Richard Kirshenbaum is the author of the new novel Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry. His other books include Under the Radar and Closing the Deal. He is the CEO of NSG/SWAT, a boutique branding agency, and he lives in New York City.
Q: How closely are your characters Josephine and Constance based on Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden?
A: I drew inspiration from many pioneers of the cosmetics industry. I created character personas from a compilation of real-life women who created the first female multibillion-dollar beauty category.
Josephine and Constance are closely based on Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. Additionally, Constance’s business in the book was inspired by the Avon model.
Being an adman by trade and having run cosmetic accounts from Revlon to Avon, it occurred to me that this would be the right vein for me to tap.
Rouge is my loving homage to many of the fabulous female executives I knew and worked for and the groundbreaking products they created and marketed.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: Writing historical fiction required an enormous amount of research and was a labor of love.
I studied numerous books, articles, films, and photographs to absorb the details of the time period to make sure the book accurately portrayed the glamorous and competitive cosmetics industry of the 20th century.
It was surprising and jarring to be reminded of the prevalence of segregation and racial issues of the times. For instance, Harlem’s Cotton Club, mentioned in the novel, employed performers who played for an exclusively white audience.
Q: What do you see as the importance of the cosmetics industry during the 1930s and 1940s, the period on which you focus in the novel?
A: This was the first multibillion-dollar industry created by women for women. It was an amazing time period that gave rise to some of the richest, self-made women in the world.
At that time, most women didn't work and couldn’t even apply to get business loans.
World War II brought in many societal changes that impacted the traditional roles of women and allowed them to enter the workforce for the first time. When the war ended, many women missed that sense of freedom that came from being in the workforce. The cosmetics industry gave women the ability to earn extra money while still focusing on the home and family.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I am a fan of Sidney Sheldon and I set out to create a juicy yet literary beach read that everyone can enjoy. It’s been a balancing act and so far reviewers happily think it’s a balance of both.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a contemporary fiction novel.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m very proud that Rouge was preemptively acquired by Sony Pictures for film development, and will be produced by Wendy Finerman, Academy Award-winning producer of The Devil Wears Prada, P.S. I Love You, and Forrest Gump, among other blockbusters.