My First Book

Producing the outline: Preparing the story

Choosing to twin together the biography of two of the world’s most successful, pioneering businesswomen of the early 20th century – the rival cosmetics tycoons Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein – meant exploring the intimate persona of two extraordinary women and the birth of an industry. I knew it would involve prodigious amounts of research to unravel their real background – as opposed to their fabricated publicity version – but their achievement was so stupendous I relished the challenge. Between them these two trail-blazing women created the luxury beauty business, which, at the point I was planning to explore its origins, was booming as never before. As I worked on my outline and unfurled their lives, I knew this had all the ingredients of a stunning story.

Their success was built on giving a public face to a guilty secret – that women everywhere wanted to feel beautiful and craved beauty products to achieve it. This simple premise earned them a fortune and, by harnessing the emerging trend for ‘beauty culture’ to the great consumer growth of the 1900’s, these two clever, trend-setting women forged ahead to the extent that by the 1930’s they had become the richest, most famous businesswomen in the world. They didn’t just break the glass ceiling – they invented it.

The first beauty entrepreneurs to forge their own identifiable brands, Arden and Rubinstein energetically – and ruthlessly – marketed their names literally around the globe. Ambitious, fearless, determined – the quote Bobbi Brown made for my book cover says it all:

“These were women who were tough in business, who had a single vision…an idea of what they believed in and do anything to get there”.

Bobbi Brown 2002

Arden and Rubinstein broke all the established rules of their era to follow their dream. Working at a time when women didn’t have the vote, the status quo was that women could conceivably have a job – but not a career – and on marriage were expected to retreat to hearth and home. Investment capital from banks was seldom attainable – unless a father or husband stood as guarantor – and women rarely even had bank accounts. To own a business, especially one that employed men, was virtually unheard of unless it had been inherited. Miss Arden (Canadian born and whose real name was Florence Nightingale Graham) and Helena ‘Chaja’ Rubinstein (from Krakow in Poland), had nothing to inherit. They were both born poor but dreamed big, bold dreams of becoming masters of their art – with all the wealth that came with it.

In their case dreams did come true – but at a high cost. The strains of juggling their work/life balance soon kicked in. Both women had failed marriages. Each was sexually unfulfilled. They were lonely, meaning each of them developed an obsessive ‘hobby’ to fill the aching void. Elizabeth Arden’s passion was racehorses and Helena Rubinstein’s was collecting – whether art, antiques, jewels or junk – she bought the lot! They both loved their work with an all-consuming passion, never fathoming that however much you love your job, it can’t love you back.

The ’Beauty Queens’ were great rivals and, naturally enough, played their animosity to the hilt. It was mainly petty gripes – they couldn’t bear to say each other’s name in public, instead saying ‘that woman’ or ‘the other one’ around the office. Miss Arden – herself a prolific letter writer – delighted in miss-spelling her rivals name when bitching about her to her management. One of my favourite stories is when Helena heard that Jewel’s Reward – Elizabeth’s favourite horse – had bitten off her little finger! The dismembered joint in question was immediately sewn back on in an emergency operation about which Madame enquired: ‘Such a shame. Tell me, how is the horse?’.

Spite and jealously did eventually catch up with them. When Miss Arden fired and subsequently divorced her profligately unfaithful husband Tommy Lewis, first in line to offer him a job was Helena Rubinstein. In a spectacular tit for tat, Helena’s top team of sales managers – led by Harry Johnson who was her great white hope to develop the business to ever higher levels – defected to join Elizabeth Arden. It was a crushing loss.

I was particularly proud to be cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations in 2004 when they included a quote made by Helena when she was an old lady – clearly with memories of her rival mellowing – which I featured in War Paint:

Helena Rubinstein on Elizabeth Arden : Lindy Woodhead War Paint (2003) Chapter 6

“With my product and her packaging we could have ruled the world”

Having avoided each other for decades, my two protagonists never actually met. It took my book – and its adaptation as a Broadway Musical – to finally bring them together.  To have had a major musical developed from my work was such an utterly thrilling experience. Scott Frankel (who wrote the music for the production) sent me the first lines of the music for one of lyricist Michael Korie’s most poignant songs ‘Face to Face’.

