(Exhibition text in English, referring to a QR code in the exhibition)

The Original Flapper

Name: Zelda Fitzgerald, née Zayre
Born: 1900 in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.A.
Died: 1948 in Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.

The ”flapper” who becomes an icon of fun, freedom and flamboyance.

When 18-year-old Zelda Zayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, three years her senior, they start a relationship that will become iconic. Scott’s major breakthrough as a writer, just before they marry in 1920, propels the couple into the social elite. They become notorious for their wild and extravagant partying.

Zelda’s husband calls her ’the first American flapper’. And she certainly fits the stereotype of the fun-loving, free-spirited woman with short hair who wants to dance to jazz music, smoke cigarettes and live life without demands – an image that is the exact opposite of any traditional female role. Zelda is also an artist. She dances ballet and writes, even though she struggles to achieve success in either.

The end of the ’roaring 20s’ is also the end of Zelda and Scott’s seemingly carefree lifestyle. The marriage has always been stormy and filled with jealousy. Zelda struggles with mental illness. In the early 1930s, she is diagnosed with schizophrenia and spends the rest of her life in various institutions.

”There are no ugly women, only lazy ones”

Name: Helena Rubinstein, née Chaja Rubinstein
Born: 1872 in Kraków, Austria-Hungary (now Poland)
Died: 1965 in New York

Pioneering entrepreneur who builds an international beauty empire.

With her mother’s home-made skin creams in her bag, Chaja Rubinstein, a young Jewish woman from Kraków, travels to Australia in the hope of a better life. In 1902, Rubinstein opens her first beauty shop in Melbourne. She has a natural aptitude for business and her skincare products are an instant success. The beauty industry is new and uncharted territory. Rubinstein understands the importance of effective marketing and emphasises the pseudo-scientific properties of the products. She wears a white lab coat when she meets customers. Beautiful packaging and high prices help to create a sense of exclusivity.

Rubinstein’s winning business concept takes her back to Europe and eventually to the United States. Her business idea turns out to be very well timed. After World War I, make-up and skincare products go from being considered vulgar and indecent to becoming a natural part of women’s daily routines.

In 1928, Rubinstein sells her company for $7.3 million (about $127 million today). After the stock market crash the following year, she buys it back for a fraction of that amount.

The Lipstick

The Swedish word läppstift (lipstick) first appears in the early 1920s. Previously, make-up was considered appropriate only for prostitutes and on stage. Gradually, painted eyes, lips and nails are becoming more and more common. To many people’s dismay. The film industry is accused of encouraging immoral and licentious behaviour. The author Ludwig Nordström refers to lipstick as ”a sex sign in blood red”.

The Cigarette

The cigarette is part of the image of the modern, worldly woman. In 1904, the etiquette book Woman Beautiful warned readers about smoking: ”saying nothing about the coarseness and essential vulgarity of the practice, or even considering its deleterious effect upon the nerves, ’tis sufficient for our purpose here to consider its disastrous effect upon woman’s beauty and her charm.” Twenty years later, this advice is out-of-date and a woman no longer risks her reputation by smoking cigarettes in public. In the weekly press, cigarette brands such as ”Ladies Small” are specifically aimed at women.

In Search of a Perfect Body

Consumerism is gaining momentum and products on the market are becoming more varied and affordable to people of all classes. More and more people are lured into the quest for the perfect look. The ability to alter your appearance according to what is fashionable is no longer reserved for the wealthy elite.

For women, the aesthetic ideal requires a straight, slim body. If you cannot get it through exercise, there are corsets and diets. Newspaper adverts show a demand for perfume, rejuvenating creams and hair removal products. Now that the skirts are shorter, the legs are suddenly visible and need extra attention.

Ever since the 19th century, more radical measures, like paraffin injections for wrinkles and unattractive facial features, have been performed on hopeful customers. Even as doctors start to caution people about the health effects of the injections in the 1920s, the practice continues.

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