1 December 2023

Riverina Rewind: The celebrity visitor who taught Wagga's women how to be 'young and beautiful'

| Chris Roe
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Mademoiselle Manka Rubinstein appeared at Wagga’s David Copland & Co to help women remain ‘young and beautiful’. Photo: CSURA/Chris Roe.

In March of 1938, there was great excitement among the women of Wagga Wagga as the town prepared to host a “world-renowned celebrity” and beauty expert.

“Not only a lecturer on beauty, but a living example of what correct beauty care and good grooming can do to keep a woman young and beautiful,” gushed The Daily Advertiser.

The celebrity in question was Mademoiselle (Mlle) Manka Rubinstein, sister and business partner of the cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein.

Manka Rubinstein was touring Australia with her husband, and her only venture outside the capital cities was a trip to Wagga Wagga and the iconic David Copland & Co store.

“For years, Mlle Rubinstein has been telling young people the way to keep young, and elderly people the way to look young,” continued the Advertiser.

“Mlle practises what she preaches. She has a son aged 23 years studying architecture in London, yet she herself is remarkably youthful looking and beautiful.”

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Manka’s sister Helena Rubinstein had a gift for marketing cosmetics, and her global empire had its beginnings in regional Victoria.

After migrating to Australia from Poland in the late 19th century, Helena lived on a sheep station in Western Victoria, where she had an abundance of lanolin that would become the key ingredient in her face creams.

Borrowing from the ‘snake oil’ salesmen of the past, the well-groomed Helena pitched glamour and beauty as science and ‘prescribed’ her products to Australia’s women.

Her motto was “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones”.

As business boomed, she took her company to London, Europe and the United States and became one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Her pseudo-science, overpriced products and gaudy packaging set the standard for the industry today.

Helena Rubinstein remains a leading brand today. Photo: L’Oreal.

Meanwhile, back in Wagga, Manka explained that being beautiful “is still one of the main preoccupations of the modern woman”.

She argued that beauty culture must be founded in science and that Australian women “can become the most beautiful in the world” with the right skincare routine and cosmetic contouring.

‘The smart woman has at least two completely different make-ups,” she explained,

“One by itself is no good at all, because some clothes need bright colours, and some colours look better with no rouge at all.

“Never forget that make-up should harmonise with clothes and be applied according to features. It plays a part, more important than ever before this season because the colours are going to be brighter.”

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She warned Aussie women to keep their faces out of the sun and be mindful of their changing facial contours.

“‘You can look perfect at 40 and young at 60 if you only take care of your skin, keep the contours perfect and do not allow yourself to develop such deficiencies as a scraggy neck and a double chin,” Manka opined.

“Pay particular attention to your shrivelled eyelids, as nothing gives your age away so much, except perhaps, puffy hands.”

Fortunately for Wagga’s women, Helena Rubinstein’s products were available from David Copland & Co and remarkably, the legacy continues with the global brand now owned by L’Oréal.

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