Personal note                 LYRICS

PICTURE FROM THE MUSICAL – we can do the same one in the hats if you like on page one – or I have plenty more here and I think you have some in dropbox –  and then go into this copy:

Musical fans will be pleased that there’s more about the production and photographs from the production of  Tony- nominated stars Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole – along with a trailer – in the & MORE section further along on this site. CHANGE OF COLOUR BACKGROUND FOR THIS LITTLE NOTE ROB?

Pitching the story.

To sell a book a writer needs an Agent and for a first-time author, how to find one – and persuade them to sign you – is an often bewildering battle. I was fortunate to have been on nodding acquaintance for years with one of London’s most exceptional Agents, the legendary Ed Victor. In one of the fateful co-incidences that have long circled my world, in 1999 he and I met up at a party. After the usual pleasantries I said: Ed, I’m writing a book’. For a split second I saw his eyes glaze over – but ever on the prowl for what might be a good idea, he said: ‘OK, tell me’. So, in the midst of the crush at Claridge’s I knew I had two – maybe three at most – minutes to pitch. The second I said ‘I’ve called it War Paint’ his response was ‘great title’. Ever the consummate professional – after all, a large chunk of Ed’s social life was spent with his writer clients or those who aspired to be – he listed to my description of the warring duo and said ‘I like this a lot Lindy, get the outline over to me tomorrow’.

A week later I was at his office meeting my designated day-to-day Agent Lizzy Kremer who was briefed to take me through the logistics of submitting my outline to their selected list of publishers. In a thrilling meeting with Ed, myself and Lizzy we discussed the impressive list they were going to lobby. In the end it went to auction – and I chose Virago, chiefly because I had such a regard for their own gender dynamics in publishing history. A company founded by women – specialising in supporting women writers – had to be a good thing, particularly as I was writing about two ground-breaking women. Virago publisher Lennie Goodings gave me the most precious gift – that of time – which I sorely needed. She also gave me encouragement and a morale boosting letter when, two years later, I delivered the work. ‘It is utterly fascinating – riveting, bitchy, poignant, intelligent, exciting……I really love your writing style which is intimate and dignified’.

Putting it all together – published at last!

In the event I over-wrote – as so many biographers do. It took me a decade to learn from television script writers to ‘put the dialogue down and then take half of it out’. Post-edit, the result was still a long book – but happily one which seemed to resonate with its readers. In the spring of 2003, War Paint was launched at a party at the Polish Hearth Club in South Kensington. We had live jazz, drank vodka shots and champagne, sending our guests  away with a goody-bag containing gifts courtesy of Elizabeth Arden. Not the usual everyday book launch! But our family loves giving parties and I couldn’t resist sharing this huge, life-changing moment with cheer leaders who had helped me on the journey. 

My sons Max (left) and Oliver (right) my husband Colin and myself at the book launch party.

Lindy with John Rendall at the launch party

Learning the ins and outs of publishing from an author’s perspective was a steep learning curve. As visual creativity had been a major part of my life for so long, the realisation that authors have little (if any) creative input into the cover design of their books hit me quite hard. I craved a cover that would resonate with young, style-conscious cosmetics aficionados. I lost that battle and the cover was a tad matronly! The picture plates, paper quality and illustrated end papers inside however were marvellous. No paperback can ever thrill as much as a handsome hardback printed on good paper!

From all the pictures in War Paint, here are some of my personal favourites.









After so long working with fashion designers facing show reviews twice a year, I was prepared for the worst in facing up to my own! I hardly dared look at them. But happily the story about these two pioneering women at the helm of their businesses struck a chord with pretty much everyone who wrote a review. In the end the cuttings filled three big scrap books!  Here’s some extracts: 

  Like Hollywood, the cosmetics business is about dreams and illusions, deception and hope. Lindy Woodhead’s riveting and thoroughly researched biography of Rubinstein and Arden, a work of chutzpah in its own right, focusses on the rivalry between the two queens and the assaults on them by their younger competitors, Revson and Lauder, and in doing so provides the definitive biography of women and their relationships to their faces in the twentieth century.” Linda Grant, The Guardian

“It might seem almost impossible to wring another drop of hydro-glycerine ‘enriched’ H20 (apparently water is still a 90% base of most cosmetics), let alone humour and historical interest, out of the absurd but ever-alluring beauty business, but Lindy Woodhead has succeeded”. Nicky Haslam, Literary Review

