12.09.2021 - online

Meet the Family: Helena Rubinstein

Helena Rubinstein
Photo: Helena Rubinstein, courtesy of Suzanne Slesin

Suzanne Slesin will explore the life and work of Helena Rubinstein, her grandmother by marriage, in conversation with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. This pioneer of the cosmetics industry was also celebrated as an  art collector and for the interior design of her numerous homes and her fashion choices. What is the Helena Rubenstein’s legacy? What does it mean to Suzanne, a design expert in her own right, and why is it important for future generations?

  • Live in English: Sunday 12 September, 2:00PM EDT / 11:00AM PDT / 8:00PM CET / 9:00PM Israel
  • POLIN Museum’s English profile
  • Free and no registration required

“Meet the Family” – online conversations with the descendants of distinguished Polish Jews, moderated by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator of POLIN Museum’s Core Exhibition.

Join the next “Meet the Family” conversation. Suzanne Slesin, whose career as a design expert was inspired by her famous grandmother by marriage. Slesin is the author of “Over the Top: Helena Rubinstein, Extraordinary Style, Beauty, Art, Fashion, and Design.” An art historian and journalist, Slesin was editor for the Home Section of The New York Times and other magazines and has over 20 books on design to her credit. She will offer personal insights into the life and work of Helena Rubenstein and why she finds this beauty icon so inspiring. 

The “Meet the Family” series accompanies the new Legacy gallery at POLIN Museum. The 26 individuals featured in this gallery, when considered together, form a collective portrait of Polish Jews and their achievements. The “Meet the Family” series goes beyond the 26 luminaries featured in the gallery to other individuals and broadens the discussion to consider how their lives illuminate the history of Polish Jews, and how the history of Polish Jews illuminates their lives. The series will offer a unique opportunity to meet their descendants, some of whom are devoting their own lives to preserving the legacy of their distinguished forebears. 

The conversation with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explores the lives, work, and legacy of these exceptional individuals. How did those who achieved so much overcome limitations, pursue their goals, and take responsibility for themselves and others? May those we honor in these conversations inspire us today and in the future.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and University Professor Emerita at New York University. Her books include Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage; Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Mayer Kirshenblatt); The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (with Jonathan Karp); and Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory (with Jeffrey Shandler), among others. She has received honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary, University of Haifa, and Indiana University, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order Merit of the Republic of Poland. She is the recipient of the 2020 Dan David Prize. She serves on Advisory Boards for the Council of American Jewish Museums, Jewish Museum Vienna, Jewish Museum Berlin, and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, and advises on museum and exhibition projects in Lithuania, Belarus, Albania, Israel, and the United States.

Suzanne Slesin has been involved in the field of home design as an art historian and international journalist since the 1970s. She has been Managing Editor of Industrial Design magazine, an editor and writer at New York and Esquire magazines, and for 17 years, was an editor and reporter for the Home Section of The New York Times. In 1995, she was the Design Editor of House & Garden, then Editor-in-Chief of HomeStyle, and in 2003, the Editor of O at Home, an Oprah magazine. Slesin has co-authored over 20 books on design, including the trendsetting Style Books published by Random House. In 2002, Slesin founded Pointed Leaf Press to publish high-quality, photography-driven monographs based on personalities in the worlds of interior and garden design, architecture, art, photography, and fashion. The company’s first publication was Over the Top: Helena Rubinstein, Extraordinary Style, Beauty, Art, Fashion, and Design, an illustrated biography based on archival materials, which she researched and wrote, mining her connection as the cosmetics tycoon’s step-granddaughter. Slesin is a member of the Design and Acquisitions Committee at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, New York, and is on the board of LongHouse Reserve, in East Hampton, NY.

Helena Rubinstein (b. Krakow, Poland 1872; d. 1965, New York, New York) was one of the most extravagant and wide-ranging stylemakers of the last century, a pioneer of the cosmetics industry who was also celebrated for the daring and prescience of her art collecting, the interior design of her numerous homes, and her fashion choices. Rubinstein’s bold and influential flair for decor—sleekly modern at times, and wildly eclectic at others and offering a sampling from different eras—was showcased globally in her beauty salons and in her glamorous residences in New York, Paris, and the South of France. On these projects, Madame worked with prominent architects and designers such as Donald Deskey, Paul Frankl, Erno Goldfinger, David Hicks, and Louis Süe. An astute patron, she invested in artworks by the luminaries of Parisian bohemia just as they began their ascent; her vast collection also included African art, tapestries by Picasso, and Rouault, paintings by Degas, Dufy, Matisse, Miró, Modigliani, and Monet, murals by Dalí, and sculptures by Nadelman and Brancusi. Her striking instinct for fashion (she wore Worth and Poiret at first, and Balenciaga and St. Laurent 60 years later) and her famous overscaled jewelry kept her in the public eye, decade after decade.


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