Demi or JLo?

I have to admit, lately I´ve been feeling a little like Goldilocks, since I´ve been looking for “just right” and it seems to be eluding me at every turn. Rhubarb with too much patchouli, woods where there are none, and now I´ve fallen down the rabbit hole of celebrity. Wait – rabbit hole? That´s Alice in Wonderland. I am not well…

How many of you remember Helena Rubinstein? The brand hasn´t had a presence here in North America for a number of years, but it did attempt a splashy comeback about a decade ago. First, it was reintroduced in Canada at Eaton´s, before what´s left of the Eaton family let the venerable department store die on the vine and be bought out by Sears. Then, a day spa opened in New York City´s Soho neighbourhood, and was featured in a third season episode of “Sex and the City”. It was the one where Samantha caused a scandal because she wasn´t sufficiently “serviced” by one of the male massage therapists.  Now, Helena Rubinstein is back in North America with a fragrance, Wanted. It is being fronted by Demi Moore and billed as, “A vibrant woody floral filled with sensual and carnal tension”.   Lately, the only thing filled with sensual and carnal tension for me is an extra large Tim Horton´s double-double.  Um, that´s a coffee, light and sweet.

My mother used Helena Rubinstein cosmetics back in the days when they were available at Alexander´s department store, sold in blister packaging like Maybelline and Cover Girl. She adored Helena Rubinstein mascara, buying at least two at a time. My mother didn´t have many eyelashes to speak of, but for what few she had, that magic mascara made the most of them.  In those days I was too young to wear Helena Rubinstein anything, but when the brand hit the shelves again in the late 90s, I went hog wild.  The colour cosmetics were a little too bold for my liking, but the skin care products and their Vertiginous mascara were must-haves for me. Back then, my favourite items to smuggle from Toronto to New York were from Helena Rubinstein and Lush. Now, Lush is ubiquitous, and the only place in North America you can find Helena Rubinstein is in Mexico.  The times, they do change.

hr-wantedWhen I saw the picture of Wanted by Helena Rubinstein in the Shoppers Drug Mart flyer, I thought the whole line was being reintroduced here in Canada. Alas, only the fragrance, exclusively at Shoppers Drug Mart for now (it’s at Macy’s in the US). The tie-in with Demi Moore is a bit misleading since it is not her scent exactly, but “interpreted” by her. I´m guessing that since there aren´t many people here in Canada and the US for whom the name “Helena Rubinstein” rings a bell, they needed a boost from a more familiar entity. Especially if that entity is what´s known as a “cougar”, possessed of a body that is pretty well unattainable for us mere mortals in her age range, and a hot husband 15 years her junior.  I guess that takes care of the “sensual and carnal tension”.  The fragrance itself is as I said: not quite right. Not much is known about the actual juice with the exception of who concocted it – Dominique Ropion and Carlos Benaà¯m, and the notes: ylang ylang, wood magnolia and iris cream. There has to be more to it, but I´m not sure what. To my nose, it smells like one of those country club scents you smell on women of a certain age, dripping diamonds, carrying their Birkin bags and lunching on the stray lettuce leaf and celery stalk. I don´t know how else to describe it. It doesn´t have a vintage feel, nor is it carnal or sensual. I get more of a “which doesn´t belong and why?” vibe from it, because the iris cream clearly has no business in this scent. The earthiness of the iris is so wrong here, all the way through to the drydown.  Iris cream succeeds in one scent: Guerlain´s Iris Ganache. Other than that, it does not translate. It is either iris, or it is not.  Again, if we´re going to use the words “sensual” and “carnal” and Dominique Ropion in the same sentence, there can only be one scent we´re talking about: Carnal Flower. It begins and ends with that one.

