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

2.96  ·  Rating details ·  199 ratings  ·  42 reviews
From acclaimed novelist and cultural historian Ruth Brandon comes a captivating dual biography of the legendary founders of the cosmetics industry, Helena Rubinstein and Eugène Schueller, creator of L’Oréal. Brandon’s gripping and sometimes disturbing story of gender, power, and politics stretches back from the darkest days of World War II, to the emergence of the modern f ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Harper
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2.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  199 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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Lolly's Library
Apr 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Now that I've finished this book, I have to make a confession: I realize I am not the target audience. So why did I pick this book? For the mere fact that I'm interested in the beauty industry and saw a documentary about the rivalry between Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden a while back and thought this book would be a nice complement to that program. It's not.

Focusing on the history of the Helena Rubinstein and L'Oréal beauty companies and the two wildly different founders of each, we are treated
I feel like I don't want to buy any more L'Oréal.
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: amazon-vine-book
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 n
Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is a real mixed bag for me. First, the title is misleading. It is not the "blemished" history of the makeup industry. It's a little bit about Helena Rubinstein and mostly about L'Oreal founder, Eugene Shueller. The parts about Rubinstein are inspiring and exciting. She was first female self-made millionaire business tycoon who wanted to empower woman by using cosmetics to build confidence. And then there's Shueller, a Nazi who felt women belonged at home and only at home and he found i ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle
The first part was a bit interested and readable, so that's why i give 2 star. But after that was just tendentious opinions of the author. In short for me was a waste of time.
Apr 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Isn't it great that L'Oreal has been making hair dye for a hundred years and it still makes your head smell like cat pee?
Sharon Baker-johnson
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
Ugly Beauty is a curious mixture of biography, business marketing theory, psychology and historical consequences of social behavior. This probably explains why the book is so complicated (and sometimes confusing)to follow. The premise of comparing and contrasting Rubinstein and Schueller (founder of L'Oreal)makes for an interesting read. They could not have been more opposite in perspective, yet so alike in business acumen. The biographical sections of the book are interesting to anyone who enjo ...more
Mar 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011, nonfiction
As enthralling as the first four chapters were, detailing the history and lives of the founders behind two of the greatest institutions in the beauty industry (Eugene Schueller of L'Oreal and Helena Rubinstein of Helena Rubinstein, Inc.), the last few chapters were equally as tedious. Instead of telling and portraying the facts of the past, the author suddenly turned into a theorizer as to how and why events transpired and certain people acted the way in they did-- which, on it's own, is not an ...more
Kathleen Hulser
Jan 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well-written and engrossing company histories that probe personal ambition in nuanced context of a time period that saw both huge upheavals of war and restructuring of European business. This opened a door for American beauty products in the empire that the tireless Helena Rubenstein had already been building across national borders. The story becomes more complicated and shot through with irony, as Brandon astutely combines it with the company history of L'Oreal, founded by a French chemist who ...more
Jack Oughton
Dec 10, 2016 rated it liked it
This is more a biography of Helena Rubinstein and the man who founded L'Oreal, Eugène Schueller - and how they got the modern beauty industry off the ground.

It's not a hatchet job, exactly, but it's done nothing to improve my opinion of an industry that seems to have built itself on some kind of deep rooted, socially constructed female insecurity.
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
The first third is interesting if pendantic, the rest falls into a morass of indecipherable names and interchangeable characters. Without the mammoth personalities of Eugene Shueller and Helana Rubenstein to spice up the story the scandal alluded to in the book's description loses it's edge.
Eric Uribares
May 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Donna Utter
Nov 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
Barely could get through the first chapter.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting, but not what I was expecting. I thought it was going to tell of a battle between the two companies, but it was two separate stories about the founders.
Jul 12, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a follow-up book on the beauty industry that was stimulated by the history of the industry I just finished - Imagining Beauty. This book is a dual biography of Helena Rubinstein and Eugene Schueller (and family) the founder of L'Oreal. Rubinstein was the path-breaking female entrepreneur who was first to market with many of the products and services that have long been common in the industry. Schueller was also a fine businessman but came at the business as a chemist seeking to find a wa ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it liked it
It turns out to be less a book about the beauty industry than an account of L'Oreal's founder's pro-Nazi activities during WWII. About a third of the book is about Helena Rubenstein, who interested me enough to want to get a biography of her, being the first female self-made millionaire. A good two-thirds is about Eugene Schueller, the L'Oreal founder, and his friends and cohorts, L'Oreal executives, etc. which made my eyes roll up in their sockets from boredom. The last chapter talks about ways ...more
Margaret Sankey
Dec 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting, but ultimately unfocused study of the parallel rise of Helena Rubenstein (self-promoting, assertive, self-taught Polish Jew) and Eugene Schueller of L'Oreal (social climbing French chemist, Action Francaise supporter and Vichy collaborator)along with the acceptability of the cosmetic industry. Brandon follows the story into the present, when the 1988 buyout of Rubenstein unearthed well-founded accusations of collaboration against L'Oreal executives and their political colleagues lik ...more
Nov 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: business-retail

