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Q&A with Richard Kirshenbaum, Author of Rouge

Rouge Author Richard Kirshenbaum Interview - Book Club Chat

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Richard Kirshenbaum is the author of Rouge, which is an entertaining look at two bitter rivals who invented the modern cosmetics industry.

Richard is the 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 RadarClosing the DealMadboy, 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.

Rouge is a fictional take based on the real-life rivalry between the beauty industry pioneers Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. They were competitors for more than fifty years. Instead of Helena and Elizabeth, Rouge tell the story of Josephine Herz and Constance Gardiner (check out my review and book club questions). Also, earlier this year, Sony announced plans to adapt Rouge into a movie so definitely keep an eye out for that!

Get to know Richard with the below Q&A where he discusses writing inspirations, research process, more details about the movie and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne; Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote; The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg and Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I knew I wanted to become a writer when I was 13 and sat in front of a manual typewriter. I was attracted to the keys and a feeling of intense serenity came over me.

What were some of the inspirations behind writing Rouge?

I am an adman and copywriter by trade and handled everything from the Revlon to Avon accounts. It was both fascinating and fun. I couldn’t believe a major novel had not been written on the cosmetics industry as a whole.

Rouge is dedicated to all the wonderful and fabulous women I worked with and is an homage to the great, entrepreneurial women who founded the cosmetics industry.

I absolutely love what I do and I love to write. And it’s more fun when you can bring real experience to it.

How was writing Rouge different from writing your other books and essays? 

Rouge is my first novel. When the characters came to life and I started living with them, I actually had a relationship with each one. It was terribly fun.

Strong characters will do what they need to do and take you on a wild ride.

What was your research process like for this book? How much did you draw from the real-life rivalry between Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden?

Writing historical fiction is ALL about the research: how people lived, what they ate, wore, how they traveled and of course world events. It was a labor of love and I’m thankful for Google!!

The rivalry between Josephine and Constance is loosely based on Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. I created character personas from a compilation of real-life women. I looked at everyone, from Madam C.J. Walker to Estée Lauder.

What do you hope are some of the key takeaways of the story for readers?

Cosmetics was the first multi-billion dollar category founded mostly by women. It was an amazing time period that gave rise to some of the richest, self-made women in the world. I wanted the readers to see what they had to go through, how smart they were and how hard it was to succeed.

Congrats on the news Sony acquired the film rights to Rouge! Are you going to work with the studio to bring the novel to film? 

Thank you! I am working with the legendary, Academy Award-winning producer Wendy Finerman (Forrest Gump and The Devil Wears Prada). I am privileged to be working with her and give my opinions but this is really her expertise.

Do you have plans to write another novel?

I just finished my next novel. A modern day Roman à clef.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your To Be Read list?

I love Adriana Trgiani. I’m currently reading Kiss Carlo. She’s brilliant.

Click here to order Rouge on Amazon.