jl-my-glowAt the bottom of my rabbit hole is Jennifer Lopez´s recent release, My Glow. And here´s the shocking part: I like it. And I almost bought a bottle of it. Why? Because when the mistress of your domain is policing every morsel of food you eat and threatening you with the implementation of a raw food diet, you need comfort wherever you can find it. When you open up the fridge and spy a mason jar filled with what looks like puréed front lawn, you want to crawl under the bed and hide until you wake up in a home you can call your own. Hey, I knew what I was getting into; I´m just blowing off some steam. But, the right scent does help lower my stress level. My Glow consists of lavender, water lily, freesia, white rose, wet leaves, peony, Casablanca lily, skin musk, sandalwood, precious woods and heliotrope.  All together, this makes lavender soap. But not soap as in “soap and water”. Soap, as in, “Please stop murdering onions in the kitchen. I can´t take it anymore!” If you live in southern Ontario and you´re having trouble locating an onion, drop me a line; they´re all here.  One snort of My Glow helps me keep the onions at bay; that´s because I don´t currently have a hazmat suit and a gas mask.  I´m thinking that´s as good a reason to buy a bottle as any I can think of.

For more insight into my wonderful aunt and her food proclivities, please surf here. She´s a nutbar, but I love her very much.

Take another stroll down memory lane with me: If you do remember the Helena Rubinstein brand as I do, tell your story. Or, if you live in one of the countries where the line is still sold, what do you think of it now?

41 Comments

  1. What great timing, Nava -I recently acquired a couple of vintage Helena Rubinstein perfumes, both of which I am old enough to remember the first time around!

    Madame Rubinstein made fabulous cosmetics, and I loved the intensely pigmented lipsticks – I was too young for them when Madame was alive (she died in 1973) but my HG was the stick lip gloss – it felt and smelled wonderful, and i would give anything to have it back, especially in my beloved Apple Polish shade. I wore it as a teenager about 40 years ago, give or take.

    I just got a little bottle of Courant from 1972 – this one a vaguely recall, but I was too young for “grown-up” chypres then. It goes on very austere and chewy, lots of galbanum up top, but after a little while it goes Jolie Madame on me and starts to get all leathery and a little smoky, and wow do I love it!

    I also got a mini of Barynia from 1985, out of curiosity, – I was expecting maybe a big Eighties perfume, but to my surprise it’s a cool, classic and very wearable floral with a bit of green chypre character. If I can find one, I see a full size bottle in my future. It reminds me of something else that I just can’t place, but it’s really good.

    The downfall for this line was its image – it was perceived as being for “old Ladies” after the early years of its success, and I recently saw the documentary on PBS about Helena Rubinstein’s epic competition with Elizabeth Arden – while they were duking it out for supremacy in the cosmetics marketplace, latecomer Estee Lauder slid in and quietly took over the top spot with her more modern products and marketing ideas. I was really disappointed that the documentary concentrated on just the cosmetics and did not focus on the perfumes of either Rubinstein or Arden ,and they were a huge part of each woman’s success in business. Heaven Scent (Rubinstein) and Blue Grass (Arden), arguably the most famous perfumes produced by the two lines, were both iconic in their day.

    The Rubinstein company was absorbed by L’Oreal, so I expected that the new Wanted fragrance would resemble the latter-day Lancome releases – disappointing and dissonant, which your impressions bear out. Too bad, this was once a great company with a unique vision.

    • I totally forgot about Heaven Sent. And, you’re not the only one who mentioned it here this morning.

      I totally get the “old lady” image. I think Estee Lauder and Arden suffer from it to a degree even today, but I don’t see them going the way of soap operas. There’s so much competition, but there seems to be enough business for all the big brands these days. Not to mention their capability to swallow up a niche brand every so often.

  2. I remember Helena Rubinstein too! Heaven Sent, yes, and Blue Grass, I remember as a young teenager, but I don’t remember my mother using HR makeup. I think Arden was more popular, or here in the UK, Yardley. I know I’m like a broken record, but it is so sad when these legendary houses are revived only to churn out dross. I just loved that book about the rivalry between Arden and HR: War Paint. A fantastic read!

    Afraid I couldn’t even imagine taking the time to sniff a J Lo concoction. I am totally immune to the sleb scent phenomenon (and I understand that they do not sell well in department stores over here either), but then again I’m not exactly the right demographic.

    • Even the Kate Moss scents? I hear her clothing line flies out of Top Shop as soon as it hits the shelves.

      I remember Yardley here in Canada when I was a kid. I once bought this back-to-school beauty kit from Shoppers Drug Mart that had a Yardley lip gloss I adored. It tasted so yummy!

