The eldest of eight daughters born to the Jewish couple of Augusta and Horace Rubinstein, Helena later (much later) wrote, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”
Born Chaja in Krakow in December 1872, as the oldest child Helena helped her father with the bookkeeping for his shop and her mother make beauty ointments. Augusta repeatedly told her eight daughters they would wield influence only through the “powers of beauty and love.” It was love that sent Helena to Australia in 1902. When she demurred from studying medicine, her father agreed so long as she married instead of studied. Her choice was, however, not the sedate and rich 35-year-old widower her father selected for her, but rather a poor fellow student from the University of Krakow. So Helena left Poland for Australia to get away from her father.
There she began making beauty creams based on her mother’s recipes. They were a big hit with the locals, and soon she had opened her own shop in Melbourne. In 1905 Helena headed back to Europe, there to study the latest advances in skin treatments. She returned to Australia, along with a Dr. Jacob Lykusky, to create more cosmetic formulae. Rubinstein began travelling to promote her products, and in 1908 opened the Salon de Beauté Valaze in London. Although she married and gave birth to two sons, that didn’t slow her down. She opened salons in New York and San Francisco, engaged in heated rivalries with Elizabeth Arden and Charles Revlon, and sold her American operations to Lehman Brothers in 1928 … which she bought back cheap after the stock market crash.