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Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Filene’s Department Store

photoIn 1933, Rubinstein wrote to Mrs. Louis Kirstein, wife of the vice-president of Filene’s, a leading Boston department store. She referred to a gift of some preparations—“Enchante Bath Essence”—she was sending separately, and then complained about what she saw as the Arden counter’s better placement in the store.

When I visited Filene’s this week while in Boston, I noticed that Arden’s have not only a special island on the main floor, but also a consulting booth and a special display sign on the wall. I am convinced that if Filene’s would grant us the same kind of cooperation, this store could realize the largest volume in Boston on our line. As an example of the possibilities which exist in the city, I need point only to Jordan Marsh, a store which has shown tremendous increase in business since they installed a special Rubinstein island in their store. We have had to place an additional girl on the line in that store to take care of increased demand, and even so, we have not gone as far as we should be willing to go with Filene’s. The upward trend in our business throughout the country leads me to assert that Filene’s would enjoy an enormous increase in their volume if they will extend us the opportunity to create this business. If three girls were required to handle the demand, we should be pleased to furnish them, and I would be more than willing to work with Filene’s in every possible way toward the realization of the great potential volume in Filene’s which I am certain can be attained. It is my own conviction that the four stores in the group can, without exaggeration, produce from $125,000 to $150,000 on the line with the proper mutual effort and cooperative endeavor. —Helena Rubinstein

Apparently having second thoughts about going around Kirstein himself in this way, she also enclosed a letter directed to him, asking Mrs. Kirstein to pass it along.

My dear Mr. Kirstein,
     After writing to Mrs. Kirstein, it occurred to me that it might be just as well to drop you a brief note which I am asking Mrs. Kirstein to hand to you.
     I shall not repeat what I have written to Mrs. Kirsten because she will no doubt convey the contents of the letter to you. I should, however, like to add that I am sure if we could arrange a meeting, either in Boston or New York, I could outline to you in twenty minutes a complete program of advertising, product presentation, window displays, promotional activity and other forms of profitable cooperative endeavor between us and your four stores.
     It is my own conviction that through proper mutual support of such a campaign, the combined business of your four stores should amount to at least $150,000. Especially are the possibilities promising because of the character of the products which permits of a wide-range appeal such as is offered by no other line. In the range of my preparations, both the wealthy, exclusive type of woman and the woman with a smaller income can find complete satisfaction as to price, quality and results, and no other line so effectively embraces both merchandising groups.
     Properly presented and promoted, this comprehensive appeal should prove extremely profitable, and if we can arrive at a mutual understanding with respect to an intensive program of cooperation with your stores—and you have my assurance that I will personally be responsible for the effective execution of our part of the campaign—I am convinced without a doubt that a most gratifying and continually increasing volume of business will be forthcoming.
     I shall appreciate very much having a reply from you at your earliest convenience with regard to appointing a time for getting together either in Boston or New York.

Helena Titus (signed)*

Mr. Kirstein appears to have been unmoved. He replies, advising:

It must be perfectly obvious to you that the manner in which to proceed, if you desire to do a larger business with Filene’s and its affiliated stores, is not to go over the heads of the merchandise managers but to convince them that you have a proposition which will be mutually advantageous.

Finally, he suggests she get in touch with the Division Manager, a Mr. Lacy, at her earliest convenience.

Rubinstein was not alone in trying to influence Mr. and Mrs. Kirstein as a way of gaining position at Filene’s. In 1930 Elizabeth Arden asked her Boston salon to send a “beauty box” to Mrs. Kirstein. Tommy Lewis (Arden’s husband and Wholesale Division manager) wrote to Louis Kirstein on May 24:

Do tell her (Mrs. Kirstein) when she comes to New York next fall to drop in to see Mrs. Lewis (Arden), as she would love to see her and give her personal advice.

On May 29, Kirstein responded that he was grateful and embarrassed by Arden’s generosity, but politely and graciously asked Lewis to send him the bill for it. A few days later Tommy replied that Kirstein could take Arden and him out to lunch the next time they are in Boston, to “square the thing.”

As these stories demonstrate, neither Rubinstein nor Arden was content to leave matters to chance—or to the whims of store managers. Each actively sought to gain advantage over the other by any means at hand.


* Rubinstein often used her married name, Titus, in business correspondence.

Source: Papers of Mr. Louis Kirstein, Baker Library, Harvard Business School
Researcher: Andrew Simpson       Writer: Ann Carol Grossman

• Elizabeth Arden department store counter, courtesy Elizabeth Arden Archives

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