  3. Helena Rubenstein is in all the department stores here in Switzerland, rather like Lancome, Estee Lauder, etc. I just assumed the brand had relaunched worldwide. I have fond memories of a glittery lilac HR eyeshadow I had when I started wearing makeup back in the late 70s (a hand-me-down from my Mum, who’d been given it by my very chic aunt and never wore it). I’ll give it a try and get back to you.

    As for Celebuscents, I too was a scoffer, Fiordiligi, but we did a sniffalong day on Basenotes a year ago and I forced myself to confront my prejudices. I was surprised to find some perfectly nice things. (OK, I freely admit to finding a lot of scrubbers!) Yes, nothing like Apres L’Ondee or Mitsouko, but scents that were perfectly acceptable for daywear or office or gifts. I now proudly own a little bottle of Kylie (well a bottle of scent from the Sex Thimble had to be little, didn’t it?). :d

    • I am also a big time celebuscent scoffer, but you never know until you try. I’ve accused JLo of “borrowing” from a number of well known scents, and God knows the line has gone flanker-crazy. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and acknowledge a good one every once in a while.

  4. I stock up on HR when I go to Europe-though I was only vaguely aware of the line when I was young. Of course, we all wore Clinique, only, for a touch of color. We were acne-faced hippies, after all 8-|

    I think I’ll skip Demi, but you’ve encourage me to spritz a little J-Lo next run to the mall-it just sounds pretty, and I am learning to appreciate lavender lately.

    Funny, a MUA board recently had a discussion on which of the two-Demi or Jennifer-was better “preserved”. For “old” women 😉 I vote “yup” on both, however they’re achieving the effect…

    • I have a hard time picturing you as an “acne-faced hippie”! :d

      Demi’s got about 7 years on JLo. Maybe they drink formaldehyde or the blood of children. Who knows???

  5. I have not heard of HR before Demi Moore. That is sad, isn’t it?
    I wanted to like the perfume, but the drydown was a little odd. Maybe the make up etc will be resurfacing soon?

    As for the JLo My Glow. I picked that one up at Kohl’s in a gift set with my 30% coupon. I really liked it and it was under %35 for the set. I think it would make a good gift for people that are not as into perfume as I am. Nice and pleasing.

    • Actually, the drydown was not as horrible as I thought it would be. But the iris was just overwhelmingly wrong before that.

  6. Helena Rubenstein sounds familiar to me, but I have no personal experience with it. As for celeb scents, I get a kitschy kick out of sniffing them all, and occasionally buying one – (L.A.M.B. made the cut for me, and I actually love wearing it anytime a carefree vibe is needed; the new Avon Reese Witherspoon parfum is juicy and fun and lovely, too). Kinda lemming that Queen Latifah red quilted heart bottle…not sure exactly why…but the juice is pleasantly reminiscent of Ava Luxe Black Coconut and Laura Mercier Almond Coconut. I shouldn’t try to fool myself that I’d wear it, though.

    The Demi Moore thing sounds terrible, but I had already made up my mind to buy the Jlo unsniffed. I haven’t been impressed with any of her fragrances, but I love the little angel bottle, and the notes to this one sound so harmless – good for little girls, if nothing else – at least it won’t smell like candy.

    • Yeah, My Glow definitely is not the usual sickly sweet candy concoction. I’ll sniff anything, but that doesn’t mean I’ll wear it. My Glow is a good choice for a bedtime scent because of its clean, soothing notes.

  7. I didn’t realize Heaven Sent was HR! I wore the peas off that when I was in High School. Lord. You wanna talk Hazmat? Nothing like a knock-kneed, braces-wearin’, acne-faced freshman with Bronte Aspirations…..

    xo >-)

    ps. yet Another Thing I Did Not Know: Iris Cream

  8. I didn’t realize Heaven Sent was HR! I wore the peas off that when I was in High School. Lord. You wanna talk Hazmat? Nothing like a knock-kneed, braces-wearin’, acne-faced freshman with Bronte Aspirations…..

    xo >-)

    ps. yet Another Thing I Did Not Know: Iris Cream

    pps. I’m confused: isn’t this the same aunt who banned perfume?

