Book Excerpt: Rouge by Richard Kirshenbaum


Release Date: June 25, 2019


About The Book:

Like Swans of Fifth Avenue and Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Richard Kirshenbaum’s Rouge gives readers a rare front row seat into the world of high society and business through the rivalry of two beauty industry icons, by the master marketer and chronicler of the over-moneyed.

Rouge is a sexy, glamorous journey into the rivalry of the pioneers of powder, mascara and rouge.

This fast-paced novel examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies’ man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.

About The Author:

RICHARD KIRSHENBAUM is CEO of NSG/SWAT, a high-profile boutique branding agency. He has lectured at Harvard Business School, appeared on 20/20, was named to Crain’s New York Business’s “40 under 40” list, and has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame. He is the author of Under the Radar, Closing the Deal, Madboy, and Isn’t That Rich? and the New York Observer’s “Isn’t That Rich?” column.

He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.

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📚Book Excerpt: 



New York City, 1933

A Technicolor sky hung over the city even though it was only early May. At times, even New York City seemed to have caught the bug. The pear trees that bloomed like white fireworks every April may as well have sprouted palm trees. Everyone, it seemed, had just stepped out of a Garbo movie, and Josephine Herz (née Josiah Herzenstein) would be damned if she would not capitalize on this craze.

A young, well-kept woman was the first to grace her newly opened, eponymous salon on Fifth Avenue. With bleached-blond “marcelled” hair, a substantial bust, and a mouth that looked as though it had been carved from a pound of chopped meat, her new client had all the ammunition to entrap any man in the city, to keep him on the dole, and her cosmetic hygienist, in this case Herz Beauty, on the payroll. She lowered herself onto the padded leather salon chair like a descend- ing butterfly and batted her eyes as though they too might flutter from her face.

“I want thickah,” she whined. She said this in a Brooklyn accent that would have killed her chances had she been an actress transition- ing from silent to talkies.

Josephine nodded and reached into her arsenal, procuring the favored Herz moisturizer for a dewy complexion. She removed and unscrewed the glass jar, leaned over her client, and began to apply it to her cheekbones in soft, round swirls.

“No!” The client swatted her hand away as though to scold and dispose of a landed bug. “Not my skin,” she said. “My lashes.”

“Oh.” Josephine withdrew her hand and held it, poised high above her client’s face, as though hovering a spoon over a boiling pot.

“I want thicker lashes,” said the blonde. “Like Gloria.”

“Gloria?” Josephine was perplexed.

“Swanson!” the client said, shaking her head, miffed that she was

not understood.

“I see.” Josephine replaced the glass jar in her holster bag and pro-

cured a separate, zippered case. “For the thick-eyelash look, you have two options: tinting or application.” She removed both a small black cake and a moistened brush to apply the pigment and a plastic box of spidery lashes and displayed them as though they were a cache of jewels. The tube of adhesive gum came next.

The blonde’s eyes widened. She shook her head and sat bolt upright on her chair. A convalescent, revived from the dead. “Ya don’t mean you want to glue them on?”

Josephine took a long, deep breath. “How else do you think women get them?” she said. “If there were a drink ve could drink to grow them, I assure you I’d let you know,” she said in her Polish-tinged English.

“I just assumed . . . ,” said the blonde. Miffed, she reached into her pocketbook and produced a magazine clipping from a crumpled stash. She unfurled a luminous, if wrinkled, image of Gloria Swanson, the Hollywood glamour girl, from the latest issue of Motion Picture. All lips, pouting like a put-out princess. She had the brow of an Egyptian goddess, the same distinctive beauty mark, and the eyelashes of a jungle cat. “Like that,” she said, pointing at her eyes. “I want to look like that for a party tonight.”

Josephine’s perfectly lacquered blood-red nails grazed the wrinkled page. She studied Gloria’s fabulous face, the brow, the lash, the pout.

“Application,” Josephine said, returning the image.  “Geez,” said the client.“You’d think by now you people would come up with something better than that.”

It was her duty, Josephine had come to feel, to tolerate stings and slights like this. But a new thought occurred to her as she prepped the lashes for application, as she meticulously heated and applied the adhesive gum. Her client was right. She often worked the floor to do just that: to listen to her patrons, her clients. And now that she was in New York, she knew enough never to be too far away from what real American women wanted. And so she took in the woman’s request with deep reverence, as she knew nothing was more important to her future sales than her clients’ needs. Blanche or Betty—or whatever the tacky blonde’s name was—was right. It was high time someone came up with something better. Josephine was certainly up to this task. The only problem was that across town, a woman named Con- stance Gardiner was doing the very same thing.

