Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry

Written by Richard Kirshenbaum
Review by Audrey Braver

Rouge is an adventure into the glamorous world of BEAUTY (the caps are intentional). This book highlights the world of cutthroat competition between two internationally-established cosmetic companies and the women who originated them. These women, Josiah (Josephine) Herz and Constance Gardiner, are rivals in every sense of the word. Josephine, who was born Josiah Herzenstein, begins her career in Australia in 1922. She opens her Fifth Avenue salon in 1933, a time when women were being influenced by, and trying hard to achieve, the looks of movie stars. In 1922, Constance Gardiner, English-born but raised in Canada, comes to New York City and ultimately becomes a society matron. She is statuesque and beautiful – the “perfect flapper,” as her brother calls her. She goes to work in a lab for a Dr. Osborne who has created a beauty cream. Constance helps him market it, which is her first step toward her own multi-million dollar beauty empire. There is a black model named CeeCee who works for Constance and a male rival in the cosmetic business.

Rouge is well-written and captures the period as it chronicles these women’s rise in the business and their fierce personal rivalries. It is reminiscent of the very real rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden and their competitors. It may be generational, but the reader might recognize the thinly disguised characters. I very much enjoyed reading this book.  It is the perfect read, whether in front of a warm fire or riding the subway.