    • Yes, my aunt thinks she’s “banned” me from wearing perfume, but I’ve BEEN wearing it, and she hasn’t complained once. I think her sense of smell has deteriorated somewhat, because I’ve tested the waters with a couple of sillage monsters and not so much as a sneeze from her direction. I hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

      As for iris cream, there ain’t no cream in this iris. Guerlain Iris Ganache is the pinnacle of iris and vanilla.

  9. Heaven Sent (I always thought it was Heaven Scent?) 🙂 I still see occasionally in drugstores. I don’t remember HR the way you do, but I do remember being surprised at how much I like some of the JLos. They tend to be sexy/musky and not too sweet, so while I’m not blown away by them, they’re pleasant in a background-noise way.

    • My Glow would definitely qualify as “wallpaper” for you. And it’s got a nice musky drydown that I can actually smell, as opposed to Narciso Rodriguez.

      • Oh! Funny onion story. My 13YO called me recently from a friend’s house, very upset. Said her eyes were really bothering her, she was worried, they hurt, bla blah. So I ran over and picked her up. The SECOND she got in the car I could smell the reek of onions! The parents had been making ratatouille (sp). I said, honey, go take a shower, you’ll be fine. She’s scared to go back there now.

  10. my memories of HR are more recent. here in Europe, as others have said, HR is more readily available, although I think it has left the UK.

    I was in love with a mascara (for the life of me I can’t remember the name, but I know the shape of the container) that comes in a silvery gray colour. A little less bland than brown, but not black. hmmm. Must go look for it again in France. Anyway, also before Mac dazzleglasses and whatnot, HR made very shimmer, very glossy lipglosses (‘stellar gloss’ I believe?) and I loved them too. The texture is like Chanel Aqualumiere gloss but with a zillion non-gritty glitters.

    Obviously, I have never smelled any of the perfumes. lol

    • I’m surprised HR is no longer in the UK. I’m even more surprised that it can be had in Mexico. I’m no marketing expert, just a puzzled consumer.

  11. I remember HR cosmetics from my teenage years and I probably snuck into my mother’s makeup drawer from time to time and wore them. As far as the various fragrances, I was busy with patchouli oils, although I did sneak my mother’s perfumes along with her cosmetics. Her tastes ran more along the lines of Chanel No 5 and L’Interdit, so I doubt that I wore Heaven Sent.

    Maybe I’ll give the celebscents a try, just for the experience. I’m with Musette. Iris Cream? (:|

    • I know you like Iris Ganache, so let me know if you have the opportunity to smell Wanted. You of all people will get what I’m talking about! 🙂

  12. I heard of Helena Rubenstein via the oddest of channels: a prominent mention in a George MacDonald Fraser book written in the mid-80’s. I’m still not interested in trying their latest release, though. Am also of the opinion that ‘My Glow’ is one of the worst fragrance names I’ve ever heard; it’s vaguely smutty, or vaguely pregnant, or both. Either way, it doesn’t make me want to douse myself with it. [-x

    • I think the meaning might have something to do with the fact that JLo spit out twins. The cherub cap and the soapy cleanliness of the scent are a real departure from her previous fragrances. Maybe that’s why I like it so much; the name notwithstanding.

  13. I do remember the Helena Rubenstein name from my childhood. They had a fragrance called “Herbessence”. I don’t know if I ever took a whiff, but for some reason the name fascinated me – maybe I liked the idea of a perfume that smelled of herbs. And I wore Heaven Sent in my teens; I have a memory of a licorice or anise note.

    And I’m LMAO at your description of the onion invasion in your kitchen. Although I’d be suspicious of a perfume that could totally kill the smell of onions!:)

    • NOTHING can totally kill onions, but if it offers a decent diversion than sign me up! It’s more of an onion coup if you want to know the truth. Bloodless, but a total occupation.

  14. I’m feeling REALLY old now after so many of you are saying you’ve never heard of HR until now!

    Can Not Stand La Moss; yes, her clothes do sell well, apparently, but I wouldn’t go within a mile of her perfume. Kylie? Eeek. No, really, I couldn’t.