Josephine Herz was not, of course, the first to invent mascara. But she would be the first to invent one devoid of mess and fuss and to make it available to the masses. As early as ancient Egypt, women found their facial fix. Considered to be a necessary accoutrement in every woman’s and man’s daily regime, kohl, a combination of galena, lead sulfide, or copper and wax, was applied to the eyes, the eyebrows and lashes, to ward off evil spirits and to protect from sun damage. Most any im- age of Egyptian gods or goddesses will reveal hieroglyphs, not only on pyramid walls but on the Egyptians’ faces. The bold, black lines on the female face lost fashion over the centuries, especially in more re- cent times when Victorian ladies eschewed color of all kind on the face. But it was not long before women craved—and chemists created—a new brand of adornment for the eye. Coal, honey, beeswax—all the traditional ingredients had to be tested and tried. Josephine could smell a market maker from a mile away, and in this, she sensed a new mo- ment for the eye. From Los Angeles to Larchmont, women were craving new ways to look like the stars of the silver screen, new ways to dress, look, and behave in a modern woman’s ever-changing role. These women needed a product that would make them look and feel like Garbo or Swanson, something simpler, cleaner, and quicker than the application of false eyelashes every six to eight weeks. These women needed a product that was cheap, fuss-free, and less mess than the old option made from charcoal, which, in the very worst cases, caused blindness.




Sydney, Australia, 1922

The heat was unbearable, constant, itchy, and apparently determined to do battle with her skin. It was ironic how brutal the journey had been given that the point of it was to flee a brutal adversary at home. Her mother’s favorite phrase came to mind as she grasped the railing of the ship: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Were her dear mother here right now, she would also be telling Josiah to protect her skin by putting on her hat. Instead, in a flash of rebellion, she stared head-on into the sun as though the sun itself were her enemy and she would win the face-off so long as she did not betray fear.

Oy vey ist mir. She could not keep this lament far from her mind as she thought of the distance between her loving mother and herself. The distance increased with every second, along with the ache in her heart. She could practically smell her mother’s distinct scent: sweet, earthy, like the kasha and sweet white onions simmering on the stove. The warm, instant relief of being in her soft arms and her lilting voice. She did not need to close her eyes to see the outlines of her home: a medieval town surrounded by water on all but one side, stacked with red brick that fortified it from intervention and escape. Josiah had been held here during her childhood, safe, if confined. Home was not per- fect by any means, but the comfort of the familiar is a strong incentive for any incumbent, and she struggled to remember why she had left in the first place.

Of course, she knew why.

They had heard the terrifying stories, and her mother and father were not willing to live with this risk. Tales of the pogroms, of drunken soldiers arriving at night, soldiers looting homes, tearing through hidden drawers; watches and jewels, belongings and books. Soldiers terrorizing fathers and sons, beating them, and, in the worst accounts, locking their daughters into the bedrooms and forcing them to do unspeakable things, the soldiers’ laughter and moaning audible through the door—and the daughters’ screams. Her mother and father had heard these accounts from reliable sources, first from women gossiping at the market, a crowd gathered by the butcher, obstructing the line for milk. And then from their beloved rabbi, who had heard it from the men themselves.

And while these atrocities had taken place in Lwów, not too near, not too far, from home, the threat was too much to bear. It began to pervade daily life. A sense of palpable anxiety as the drunken Polish peasants leered and the sense of unease grew like a boiling pot until it accompanied her at all times—while she was walking into town, writing a letter to her aunt, even bathing at night. There was always an invisible guest trailing noiselessly behind. So it was decided, after many family meals and meetings, that she and those sisters old enough to relocate would move to a place free of threat. Australia, a distant continent, seemed as good a choice as any. It may as well have been a disparate planet, so intrinsically different was it to everything she knew from her native Poland.

Others had left before her, of course, and her uncle Solomon and aunt Masha had written back with good news about the pioneer life. Still, it was hard to imagine Australia as the next obvious stop. This enormous, distant island, covered with hills and grass and sheep. And the vast, unfathomable ocean, an incomprehensible force, a planet unto itself. Josiah had been swimming only a handful of times in her life-   in a country lake near her home. Nonetheless, the plan was made: her uncle and aunt would house and employ her. She would work at the counter of her uncle and aunt’s five-and-ten-cent store, live in their home, and help out with the brood of nieces and nephews in the eve- nings until she could afford a place of her own. She would learn the English she had dreamed of studying one day, starting with the hand- ful of words she had read in the papers stacked in her father’s office. A new life awaited on this bright, hot planet, a better life to be made and found. She believed her mother. She wanted this life. But at the moment, she could not see this bright future because the sunlight was making her blind.

