Import/Export: Vanity Project

By Alyssa Giacobbe | Boston Magazine |

One hundred years ago, when glosses and shadows were the tools of prostitutes and performers, and average women looked far more drab than today, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden immigrated to the United States with a shared vision: Let’s get these girls some lipstick.

Created by Hub filmmakers Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman, The Powder and the Glory (debuting 3/23 on PBS) recounts the longtime rivalry between Rubinstein and Arden, and their impact on both the beauty industry and the women’s movement, beginning in the 1910s. For 50 years, by marketing cosmetics as a means to independence, they made beauty products not just acceptable, but also indispensable.

What most interested Grossman and Reisman, who’ve worked together for more than a decade, were the story arcs concerning feminism and industry. "Both these women literally created something from nothing," says Reisman. Of course, their vying made for rich storytelling, too: Though their goals were similar and their businesses mere blocks apart, Rubinstein and Arden never met. "The competition allowed them something to backlash against," says Grossman. "‘She did that? Well, I’m going to do her one better.’"