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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER ADRIEN ARPEL
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America's best-selling beauty author


As a young girl in Englewood, New Jersey, Adrien Arpel was determined that one day she would transform herself into a beautiful woman. After having her nose bobbed, she began to pester the ladies behind every cosmetic counter she could reach, and by the time she graduated from high school at 17, she knew more than they did. That same year she opened a small cosmetics shop in her hometown with $400 earned from baby-sitting. Today, at 38, she is the president of a $12 million-a-year company selling more than 100 beauty products throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Not content with mere business success, she recently turned her talent to writing her first book, Adrien Arpel's Three-Week Crash Makeover/Shapeover Beauty Program (1977). It was on the New York Times' best-seller list for six months, and is still selling briskly in paperback. Miss Arpel received $275,000 from Pocket Books for the reprint rights — the most ever for a beauty book.

"I have always been a rebel," she proclaims regally, dressed in a stylish Edwardian outfit with padded shoulders at her midtown office. Quite heavily made up, with hot pink lipstick and a Cleopatra hairdo, she looks considerably younger than her age. The strident quality of her voice is reminiscent of a Broadway chorus girl's, yet is delivered in a crisp, businesslike manner. During the interview she rarely smiles or strays from the question being asked. For some reason, she declines to say much about her new book, How to Look 10 Years Younger, which is scheduled for publication in April. Instead, she stresses the simple, common-sense rules about beauty that have guided her career from the beginning.

Probably her two most important innovations are her exclusive use of nature-based, chemical-free products (chosen from leading European health spas) and her policy of try-before-you-buy makeup. Complimentary makeup is offered every time a customer gets a facial at one of the hundreds of Adrien Arpel salons, such as those on the first floor of Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Whenever she opens a new salon, Adrien spends the entire day on her feet, doing upwards of 35 facials with her own pale, delicate hands.

Upon being complimented for her attire, Miss Arpel gasps, "Thank you!" with schoolgirlish delight. There is something almost surreal in her creamy white complexion. "I think sunbathing is absolutely deadly, and that there is no reason in the world for a woman to sunbathe," she says. Moments later, she admits that "high heel shoes are not very good for you," but that she wears them anyway, "because they're very fashionable. They are something that really can be a problem — if they're pitched wrong. If you have a good shoe and it's pitched well, you shouldn't have a problem"

Does she think it would be a good idea for women to give up high heels altogether? "No, no. I don't think you'll ever get women to give up fashion. So we can tell what's problems, what's really hazardous, what's going to be injurious to your health, and what's going to just hurt a little bit."

She never thought of writing a book until about four years ago, says Arpel, because "every second when I was away from my business, I spent with my daughter. Now my daughter's 16 and a half, and has a boyfriend, and goes out, and doesn't want to spend every minute with me. This all started when she was about 13." Adrien and her husband, manufacturer Ronald Newman, moved to the New York metropolitan area right after they were married in 1961, and acquired an Upper East Side apartment last summer.

For her own health and beauty regimen, Adrien begins her typical day with jumping rope. She thinks weight training for women is "terrific," but considers jogging the best all-around exercise. "Now, jogging has its negatives. I get up very early in the morning, and if you jog while it's still dark out, it can be dangerous. I also have long hair, and you have to wash your hair after you jog. So for someone that works, I find that I can only do it three days a week."

She has a facial twice weekly. "Facials are not luxuries. They are necessities to peel off dead surface skin. … Air pollution is the reason. If it wears away stone on buildings, think what it can do to the skin." A facial, she explains, consists of "all different sorts of hand massages to deep-cleanse the skin with coconut-like milk, or some sort of sea kelp cleanser. Then there's a skin vacuum which takes blackheads out — electric brushes with honey and almond scrubs which clean out the pores. And at the end, a mask. Nature-based again — orange jelly, sea mud, or spearmint."

Arpel believes that a woman's makeup should be largely determined by her profession. She reveals a humorous side when asked whether a woman stockbroker, for example, should always dress conservatively. "Well, if she was wearing a see-through blouse and no bra in her office, I'd certainly think she had poor taste," she laughs.

A nonsmoker who consumes little alcohol, she confesses to at least one vice: "I drink two cups of coffee in the morning, sometimes more. Also not wonderfully good for you — but I never said I was a hundred percent good."

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