“Their rivalry was the stuff of legend – neither would utter the other’s name – but they had in common superhuman energy, monstrous egotism and an instinctual understanding of consumer culture”. Locasta Miller, The Daily Telegraph

“They were two of the most extraordinary women of the 20 century; fiercely feminist before the word was invented, their faces were their fortunes and their weapons were war paint. Their story is so riveting it reads like the movie that will surely be made”. Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune

“As Lindy Woodhead makes clear as base coat, they lied seamlessly and social-climbed shamelessly. These were women who never retracted their claws”. Holly Finn, Financial Times

“As biography, it’s compelling. As sheer entertainment, it’s utterly delicious”.  Scotland on Sunday

“An impressively researched and intelligent account of these two lives as a parable of their times and ours……..there is an authority and an integrity that is often absent from beauty/fashion journalism”. Irish Independent

All the reviews were inspiring in one way or the other, but something I loved was being invited to write about their story myself for Vogue.

As authors do, I went on the road to promote the book. I visited book shops to sign copies and give talks, one of my favourites being the event held in Paris to speak and sign at the famous W.H. Smith shop on the rue de Rivoli. For over three decades I had dashed into that shop to buy a paperback or two to lull me to sleep after back-stage pressures at client shows, never dreaming that one day they would be stocking my own book!

Awaiting Caption

Awaiting Caption

Later that autumn when I was on a media tour in Dublin, the famous doorman at the Shelbourne Hotel greeted me with the cheery words: (forgive the phonetic spelling) ‘sure and they’ll be making a fillum of your book so they will’. I loved him for saying that and it seemed to herald a flurry of film enquiries – Hollywood Studio executives sent emails; Elton John’s film company got in touch and (then) BBC television drama producer Sue Hogg made an appealing overture before moving aside in favour of Tracey Schofield at BBC Films, who optioned the book. Despite their enthusiasm, a joint partner failed to materialise, meaning the project fizzled out – as so many film options tend to do. But I was proud that it had got as far as it did.

Early in 2004 I went on a media tour to Australia and New Zealand. After speaking in Melbourne and Sydney, I went to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Flying back to London via Hong Kong, I mulled over the fact that I had thought writing would somehow be a ‘quieter life’ than criss-crossing Europe and the Atlantic as a fashion Publicist. I was wrong!

By now, the Foreign Rights department at Ed Victor’s had swung into action meaning soon several editions in translation were underway.


Published in 2004

POLISH Edition 

Published in 2004.


Published in 2004

I went to Tokyo where my Japanese Publishers (Artist House) organised a brilliant round of interviews and presentations. It was a ‘zip in and out’ week with barely time to see much of Tokyo but the buzz of the city was extraordinary.




Meanwhile we published in America in the New Year of 2004. This was a nail-biting experience for me and although the ‘old-school’ publishers (Wiley) who had bought the book were confident it would ‘take’ there were no fireworks – instead it developed into a slow burn. A major review in the New York Times Review of Books paved the way for a steady stream of sales. Nothing spectacular, but at least the book wasn’t ‘pulped’ at the end of the first year (every author’s fear) and Wiley kept it as a solid back catalogue title. Approached by documentary producers I agreed an adaptation of my work in conjunction with PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) one of America’s most prestigious cable services. Wary of the name War Paint however, the producers decided to call it The Powder & The Glory. After a very long gestation, the programme was shown in 2009.

Old Content Below Here


Published in 2004

Then came the paperback. Originally destined for publication in July 2004, it got bumped up when Estee Lauder died in April that year.

Having met Mrs Lauder I was under no illusion that she was an absolute ‘force of nature’. When her son Leonard was asked by Time Magazine to use a single word to best describe his mother, he said: ‘ambition’. He was right. Ambition is what drove her to the absolute pinnacle of supremacy over the cosmetics industry where she arguably reigned unchallenged from the late 1960’s for well over two decades. I wrote a feature or two – hoping it would help plug my own book – but in reality War Paint in paperback became overshadowed by the obituary eulogies published about Mrs Lauder – her brand and their myriad divisions by now being such a major print advertiser that most publications paid dutiful respects.

It was, I reasoned, the perfect time to move on, leave my first title behind and concentrate on what to do next.