Ugly Beauty tells the history of the Helena Rubinstein and her company with a particular focus on the takeover by L'Oreal and its corporate heads sordid history. I am an avid reader of history and business books and got this book assuming it be more focused on business. That being said this is really a history book that has it all. We get to see a company tied to Nazi sympathizers in France, a wandering corporate head referred to as Madame (no explanation as to why) and a look at how one of the
Feb 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Not quite what I expected but still very interesting. A history of Helena Rubinstein, born poor in Poland and largely self-taught, she became the founder of a cosmetics empire. She was a workaholic, and included family in her businesses throughout the world. Her empire enabled her to have remarkable riches and the freedom to live the life she wanted. The other company showcased is L'Oreal, founded by a scientist Eugene Schuller, also from a poor background, but with the advantage of a good educa ...more
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had really high hopes for this book! I loved the idea behind it.

I thought it would tell me a little more about the beauty industry, and why it's shady, but instead it's really about Helena Rubinstein and L'Oreal founder, Eugene Shueller.

I liked learning about Helena, a Jewish immigrant from everywhere. Her business skills and smarts made her one of the first female self-made millionaires.
Shueller was interesting enough, especially at the beginning.

The problem is it went too deep into their li
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Ugly Beauty has some good components, but they never coalesced. The author made relatively few connections between the stories of Rubenstein and the founder of L'Oreal until the end, when the author was more successful. After their stories, Brandon inserted an essay on the importance of beauty to society and her personal experience consulting with a plastic surgeon. That may have worked as a magazine article, but it felt like filler in this book. Finally, after the essay, there is an update on L ...more
Feb 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
Didn't finish, which is rare for me. It's so boring, and the subject isn't important enough for me to care. It's not the "Blemished History of Looking Good" it's a weird investigation into the backgrounds of the 2 companies in the subtitle, during WW2 and how much they collaborated. Too many facts and names, not enough character building. The beginning started out ok, all the parts about Helena getting her company started were alright, but it bogged down quickly with L'Oreal and doesn't show any ...more
Nicky Enriquez
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
My suggestion would be to read the first two chapters and then stop. I found Brandon's weaving of Schueller/L'Oreal's WWII past to be tightly woven - trying to pack in his history into a few short chapters. Her description of Rubenstein was interesting and thoughtful, but that's where the brilliance stopped. The last few chapters were interesting, but as another reviewer mentioned, were blithely theorized fragments that the book could have done well without.

I don't know much about Liliane Bette
Jill Heather
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The title is unfortunately misleading -- the book isn't about the history of the beauty industry, it's about the very interesting (and even more chequered) history of L'Oreal, and how it interacts with the Vichy government and subsequent French governments.

At times, you're expected to know a great deal of WW2 history, at other times, you're expected to know none at all; similarly, sometimes the amount of general history is too much, and sometimes too little.

But it is, overall, fascinating to r
Mar 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish-interest
I was very interesting in reading this book because I had heard some information about L'Oreal and WWll and I wanted to learn more. I very much liked learning Helena Rubinstein story. The story of Schueller and his philosophy and connections was very enlightening, and seriously disturbing. France and it's participation in Anti-Semitism is dark and complicated.
The last couple of chapters didn't really fit the premise in that it talked about the image of beauty treatments through history and the "
Feb 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
While this was interesting, it was rather disorganized and at times I would find myself wondering how what I was reading had anything to do with the beauty industry. In fact, it is not so much a history of the beauty industry as a history of Schueller and Rubenstein - and how WW2 had such a long-lasting effect on their companies. This book really would have benefited from a good editor to help focus and streamline the content.
Susan Roden
Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I really liked learning the dirty, ugly truth of the origin of these two beauty companies. The comparison of Helena Rubenstein to Eugene Schueller, the founder of L'Oreal could not be of two more different people. I liked reading about the history of the L'Oreal founder and World War II - better than any novel could be.
The ending, comparing the descendents of the founders showed even more differences between these two companies. Truth is stranger than fiction any day!
"¡El trabajo ha sido mi mejor tratamiento de belleza! Mantiene a raya las arrugas; permite mantener joven el corazón y el espíritu. Ayuda a una mujer a conservar la juventud. ¡Y por supuesto la vitalidad!"
Helena Rubinstein

"Renunciar a la belleza demuestra una tremenda falta de valor. La belleza implica disciplina, y rechazarla es un acto de cobardía"
Votré Beauté, noviembre de 1940
Michelle Teeter
Aug 05, 2011 rated it liked it
I read this for research for school, but I really enjoyed it on its own. I never really heard of Helena Rubinstein, and found her story inspirational. It also talked about the politics going on in France during WWI & WWII, besides the Nazis, which I never really knew a lot about either. A great book that describes the birth of the modern cosmetic industry.
May 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Ever wondered who invented the world of hair and makeup products? This book is about the two beauty tycoons: Helena Rubinstein, the creator of cosmetics, and Eugène Schueller founded of L’Oreal hair products. Conspiracy theories aside this is a fantasizing read. Partly biography-written and history detective -like researched, this book will have you seeing beauty in a new light.
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