Over the Top
Extraordinary Style, Beauty, Art, Fashion, and Design
By Suzanne Slesin
Published October 2003
216 Pages / Over 400 illustrations
Rubinstein knew from the time she started her business that her image would be associated with her brand, and she had herself photographed, dressed by the top couturiers of the day, for publicity purposes. Here she poses for G. Maillard Kesslere in a 1932 sequin-and-pearl-embroidered dinner dress by English fashion designer Captain Edward Molyneux.
Chic minimalism – and a white linoleum floor – characterize Deskey’s design for the large master bedroom, where he plays right angles against curves in the chairs, the cylindrical side table, the bracket lights over the mantel, and the svelte bureau.
The graceful, curving staircase in the 1929 building was a standard architectural element of the period.
Marie Laurencin, a French artist who was inspired by the Fauves, had an important place in the School of Paris in the 1920’s.
Draperies of heavy pleated cellophane cover the windows and line the walls of the sparsely furnished second-floor drawing room, creating a shimmering effect.
In 1929 the New York firm of Sloan and Robertson designed 895 Park Avenue, a luxury Art Deco-style apartment building at the corner of 79th Street.
Pavel Tchelitchew, who was born in Moscow in 1898 and began his career designing theatrical sets and costumes, painted the Head of Helena Rubinstein Encrusted with Sequins around 1934.
Although small, Madame presents a statuesque appearance as she stands by one of Elie Nadelman’s masterpieces, a plaster horse that synthesizes the sculptor’s taste for classical Greek sculpture and American folk art weathervanes.
Encompassing a breathtaking panorama that stretches from the church of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre to the Pantheon in Saint-Germain, embracing the Eiffel Tower and the ramparts of Notre Dame, the terrace topping the entire building was among the most sublime spaces in the city.
In the mid-1930s, Rubinstein poses with her niece and protegee Mala Rubinstein, who was to become the company’s ambassador and beauty advisor.
Photographed in 1951, Rubinstein stands in the wood-paneled salon in which she displayed a selection from her hundreds of pieces of African and Oceanic art.
Marlene Dietrich and Helena Rubinstein enjoy front-row seats at the spring/summer 1960 collection at the Christian Dior salon in Paris.
When Christian Dior burst onto the fashion scene with his New Look in 1947, his feminine designs were heralded in part for their therapeutic effect on a war-torn world. In 1957, Rubinstein posed at her New York penthouse in the charcoal-gray Chantilly lace gown embroidered with silver sequins, clear glass beads, and tiny rhinestones, wearing her dramatic starfish-shaped sapphire-and-diamond hand ornament.
Picasso captured Rubinstein’s proud demeanor and determined chin and emphasized her jewels, her painted nails, and her famous hairdo.
In November Rubinstein wore different jewelry, and Picasso drew only her head in a series of sketches that she was never to see.
In 1941, the centerpiece of Madame’s bedroom was an innovative illuminated acrylic bed designed for her by Ladislas Medgyes. An artist and interior designer also known for his glass sculpture, Medgyes came to New York in the 1930s to work on her salon at 715 Fifth Avenue.
She was just about ninety years old; he had recently turned thirty. Helena Rubinstein, indefatigable and ready to take on a new and ambitious design project, met with Dave Hicks, the young decorator. Both were well versed in the value of publicity, and Rubinstein’s collaboration with Hicks received plenty of it.
A preview sketch by Hicks of his scheme for the living room in Madame’s London flat was published in Queen magazine and preserved in one of his scrap books.
A series of exquisite white marble heads from Elie Nadelman’s early classical period had been in Rubinstein’s collection for decades; here they stand as theatrical sentinels against the dark walls.
This loosely painted, expressionistic portrait of Rubinstein, while far from flattering, conveys the idea of a powerful, commanding woman. Although it was widely published, there is no indication that Madame ever saw the piece in person. The painter, Sir William Dobell, did not work from life; he may have simply seen a photograph of Rubinstein in her Balenciaga gown.
Graham Sutherland, a successful portraitist, portrayed Madame in 1957 as a richly adorned eagle-eyed matriarch.
Lavishly illustrated with more than 400 images – many never before published – Over the Top opens a window into the world of Helena Rubinstein, one of the most extravagant and wide-ranging stylemakers of the last century. 16 essays by renowned experts in the fields of art and interior design trace the public and private life of the celebrated cosmetics pioneer, and examine the daring prescience of her art collection and home decoration through the eyes of this self-made mogul and the century she helped define.
About the Author
Suzanne Slesin is the author of over 20 books on style and home furnishings. In addition to being the founder and current Editorial Director of Pointed Leaf Press, she currently contributes to a number of design magazines. She lives in New York City with her husband.