“The Powder and the Glory”

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PBS will soon air a documentary about the cosmetics industry:

The Powder & the Glory tells the story of two of the first highly successful women entrepreneurs in America, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. One hundred years ago these women immigrated to the United States and, starting with next to nothing, created what is today the $150 billion global health and beauty industry.

Although they lived and worked only blocks apart in New York for over 50 years, the two women, by design, never met! Their competition drove them both to great creativity and success.

Their competing companies defined the business of beauty, making cosmetics both newly respectable and, finally, indispensable. Along the way they developed many advertising and marketing techniques that became part of the business landscape, and they themselves became household names, cultural icons, and two of the world’s wealthiest women.

They both influenced and were influenced by the major movements of the day in art, style, and women’s roles:

* When the close-up became a staple in the movies, makeup became au courant
* Their salons were showcases of modernist design
* They helped usher in the “new woman” of the 1920s–young, independent, and in every way equal to men
* Throughout their careers, they supported women’s empowerment and rights

Their accomplishments continue to be relevant to both women and men in business today. This is an inspiring story about perseverance, genuine creativity, and continual reinvention to meet the changing needs and demands of consumers and society. When they started their businesses, makeup was used mostly by prostitutes and performers, and businesses were run mostly by men. They changed all that, and they transformed us.

I’m a lot less enthusiastic about make-up than the filmmakers, but it sounds interesting to watch.

–Ann Bartow

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