
For more information, visit http://www.pbs.org/thepowderandtheglory.
Pictured: Elizabeth Arden (left) and Helena Rubinstein (right)
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Arden Archives and Helena Rubinstein Foundation; montage by Matt Garneau, Rampion Visual Productions
WXXI is the essential, life-long educational
media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI
puts the community first with programming that stimulates
and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural
horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community
issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about
our services and programs.