An unusual beauty, petite but imposing, Josiah had a powerful presence. Pale skin and black hair, large oval onyx eyes, and a strong, elegant, and beak-like nose gave her a regal, if withering, look. Her eyes were her greatest weapon, perceiving others’ motives even while obscuring the impression she made. This appearance had proven both an asset and a weakness, inviting sisters and friends to confide in her while putting off boys her age, who were somehow convinced of her critique. But intuition and intelligence prevailed, earning her the adoration of sisters, friends, and, in recent years, a handful of older boys. Unfortunately, at the moment her intuition was telling her one thing: Go back.

But it was too late for this. She had been brought here on a wave, the first wave of Polish immigrants, the first of what would soon be a tidal force. A wave of women seeking safety, families seeking freedom to express their beliefs, people seeking resources, a new life, people fleeing a profound and terrifying threat. The rewards were enticing enough to intrigue. But the threat made this urgent. The threat was what pushed people out of their homes, made the rewards even worth considering. The threat was what compelled a twenty-two-year-old girl to leave behind all she knew and loved to venture into the unknown alone on this strange massive and rusted ship. This threat was what brought her to this foreign place, two oceans and three continents away from home, in cramped bunks shared with two other girls, the salt air barely masking the scent of so much proximate sweat.

Daunted, Josiah glanced across the deck at a large cloudy hill. The hill was lush and white. And then it was green, peppered with white dots. Why the sudden transformation? Soon enough, she understood: the dots were not clouds, but sheep.

“What have I done?” she muttered.

Another passenger answered, a girl her age, Sonjya, whom she had taken meals with during the trip. “If all else fails, we can knit,” she said.

Josiah smiled, comforted by the camaraderie. But just as quickly, a swell of yelling and footsteps rolled toward her, and she felt herself being pushed to the front of the ship. She gripped her meager case and the cream straw hat with the blue-and-white ribbon—it seemed so cosmopolitan at the time—and, squinting into the sun, allowed the swell to push her forward toward the dock.






Greenwich Village, 1922

Constance Gardner trudged up the stairs of a dusty hallway. Peeling brown paint lent it a certain charm, like an arm with a bad sunburn. But she didn’t mind. It looked exactly as she had hoped. Far from the gilded prison of the Martha Washington Hotel and other appropriate ladies’ residences, this was the true New York. So what if she would now reside on the sofa of her brother’s alcove studio? Actually, Jimmy was technically her stepbrother, her mother marrying James’s father, McCalister, once her own had run off with a rich, older widow, leav- ing her and her mother to fend for themselves. While James and she grew up with different last names, they grew up under the same roof and never noticed the difference. James, the sensitive one, always looked after his younger, bolder sister and, despite the age difference, vice versa.

His secondhand couch was also brown—nubby and itchy mohair that had receded in spots. Yet, she could fall asleep to the sounds of Washington Square Park, the music of Greenwich Village on a Friday night—shouts, laughter, a saxophone, where crickets had been the night before. The harmonious din of artists dreaming up their art. And she would wake up, a member of a new workforce, walk to work with men and women doing their part, their tight tailored suits and skirts flaring as they marched, an army of productivity. This was what she came for. The sound of New Yorkers living in New York. It was all music to her.

Within minutes, she had transformed the room. A woman can transform a room if need be with simple things: a silk scarf tacked to the wall as a tapestry, hers a classic Poiret floral tableau in a bouquet of lavender, baby blue; a pink vase of fresh flowers; and a pretty scent—a few sticks of incense or, in a pinch, a spray of her favorite Jean Patou perfume. In the same way, she would also transform her name with the addition of an i. Gardener with an e, she thought, sounded sub- servient, conjuring images of lawn care. Gardiner with an i depicted a gold-coast life of debutante balls and garden parties, an associa- tion with the regal gentry who controlled Gardiner’s Island, of all things, which had been granted to the family in 1639 by royal patent. The Gardiner, not Gardener, life was what she aspired to. In this fash- ion, she transformed herself and the room. Even before her brother could heat the watery cabbage soup he had saved for her, she had turned a single man’s alcove into a chic two-bedroom boudoir. She would spend the weekend settling in, wandering around her new neighborhood, picking up the “accoutrements” she would need to be- gin her life as a professional woman in New York.

Accoutrements! The word alone made her feel giddy.

