A skittish, surface look at the cosmetics industry: ""beauty business"" is a bit too glossy, while ""inside"" knowledge is...


SELLING DREAMS: Inside the Beauty Business

A skittish, surface look at the cosmetics industry: ""beauty business"" is a bit too glossy, while ""inside"" knowledge is what the book particularly lacks--along with a point of view. Allen, a London Times editor, first confides that, adornment apart, ""it is all a fake."" (But: ""what's wrong with a dream, a make-believe?"") Then for a third of the book, she provides run-of-the-press gossipy accounts of cosmetics magnates Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, Max Factor, Charles Revson, and EstÉe Lander--featuring the Arden-Rubinstein (1920s-30s) and Revson-Lauder (1950s-60s) rivalries but without raising them much above the personal level (e.g., ""Revson's defeat in his battle with Lauder in the male cosmetics line is not easy to explain""). Next, solemnly detailed, come the corporate takeovers of the 1970s--why Colgate regurgitated Helena Rubinstein, the ""startling changes"" at Elizabeth Arden, ""the whole sad affair"" of Max Factor's ""Maxi""; plus brief write-ups of some of the smaller firms (with apologies to those omitted) like Mary Kay, Erno Laszlo, Sassoon, FabergÉ--along with the companies making cosmetics for blacks. (Among the sloppy statements here: ""As much as 70 percent of the urban population of America is black."") The remainder is mostly retread: a fill-in history of beauty culture since Ancient Egypt; a chapter on what cosmetics can't do (and, minimally, can), what cosmetic surgery does, how cosmetics are formulated; another--somewhat more crucially wishy-washy--on health hazards, animal-protection pressures, and aerosols. The penultimate focus on marketing as such chiefly recounts how Revlon's ""Charlie"" and St. Laurent's ""Opium"" were launched--and slightly expands earlier material on Avon. At the last, industry leaders view the prospects pro and con, and Allen adds some typically hedging observations. No style, not much substance, but O.K. for some background on, say, the origin of pancake makeup.

Pub Date: June 26, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1981