Helena Rubinstein: The Australia years
La Trobe University Press, $34.99 pb, 286 pp
Angus Trumble, who died suddenly last October, was a towering figure with a slight sideways tilt to his head. In his famously dandyish attire he might have stepped out of a Max Beerbohm cartoon, and appropriately so given his expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art. Trumble’s latest, and last, subject also chimes with one of Beerbohm’s earliest literary ventures, ‘A Defence of Cosmetics’, published in 1894.
Helena Rubinstein, who emigrated to Australia from Vienna a couple of years later, managed to produce and market her first beauty product, a face cream she called ‘Valaze’, within six or seven years of her arrival in Melbourne. Keen to protest (protest too much) its ‘natural’ health-enhancing properties, she was adamant to begin with that this was ‘not a cosmetic’, but within twenty years, as Trumble traces, it was to become the basis of ‘the world’s first global cosmetics empire’, which peddled with huge success a lustrous range of make-up from lipsticks to rouges and eyeliners.