An androgynous, statuesque beauty with strawberry-blond hair and a rebellious smirk, Constance was a chameleon. She was an English girl raised in Canada and, now, a Canadian in New York. A natural blonde (as a child, at least), she had grown into a handsome woman, attractive enough to land an appropriate Ivy League college man and forgo a life of work. But the lazy life held little appeal. She was a member of a growing group of young flappers who had attended col- lege and, some by design, others by necessity, they were women who wanted more for themselves than nuptial bliss. She had applied and been hired for a respectable job in New York: as a secretary for a health and pharmaceutical company on lower Fifth Avenue, Dr. Osborne’a Health and Vitality, Inc. Its gleaming offices were as inviting as the company name.

Her new look was perfect for the new job: a coiffed flapper bob, freshly golden, in the style of Marilyn Miller, her favorite vaudeville star. Yes, it required a little extra time to heat and deploy the curling iron, to twist and set the waves, to place the pin just so to frame her heart-shaped face. But this was time well spent. Especially when paired with the new lip tint she had “borrowed” from her older friend Lisette and the dark, strong arc she had learned to draw above her eyes after hours studying Marilyn’s brow in a pictorial from Photoplay magazine. So what if this cost her an hour of sleep. An hour of sleep paled in comparison with the rewards of a well-honed face. Luckily, her phy- sique was genetic and healthy, even if perfecting her look took a little extra time.

She thought now of the stark contrast between her past and pres- ent life. Constance had left behind Canada, a country she loved, after spending her childhood running through lush fields under puffy skies. From there, she moved to the protected grassy knolls of a Seven Sisters campus. A lithe, athletic kid, a “tomboy,” they called her, she had tumbled and sprinted through her formative years, happy as the clouds were white. But she left it behind without regret. Canada was merely a backwater camping ground for Constance’s true quest and ambition. She had known, from as early as five or six, that she wanted an urban life, a momentous life. She wanted to be like the people she saw when her parents took her to Montreal, striding over the sidewalks like modern statuettes. She knew as soon as she saw them. She wanted that life. A childhood in the grass and sunshine was a perfect training ground, not only because it instilled an unflappable can-do grit, but because it formed the foundation of her comfort with nature, the study of which would consume her adult life.

Nursing school and a life of pearls and cashmere was not to be. But not for lack of interest. She had too much interest, in some ways, to be good at the job. She was determined to work with the blood and cadavers, as opposed to standing at a doctor’s side with a ready tool and pleasant smile. A year spent working in an army hospital during the war had taught her all she needed to know. There were people who needed help, and she was equipped to give it. Of course, her parents wished for a more traditional vocation for their little girl, but Con- stance was equal parts stubborn and persuasive. Despite their wishes, she applied for the job and dropped out of nursing school the day she heard back. If she had to spend years training in a lab, she would rather end up a chemist than somebody’s cook.

And so she happily indulged this interest in mixology in a much- needed drink. After gulping down the soup her brother had heated, she insisted they celebrate. She dragged him back down the peeling, rickety stairs to the speakeasy she had been told about just down the street.

“You’re the perfect flapper,” James praised and scolded her at the same time, observing her cranberry velvet cloche hat. “How did you find out about this place?”

“Just because there’s Prohibition doesn’t mean we can’t have a drink. If you must know, I also like to dance and I happen to love jazz. Let’s not get into what you like, brother dear,” she teased him, but as soon as it came tumbling out of her tinted mouth, she saw the forlorn look on his face. She had gone too far, hinting at his proclivity to meeting older and sometimes younger men late in the evening hours. “No worries,” she said, patting his hand, “we both like what we like.” After that, they kept a tacit agreement to avoid discussion about serious personal topics. It was the Canadian way.

She glanced around the bar as her brother took the first sip of the illegal gin. Its sour smell, the afternoon light, the heated conversa- tions in their midst. It was as though they had all inhaled the same intoxicating drug simply by walking in the door.

“Is it always this wonderful?” she whispered. He looked around and shrugged.

She raised her glass and toasted her brother. “To life.” She giggled. “My new life.”

He smiled. Her excitement was contagious. And then, with a brotherly pat, he whispered, “You’re going to need some new clothes.”

“What?” she said.

“The professional girls dress up for work,” he said.

She inhaled, looked down, appraising her long skirt, its belted waist,

fitted bodice, and the buttons nearest her neck. It was appropriate but hardly daring. “Guess I’m going to have to go shopping.”

“I’ll help you,” he said. “I heard there are some darling things at Lord and Taylor.”