Monday, November 8, 2010

Revisited Savoir Faire

An old friend of Savoir Faire is rather upset with me at the moment. A regular feature on Savoir Faire in the early days she feels as if she has been forgotten. I keep reassuring her that that is not the case, and that I do think of her at least once a day. However to please her vanity I am going to write about her again (even if some of it is old material, for some of my newer readers) just to appease her, as believe me I do not want to get onto her bad side, which for me would be social suicide.

To quote “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones” she was an autocrat in her world and had more savoir faire than us mere mortals good ever hope to achieve. For me Helena Rubinstein was the epitome of personal style and savoir faire.

As one of the world’s richest women she used to be seen scurrying down Park Avenue in New York to her office carrying a brown paper bag filled with the remains of the previous night’s chicken for lunch.

She entertained lavishly whether it be in her penthouse in New York overlooking Central Park or in her apartment in Paris. Even when entertaining or being entertained she became somewhat notorious for apocryphal quips. On one occasion when a rather inebriated French ambassador expressed vitriol towards Edith Sitwell and her brother Sacheverell: “Vos ancêtres ont brûlé Jeanne d’Arc!” “What did he say?" Madame, who knew little French, asked a guest. “He said, ‘Your ancestors burned Joan of Arc” Madame quickly replied, "Well, someone had to do it."

Her main rivals including Charles Revson (the founder of Revlon) were not immune either. Revson who built his fortune on nail polish was always referred to as “That Nail Man”.

Elizabeth Arden was a different matter , not only was she a woman, the two never met even though their offices were practically next door to each other. To get back at each other they regularly poached each other’s staff with Madame even hiring Arden’s ex-husband at one stage.

Early one morning 1964, three burglars entered Madame Helena Rubinstein’s Manhattan apartment while she was still in bed and demanded her jewellery collection, which was reputed to be valued at over one million dollars. First of all the intruders would have been amazed at Madame Rubinstein’s lucite furnitured bedroom. Long before Philip Stark made the ghost chair famous, Rubinstein had a whole room of the stuff. This included an illuminated bed specially made that would fit her short frame.

Over ninety years old, Rubinstein refused, saying they could shoot her. Unnerved, the robbers left with only $200 in cash, which one of them had found in her handbag. With her quick wit and just plain courage she told two of the burglars that they had better make sure that they got their share of the $200.

Three hours later Madame, emerged from the building immaculately attired in Balenciaga, a Hermes scarf tied around the handle of her handbag and one of her signature bowler hats on her head and headed off for a day at the office. Mind you this was only after driving around the block in her limousine to compose herself. Still you have to admire her courage and her savoir faire as any other 93 year old would have probably died of fright when confronted with 3 gun wielding intruders or emerged still clad in their housecoat, too upset to do anything let alone spend a day at the office!

So dear Madame, I hope you have forgiven me!
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