    • How about Cliff Richard? Doesn’t he have a bunch of scents? Just kidding…

      HR has been gone for decades here in N.A. Even when it resurfaced in the late 90s it wasn’t widely available. If you blinked, you missed it.

  15. Your comment regarding your unexpected affinity for the new J.Lo scent reminded me that one’s nose can always be surprised.

    For instance, how we describe our fragrances is as such:
    Many of our creative ideas are generated when we discard preconceived assumptions and decide on a new approach or method that might seem to others unthinkable.

    For people to keep being pleasantly surprised when sniffing out new scents, the key is in the out-of-the-box creativity!

    • And I’ve been trying very hard lately to embrace most things “outside the box”. When it comes to scents, I know what I like, but I’m always willing to try something new.

  16. I don’t remember the HR cosmetics, but Heaven Scent? Nothing says good times at Hunt Jr. High School quite like that. :d

    Nava, I was scanning the page, and when I saw “she’s a nutbar,” I assumed you were discussing J.Lo. Perhaps I read too much of the Fug Girls’ reporting on her clothes. Anyway, I did try one the many “glows” recently and thought: Not Bad.

    • Pavlova was my scent of choice in high school. It was hardly in tune with the rocker crowd I hung with, but I didn’t let that stop me from wearing it.

      My aunt is the nutbar. I wouldn’t presume to call JLo one, but her orginal Glow scent still makes me fume, because it is a blatant rip-ff of Body Time’s China Rain perfume oil.

  17. I believe Heaven Scent,stil l found in drugstores, is now made by Dana, which apparently absorbs defunct perfume brands like the Borg. So it is no longer what it once was, which was very good indeed. :((

    • I agree! I wore it in junior high, about the time I was experimenting with scenting my hair. I loved it and have sniffed it in the last couple of years – no comparison to it’s former self, more’s the pity.

      I remember buying HR lipstick when I was in high school. They were in these fabulous green and gold flower tubes. Haven’t thought of them in years.

      The Fug Girls accuse Demi of bathing in the blood of virgins to maintain her incredible hotness. She does seem almost preternaturally perfect, in a way that mere mortals cannot hope to emulate 8-|

  18. And that’s precisely why I never buy any of those recreated bath body or scent products from the Vermont Country Store. The disappointment would probably kill me. :d

    • Yeah, I was tempted a couple of times, but who knows how cheap the ingredients have to be for them to sell brand new perfumes at at those prices!

  19. in the early ’80s, helena rubenstein cosmetics were sold at a local high-end department store, furchgott’s (this was jacksonville, florida). i had a makeover done with them, and the artist did the most dramatic pink and black color scheme on my eyes – it was definitely an evening look and of course it was afternoon, so i felt completely self-conscious. but the black eye shadow was amazing, and i held onto it for years and years. in fact, i wish i still had it – i actually found myself looking for it last week. it was a super-dark charcoal, almost-but-not-quite black, with just the lightest touch of shimmer. just perfect.

  20. I remember Heaven Sent, and the skincare and cosmetics were wonderful. I’m 52; when I was a teenager, I received “leftover” cosmetics from my slightly older aunts. I LOVED the cosmetics. Would love to try the line again . . .

  21. Heaven Scent! I associate this with the late ’80s, when I was in 5th grade and my grandmother gave my mother a bottle. My mom regifted it to my 5th grade teacher (who spent part of the year in the hospital due to a near-fatal pneumonia) along with some other perfume I cannot recall. I sniffed the bottle a few times before the regifting, and I remember Heaven Sent being baby powdery, slightly sweet (maybe floral?), and just comforting, but also headache inducing (I think it may have induced some migraines in my mom, I know it did in me). I wonder if Dana already owned the rights to the scent by this time?
    As to Helena Rubenstein the cosmetics line… I want to say I have vague memories of this, but whether in connection with relatives in the U.S. or Mexico I am not sure… and I am positive I recall the line from both the early 80s and the late 90s, but honestly, I don’t know. I had a look at the official website and was wondering why the default language for the site was French; if L’Oreal now owns it, that would explain why.
    And I am so happy to know I’m not the only one who found My Glow oddly pleasing! I think I may ask my mother-in-law for a bottle of it for Christmas, since it’s not too expensive.

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