Helena Rubinstein and Eugène Schueller (the founder of L'Oréal) started out in the beauty business within a few years of each other, but they represented opposite poles. While they were both self-made entrepreneurs, Rubinstein was a Jew and a woman while Schueller was a French conservative and, as it was later revealed, a fascist. They used their respective dominance in the cosmetics industry in opposite ways as well: Rubinstein became the first female millionaire and the archetypal career woman, believing that the beauty business both symbolized and enabled women's emancipation. Schueller, on the other hand, used the beauty business as a source of cash to buy economic and political influence to advance a patriarchal status quo.
In the battle of these two titans, Schueller won, as his firm eventually swallowed Rubinstein's. But his victory cost him his reputation. In a series of revelations following the 1988 acquisition of Helena Rubinstein's business by L'Oréal, Schueller was exposed as a fascist and Nazi collaborator, whose wartime activities were condoned in postwar France by a cadre of elite and wealthy men. A series of scandals erupted that are still not wholly resolved, and the legacies of this history and the people involved remain tabloid fodder and a national embarrassment for France to this day.
Arguing that the battle between Schueller and Rubinstein continues on a metaphorical level to this day, Brandon uses this history to ask important contemporary questions about feminism, contemporary standards of beauty, and the often murky intersection of individual political aims and the role of business.