Susan's Reviews > Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good

Ugly Beauty by Ruth Brandon
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's review
Apr 06, 11

bookshelves: amazon-vine-book
Read from January 14 to 20, 2011

Combining biographies of Helena Rubinstein and Eugene Schueller, Ugly Beauty is subtitled, Helena Rubinstein, L'Oreal, and the Blemished history of looking good.

Starting off, the first chapters about Rubinstein are fascinating. This interesting and ambitious woman who grew up in the Krakow ghetto, moved to Australia where she had family and started her own beauty product line. She was a marketing genius, using techniques that are still actively used in marketing beauty products today. She had no formal education in chemistry, yet she gathered enough information to make her products in her kitchen lab and learned how to make the products women wanted. I found it interesting that in Australia at the turn of the 20th century, the Victorian era was over, women were entering the workforce and were willing to try beauty products still forbidden in Victorian England. Her business quickly expanded and she became a force to be reckoned with.

Eugene Schueller, a French chemist, invented products to dye hair, using his skills to experiment on many products and formulas. He, too, was a marketing expert selling his products to Paris hair salons, and creating a market where none had previously been. He, like Rubinstein was a workaholic, and expected the same of his employees. Schueller was the founder of Cagoule, a controversial French activist organization that held meetings at L'Oreal headquarters. Many of later L'Oreal executives were involved in Schueller's controversial political groups. Eventually Schueller's company, L'Oreal, expanded world wide and produced most types of beauty products.

I found the first part of this book and some of the last part very interesting. There is much interesting information in the part about Rubinstein. The middle part of the book about Schueller and WWII, bogged down into boring stories about business, dirty tricks, Henry Ford, and Schuller's dealings with various people.

One valuable thing about reading this book is that it confirmed my long held belief that beauty products are extremely over priced on purpose and that many of the advertising claims are greatly exaggerated.

Why a 2 star rating:
If a reader is looking for an interesting history of the beauty products industry you might find the first part of the book relatively interesting. However, the book quickly bogs down into plodding, verbose, chapters about Schuller's political activities, and business principles and philosophy. This seems like it could be required reading for first year business students and maybe students of French activism before and during WWII. The end of the book lost my interest completely, as the author recites tedious details about L'Oreal management and practices.

Over all I would say save your money or read a different book on the history of beauty products.
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