This being the point at which authors turn to their Agents to discuss ideas, I found myself rather lost. My Agent had by now moved on to pastures new. This is a conundrum for all writers. Do they stay ‘put’ and end up on a different Agent’s list in the same office – or do they ‘switch and go’ with who they know? If the latter, then will the new Agency be the right ‘home’ for the author’s work. It’s quite a balancing act to get right and a crucial move in a writer’s career. Invited to join her at the new Agency, I hesitated. In the end my own publisher suggested the solution and introduced me to a very dynamic American called Stephanie Cabot who had recently taken over the book division at William Morris. We hit it off at once.

Stephanie enthused about the idea I’d been working on for a while – the story of the two women who arguably created the cult of celebrity – Hollywood movie star and film gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella O. Parsons. With so much bitching between the two, I called their story LOVE & HISSES and had spent several weeks nurturing their lives into an outline. Offered first look, Virago weren’t quite so sure. The general feeling was that the story was ‘too American centric’ to succeed in Britain – this despite Hedda owning a home in England and their work making or breaking careers of many a British star in Hollywood. They offered, but negotiations subsequently fell apart. In the end my Hollywood story wasn’t developed into a book because I stepped back from the concept. Instead I wrote it as a major feature for the Times Colour Magazine. Here it is:

Rejection is something writers have to learn to cope with and it isn’t always easy! Thanks to my own business background of pitching for new business – some which we won and some we didn’t – I was familiar with the process and better able to shrug it off. What I did find difficult however was when I learned Stephanie was leaving – going back to live and work in America. Now I had no Agent and no new story to sell. I was worried. Was I destined to be a one book wonder? I retreated to our beautiful house in France for the summer to ponder over what to do next encouraged by the fact that over at William Morris, I had a champion in Lucinda Prain – who although a Literary Agent really specialised in selling books to television. Her enthusiasm for my style of writing was just what I needed. That summer, while staying at Biarritz, she drove over to see us at Le Nauton for my husbnad’s traditional birthday lunch:

Working on two ideas at once, I gave them both to Lucinda to read. One was an early treatment about Mrs Meyrick (whose story intrigued me all the more because I had worked in night clubs myself) and the other was the background synopsis of the life of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the little known but utterly brilliant American retailer who came from Chicago to London in 1906 to build his dream store.

When you toss a coin you don’t know how it will land……….I loved both the stories but you can’t write two books at once! Lucinda went out to publishers with Kate Meyrick’s story first. One by one, their very eloquent responses came back – all of them turning it down. There seemed little appetite for a 1920’s story in those pre-Boardwalk Empire television days – and they thought Mrs Meyrick wasn’t famous enough to take a risk on commissioning a book about her life. ‘Of course she wasn’t’ I kept saying, ‘but I will make her famous! That’s what I do. I take people’s reputations out from under a stone and bring them back to life!’ It didn’t work. Slightly battle-weary, I went back to my screen and polished off Harry’s saga. The rest as they say is history!

Published October 2007

I had ‘found’ Harry Selfridge – at least in part – through Miss Arden’s letters to her London Managing Director. Harry had been a friend of hers for years, ever since he first met her in London in 1921 when she was setting up the British arm of her business. Selfridge’s were the first store to open her ‘full product’ counter in 1922 which, complete with demonstrators was a ground-breaking shopping experience at a time when ‘smart’ women were only just getting used to coloured make up being acceptable. Selfridge’s led the way in brand concessions, as with so many new shopping developments and experiences, and this was the story I wanted to explore. To me, Harry Selfridge was one of the great ‘unsung’ heroes of retail history. He may have left a magnificent building behind him, but his own life was barely known – other than he was a compulsive gambler and reportedly had an affair with both the famous, fabulous 1920’s showgirls the Dolly Sisters.

It took well over three years to strip his story back to the beginning – to find what made him ‘tick’ and to write the book. I was able to prove he was unquestionably not just the ‘showman of shopping’, but had a rare appreciation of architecture, a gambler’s instinct to take a risk in acquiring property with long-term potential and above all, had a huge respect and passion for the job of retailing which he strived to convince the British hierarchy was a ‘profession’ and not a ‘trade’. He succeeded in all the former and even made a small dent in the snobbish belief of the era that merchants were vulgar. But unfortunately, all his achievements – other than his magnificent building – faded into obscurity following his spectacular fall from grace within the company he had founded, leading to his eviction from the building in 1940 and his death in poverty in 1947.

