Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: June 25th 2019
Kirshenbaum’s Rouge follows the fictional lives of Josiah Herzenstein, who reinvents herself as Josephine Herz, and Constance Gardiner who are vying for the limelight in the booming cosmetics industry in the 1920s,1930s, and beyond. In chapters of alternating perspectives, we get glimpses into the lives of Herz, Gardiner, Cee Cee, and Mickey. Kirshenbaum’s knowledge of business and the ruthless behind-the-scenes behavior between Herz and Gardiner are spot on and engaging. I liked the history woven into the story, illuminating the financial and personal struggles of the women and their businesses and showing how they persevered through the ups and downs of life.
Like Swans of Fifth Avenue and Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Richard Kirshenbaum's Rouge gives readers a rare front row seat into the world of high society and business through the rivalry of two beauty industry icons (think Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden), by the master marketer and chronicler of the over-moneyed. Rouge is a sexy, glamorous journey into the rivalry of the pioneers of powder, mascara and rouge.
This fast-paced novel examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies' man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.
Rouge is a fast-paced read that carries you along from start to finish. I read it in a single day, and lately it’s been rare that I’ve been compelled to start and finish something within the same day. The novel covers a lot of ground and manages to tie the lives of these two rivals together in a breezy narrative perfect for a summer beach read.
Because the novel covered so much history of the women and the business empires they created, I felt like I wanted more of the women’s personal spheres: how they felt wearing their creations, how they felt when they noticed other women wearing their creations, their private moments, and something a bit more grounded in the day-to-day. I think having more of those personal, intimate moments of some gravity would have added a lot more enjoyable weight to the story.
If you are interested in the intersection of business and creativity, especially in the beauty industry, definitely look into this book!
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.