Saturday, June 29, 2019

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry by Richard Kirshenbaum

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry.  Richard Kirshenbaum. St. Martin’s Press.  June, 2019; pb, 320 pp.; ISBN #: 9781250150950.

Two beauty industry icons are at war in both personal and entrepreneur affairs.  They are Josephine Herz and Constance Gardiner.  So what does it take to rise to such a level of rivalry and glamor?  This is their story, which includes their amazing ideas about beauty that went beyond popular ideas of how women could dress in the most attractive style possible and wear a fragrance to enchant everyone around the wearer. 

Josephine Herz is out to offer beauty salons where one could get a full-day spa treatment that would enhance one’s skin and hair appearance.  Her goal was to make women feel like royalty and to attract higher-end customers in society’s eyes.  She always hired the most talented staff including the African-American assistant, CeeCee, who stayed with her as brilliant aide and lover, until an ultimate betrayal (since being homosexual was illegal during the 1930s in America).  CeeCee then moved her talents to the competition.

Constance Gardiner’s business began with door-to-door saleswomen who were enabled to become their own part-time businesswomen, earning up to 40% profit.  They were highly skilled and trained sales personnel who knew how to make every housewife gradually open up to exposing what they had and what they needed.  Ultimately, they were convinced that the pretty colors and colorful shades of makeup would give them that extra “something” that would enliven their marriages or lovers. 

Each woman was ashamed of her origins and Josephine tortured by her failure to extract one sister from war-torn Poland.  Constance always wanted to be more than she was and defied the era’s anti-Semitic tendencies.  Pride and ego were everything and kept them moving forward despite the weaknesses they displayed in their choice of aides, friends and lovers.

Both women open salons around the world and monitor their success and occasional flaws.  After Josephine dies, the Gardiner business sues for a stolen mascara product – a la CeeCee – but in the end, Constance has to admit that their rivalry was actually a parallel journey to be toasted in victory!!!!

Richard Kirshenbaum has crafted an account of the best and worst in the lives of the beauty icons of the early twentieth century, sparkling with descriptions of their virtues and vices, their friends and rivals, their brilliant discoveries and their hatred of the competition’s successful development.  It’s a grand read which would make a phenomenal movie.  For those who love style, fashion, business, makeup, salons, and more, enjoy the dramatic ride of Rouge….

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