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Johanna Korner (1891–1969)

by Rachel Grahame

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Johanna Korner (1891-1969), beauty salon proprietor, was born on 21 July 1891 at Fogaras, Hungary (Romania), daughter of Alfred Adler, photographer, and his wife Helena, née Springer. Following the example of an aunt, Johanna trained as a beautician in Paris, Vienna and Berlin. She married Jeno (Eugene) Korner, a lawyer, on 3 November 1916 at Brașov, Romania.

In 1936 Johanna was running a beauty salon in Budapest, said to be one of several owned by the family. Her son George Gabriel (1918-2002), a cosmetic chemist, was already involved in the business. With Hungary an ally of Germany, during World War II George was forced into a Jewish labour battalion and sent to the Russian front. Surviving the German retreat from Moscow, he made his way back to Budapest. By 1943 the family had fled to France and Madame Korner had established a business in the Place Pigalle. She considered moving her business to Beirut, but George, who came to Australia in February 1951, persuaded his parents to join him. They reached Sydney in September 1955, their married daughter having preceded them. Although David Jones's department store had hosted an Elizabeth Arden salon from 1936 and regularly had visits from overseas experts in the use of cosmetics, Australian women knew little of skin nourishing creams or beauty treatments.

George had already commenced business in his mother's name, with the first Madame Korner Beauty Salon opening in the fashionable St James Building, Elizabeth Street, Sydney, in 1953. Early clients were from European backgrounds, but as the business prospered and more salons opened, Australian-born women benefited too. The salons introduced a more intense regime of skin care to many women who previously had used only soap and water. In 1954 George opened a beauty training school to teach his mother's methods, and in 1956 launched the Madame Korner Skin Care range of products for use in professional salons and at home.

The core of the beauty school curriculum was Johanna's philosophical and ethical ideas. She believed that beauty could be achieved with thoroughness and patience, and that all clients should be treated with the same respect and given the same service. Trainees were instructed to be honest with clients and to refrain from extravagant promises, to acquire a thorough knowledge of cosmetology, to believe in the profession sincerely and to practise it conscientiously.

Eugene died on 4 March 1965 in Sydney. Johanna died from the effects of barbiturate and bromine poisoning, self administered, on 30 March 1969 at her home at Double Bay, Sydney, and was buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery. Her son and daughter survived her. In 1987 George established a student scholarship at Sydney Technical College in his mother's memory and in 2005 the Madame Korner Beauty Salons continued to be run by Johanna's descendants.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Feb 1936, p 4, 17 Mar 1936, p 4, 4 May 1948, p 5, 13 Sept 1979, p 13, 16 Sept 2002, p 40
  • Eastern Herald (Sydney), 24 Oct 1991, p 16, 20 Feb 1992, p 12
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 18 Oct 1998, ‘Sunday Life’, p 13
  • SP1122, item N1960/33450 (National Archives of Australia)
  • inquest records, 94/1970 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Rachel Grahame, 'Korner, Johanna (1891–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Adler, Johanna

21 July, 1891
Fogaras, Romania


30 March, 1969 (aged 77)
Double Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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