His was a real ‘rags to riches and back to rags again’ story. If not quite rags, then certainly an old age spent selling off his precious rare book collection a volume at a time in order to survive. I combed archives (including the store’s own extant archives at that time kept in Norfolk) and raided correspondence stored in University Libraries in Chicago, Stanford and Harvard. I traced relatives who owned memorabilia and poured through copies of Vogue and other titles to get a better understanding of his lavish lifestyle and that of his adult children who were spoiled by their obliging father to the extent that their extravagance helped dissipate his fortune.

This time round I had a very strong editor (Gail Pirkis on behalf of Profile Books) and although I once more returned to France to write the book, she kept up a regular dialogue and involvement in the editing process. I was also determined to have a beautiful and meaningful cover. Thankfully Andrew Franklyn of Profile and his team were charmed with the idea that the celebrated fashion illustrator David Downton would draw Harry – we added the Dolly Sisters left and right as they were an integral part of his reputation. So much so that I wanted to call the book ‘Sex & Shopping’ but Andrew thought not so it went to Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge. Harry Selfridge certainly seduced women – and quite a few men too – into shopping for pleasure.

Throughout the process I was given every support I needed by the new owners (Galen and Hilary Weston and their daughter Alannah) in enabling me to access the store archives. I interviewed the Westons – and senior directors – to enable comment in the back chapter my publisher wanted me to write about contemporary retailing and where the store fitted in the mix. They were generous with their time and also gave me free usage of many images they owned for the picture plates. They also hosted a party in the store – where else – which was a joyful occasion. But having said all that, it has always been important to me that people realise this wasn’t ‘vanity publishing’. I would have written Harry’s story with or without support from the store’s owners – it was a story that deserved to be told for the genius that he was. I was never going to hide the fact that he was also riddled with flaws. A lot of geniuses are!

Booksellers have mixed opinions about stickers on books. But there’s one that transcends everything – it says: ‘as heard on Book of the Week BBC Radio 4’. I was so proud when I heard it had been chosen. So many books are published every year and they chose mine for the coveted slot. Brilliantly read by Lindsay Duncan it was broadcast in October to back up publication and to this day I have kept a strip of those wonderful stickers to remind me of the experience.

Reviewed by a raft of newspapers and magazines, Vogue wrote:

“Lindy Woodhead is good on the social impact of the store, showing how women’s growing financial independence and presence in the workplace affecting shopping culture and fashion itself. Her meticulous research on a subject she clearly loves (Woodhead was the first woman on the Board of Directors of Harvey Nichols) inevitably throws up the odd nugget……..his sad end, bankrupted partly by his passion for a set of gambling-addicted twins……”

Val Hennessy in the Daily Mail homed in on his masterstroke in ‘positioning the perfume counters just inside the front doors’ and said ‘when he came from America, shopping for fun had arrived and Selfridge’s became the template for the superstores and throbbing centres familiar to shoppers today’.

Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune wrote the ultimate experts opinion on his achievements : “This master showman, unlike his snobby and ponderous London store rivals, never missed an opportunity to entice the new industrial class (and especially their free-spending wives) into his store. Lindy Woodhead relates this morality tale with vigour and to use her own favourite word ‘glorious’ enthusiasm. She brings to life the cracking open of the social carapace of aristocracy and the frenetic hedonism of the Jazz Age. The social revolution in retailing is described with passion and verve”.

Published in 2008

End of copy 19 July 2019

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Above – Current Edit

Below – Scrap elements to use

Next of course came the lull. Always the way it seems with the launch of a paperback – when the interest in the trade is ‘what comes next’ and the author sits down to agonise over their thoughts and plans for a follow up. In my case I thought I had the ideal topic. Another ‘joint biography’ this time about the two women who arguably created the cult of celebrity – Hollywood columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella O. Parsons. I called the story LOVE & HISSES and lovingly nurtured their lives into an outline. My publisher at Virago wasn’t quite so sure. The general feeling was that the story was ‘too American’. I didn’t mind – I was carried away with enthusiasm for the film industry insiders and rather liked the idea of moving to Hollywood for a few months to research more thoroughly, reasoning that my (American) Agent could place the work elsewhere. Then came 9/11 and everything changed. In the grim aftermath the last place I wanted to be was alone in America. In the end the idea wasn’t developed into a book. Instead I wrote it as a feature for the Times Colour Magazine – one of two big film related stories they commissioned from me – and here it is:   (RJ Love & Hisses)

More Coming Soon