The Powder and The Glory is a documentary about rival cosmetic pioneers Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein.
Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein
The two may not have been friends, but in my mind, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein were sisters in feminism. I’m sure there are those who would argue with me about this point. Critics might suggest that slingers of eyeliner shouldn’t be put in the same pantheon as the bra-burners. But I completely disagree. In my view, protest, and true feminism, is action. Action in your every day life, the simple act of your living your life the way you want to live it, despite the odds. And by that definition, these women were feminism personified.
At a time when women were not allowed to vote, they ran business empires. At a time when makeup was thought of only as an accessory for “whores,” these women came in a changed all the rules. And in doing so, they completely redefined the concept of female beauty and sexuality.
Legend has it that Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein hated each other. For fifty years they lived and worked a few blocks apart in New York, but by design the two never met. I wonder if they had lived in less sexist times if they would be pals. But, I’m guessing not. In the film The Devil Wears Prada the Meryl Streep character is modeled after Anna Wintour, who probably in turn modeled her career in part after fashion heroes Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein.
Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada
And while I’m sure Miss Wintour holds both Miss Arden and Miss Rubinstein in the highest regard, I think that she would be the first to understand their desire to not become BFFs. After all, it’s called The Devil Wears Prada, not the devils.
“The Powder and The Glory” airs March 23 on PBS.