Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl
Grade : B+

Renée Rosen turns her wise, wry eye to the making of cosmetics giant Estée Lauder in Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl, a fun little slice of historical fiction that takes you directly to the heart of the founding of Lauder’s empire.

Gloria Downing is in the middle of coping with a horrifying scandal – her father has been arrested in a racketeering scheme, which has sent their family into a terrible spiral and dislodged them from their lives of privilege. Gloria must now go out to work for a living. Her life changes forever when the woman sitting next to her at Darlene’s Palace of Beauty informs her the shade of lipstick she’s wearing is all wrong for her.

That woman happens to be the ambitious Estée Lauder, who’s planning on making her fortune in beauty, even though her husband Joe wants a traditional housewife type. But she feels hemmed in as a wife and mother and wants to live the good life. While Gloria begins working at Saks Fifth Avenue and experiences life, loss and career ambitions of her own, Estée experiences divorce, success, and tastes what she’s long yearned for. But the girls’ friendship waxes and wanes as time goes on. Can they reconcile before it’s too late?

Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl explores anti-semitism, war, feminism, and the horrors of trying to be a working woman in an era that wanted women to go home and put on an apron. There is friendship for Estée and Gloria, as well as independence, but it’s a lonely climb to the top, and sometimes they’re willing to tear each other apart to get to the top of the glass mountain.

Estée and Gloria are both - understandably - dealing with a lot. Gloria ultimately has to let go of the baggage she’s dragging around regarding her father; Estée’s desire for a rich and unconventional life gets between herself and her true love for her husband and desire to mother her own son. Anti-semitism gets between them, as does blind ambition, jealousy and romantic travails. The way Rosen anchors the story in the period is ultimately what pulls it through, and each woman is fascinating and imperfect in their own, completely different ways.

The business of beauty – and the way women use it – also perfumes the book. Women strive to be swans, and Estée is fearless in milking their need to float on water. Gloria, too, learns how to sell beauty in her role as beauty buyer for Saks. Cosmetics are a way that helps characters to feel more themselves and to manipulate others; hair dye, too, helps the characters to come to terms with who they really are. The end result is a fascinating portrait of class, self-hatred and self-love.

Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl is a beautiful book about a business that can be completely, fearlessly ugly. The blemishes show through the foundation, and that’s what makes it great.

Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : B+

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 26, 2023

Publication Date: 04/2023

Review Tags: 1930s 1940s New York City

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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