Monday, 1 September 2014

Helena Rubinstein

Helena "Chaja" Rubinstein

On 25 December 1872, the women of the world were given a Christmas present – Helena Rubinstein was born.


Shortly before she died, Helena Rubinstein gave her secretary some advice: “When I die,” she said, “buy stock. It will go up until they know what’s in my Will.”

She was, as always, right. Her stock did go up – until her Will was published.

Sitting in lotus-position isolated in her huge bed under satin sheets, wearing a $4 cotton nightdress, blue-black chignon unravelling down to the small of her back, she read the financial section of the newspaper every morning of her life – horn-rimmed spectacles sliding down to the tip of her nose. A giantess; less than 5 feet tall.


“The Nail Man” put in a bid (how could he not?), but Colgate got it and “sold it like soap”, sending the business plummeting to the depths.

Sally Blake
Date unknown

Revson (Revlon)

Charles "Charlie" Revson c.1940

If such a thing were possible, Charles Revson would be the love-child of Thomas J. Barret (the unsung patron saint of Madison Avenue) and François Coty.

Anyone who was alive and young in the 1950’s will never forget the excitement as those fabulous nail colours and lipsticks hit the High Street stores.

Boxed in individual cartons, each with individual artwork and names like we had never had before: Fire and Ice, Cherries in the Snow, Fifth Avenue Red, and Love That Pink.

Advertisements took up whole pages in magazine, and each carton carried a miniature reproduction of the ad for its contents.

So what? Before Revson, lipsticks had names like Cherry, Rose, or Medium Red, and took up a couple of inches of a magazine page in black and white at most, that’s so what.

Charlie Revson wasn’t all that satisfied with one page in full colour either, and often took up two.

“The Nail Man” Helena Rubenstein called him.

How did he get to be The Nail Man? Because he had a girlfriend who happened to manicure Diana Vreeland’s nails, and because he started as he meant to go on, by lifting other people’s ideas...

We had Charlie apples, Charlie solid perfume pendants, Charlie soaps, bags, face-cloths, towels, beach bags, shoulder-bags, vanity cases, sweat-shirts, umbrellas (yes, he was the first with umbrellas), you name it, we had it, and all marked Charlie.

[here there is a note reading simply: “continue”. She evidently never got around to it.]

Sally Blake
Date unknown

Notes on Houbigant

The Perfumes

Fougère Royale – 1885
Lavender/”new mown hay” – masculine
Houbigant created Fougère Royale in the year Victor Hugo died, D. H. Lawrence was born and the first sky-scraper was erected in Chicago.

Émile Zola published “Germinal” and de Maupassant “Bel Ami”. Vincent Van Gogh painted “The Potato Eaters” and “The Weaver”, and Cézanne “The Card Players”.

In Germany, Nietzsche was giving us “Also Spracht Zarethustra”. It was the year of the Conference of Berline, and the year after Modigliani was born. It was also the year before the death of Franz Liszt. Karl Marx had been dead for two years, so had Manet, Wagner and Turgenev. Kafka was two years old, so was Utrillo: [in the wake of Elizabeth Siddal Rosetti who had set the precedent] his mother, Suzanne Valadon was posing for painters for a few francs an hour and dabbling with occasional canvas of her own, while Grandmother was keeping the baby quiet by giving him a taste for cognac.

The twenty-one year old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec came into sufficient money to set up a studio in Montmartre, and started to frequent the circus and the music-hall. Virginia Woolf, as yet unaware of her own privilege, was bowling her hoop in a Londn park, James Joyce was making sand-castles: a Jesuit education yet to come.

Chantilly - 1941
Powdery floral

The nose behind this fragrance was Paul Parquet. Top notes neroli, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are spices, carnation, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose and orange blossom; base notes are leather, tonka bean, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vanilla and sandalwood.


Sally Blakeoubi
Date Unknown