Photo: Bernard Villemot

“There are no ugly women, only lazy ones,” Helena Rubinstein famously declared—a manifesto as persuasive and direct as the industrious beauty entrepreneur herself, who is the subject of a compelling new exhibition opening today at the Jewish Museum in New York. Formidable beyond her four-foot-ten frame, Rubinstein was the quintessential self-made woman, effortlessly navigating the intersection between culture and commerce while amassing a glittering checklist of breakthrough innovations—from the first waterproof mascara to a series of novel skin-tightening therapies.

Yet, for all of her forward-thinking advances, it is Rubinstein’s personal journey, from pioneering émigré to powerhouse beauty scion, that manages to truly captivate. Born in 1872 in working-class Kraków (two of the many biographical details that she creatively revised over the years), she set sail for Australia at age 24, abandoning her given name, Chaja, in favor of the more urbane Helena Juliet. Before long, her alabaster complexion caught the attention of the sun-weary locals, and in 1903 she began selling her miracle face cream, Valaze—purportedly infused with “rare Carpathian herbs”—at her debut salon in Melbourne. In the ensuing decades, her global empire grew to include outposts in more than 30 cities, from London (where clients often took pains to arrive unnoticed, as beauty rituals were largely practiced by women of ill repute) to Rio de Janeiro.

It was in New York, however—where well-heeled women swung in and out of the doors of her self-titled seven-floor flagship on Fifth Avenue—that the tireless Rubinstein made her mark (always with an eye on her archrival Elizabeth Arden and the upstart Charles Revson of Revlon, whom she archly referred to as “the nail man”). Madame, as she was universally known, championed the use of then-experimental chemical peels and was an early advocate for sun protection (“I have but this to say, sunburn is beauty suicide”). And while not a conventional beauty herself, she adopted a striking sensibility: She filled her closets with Schiaparelli, Poiret, and Balenciaga, wore layers of opulent jewels, and swept her raven-colored hair into a severe chignon.

Her preoccupation with the female form was evidenced in her staggering collection of contemporary art. Many of those works, including portraits of her own likeness as rendered by such artists as Man Ray, Marie Laurencin, and Andy Warhol, are on display in the exhibition. Here, a few of our favorite quirky facts worth noting for those who plan on checking out “Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power” this weekend.

“Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” opens October 31 at the Jewish Museum, New York City; thejewishmuseum.org

The post “There Are No Ugly Women, Only Lazy Ones”: A New Beauty Exhibition Explores the Life and Legacy of Helena Rubinstein appeared first on Vogue.