Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All the Diamonds, Rubies, and Sapphires in the World, Smeared

I'm in a flurry of guest preparations, so I'll let Diana Vreeland share her holiday wishes and suggestions with you. These are culled from her longtime column in Bazaar, "Why Don't You."

So, this holiday season, why don't you...

... give a satin-finished platinum box with all the diamonds, rubies sapphires in the world scooped together and smeared in a lovely design on the lid?

... shop at Woolworth's for little Scotch plaid sock arrangements called Hi-Jacks made to skip on your cold drink glasses to keep the table from spotting?

... wear violet velvet mittens with everything?

... wear, like the Duchess of Kent, three enormous diamond stars arranged in your hair in front?

... sweep into the drawing room on your first big night with an enormous red-fox muff with many skins?

... tie black tulle bows on your wrists?

... have boxes copied after Russian Easter eggs in dull enamel and jewels to keep on your afterdinner coffee tray for saccharine for all those who don't take sugar?

... tie an enormous bunch of silver balloons on the foot of your child's bed on Christmas Eve?

Please note that all of those but the very last one were not holiday tips, but just general guides to everyday living. And I know I've posted the same photo of Ms. Vreeland before, but I couldn't help myself; it just looks so festive. Again, the decor was not for the holidays, just every single festive day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Am Flabbergasted

"Not only do they get to lose their love handles or chubby belly but they get to take part in saving the Earth."

LipoDiesel  Surely it's an elaborate holiday prank?

I Have More To Say About Slim Tape

If you don't know what Slim Tape is, read the post below or click the link.
I have been thinking about Slim Tape all morning and have decided that of ALL the garments and figure aids in history, this tape is the most horrifying thing to come across when undressing someone.  Not that I ever find myself in the position of undressing women. But I am thinking of those who do.  Girldes, Spanx, even Depends are startling, sure, but they can all be comprehended by the human mind.  Not Slim Tape.  Can you imagine a spontaneous romantic encounter during which clothes are flung to the floor only to reveal extra fat and skin taped into place?
And isn't this the inherent danger of figure helpers?  One squeezes into something frighteningly restrictive (or in this case one tapes their entire self taut), gets dressed and feels more confident than usual, flirts etc.  Fine, but do not drink and tape.  Do not let the optical illusion of toned thighs* make you so giddy that you get tipsy and go home with a stranger.  Because you will become the stuff of urban legend.

* Do I believe Slim Tape really will give the illusion of toned thighs?  No.  No, I do not.

Tone Your Upper Arms Instantly

Ever-vigilant reader, Gina just sent me the best link of the year:  Slim Tape.

I've written about the age old art of face taping before.  And about a vintage Kotex ad that advised teens to tape their shoulder blades together for better posture.  But people, none of that compares to the ludicrous glory that is Slim Tape.  You must, must, must click the link to watch the video.   At bare minimum, I implore you to click to enlarge the picture at left.  

The Slim Tape folks are suggesting that, if you have upper arm waddle, you should literally tape the wobbling flap of skin up and onto your bicep.  Same goes for thighs; if they are looking too gelatinous, use Slim Tape to pull the slack up and under your shorts.  This is the sort of thing that makes my day.  Sometimes I fear that the quirkiest of beauty ploys and devices are behind us, drifting off into history (obviously is my life's work to make sure they are not forgotten) but Slim Tape restores my faith in the charming and inane.  It's like a Christmas miracle!

Hey you know who could really use some Slim Tape?  That scary lady from the chart one post down!  We could fix her right up with this miracle product.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Become Much Better-Looking In Three Weeks

This is one of the first beauty books I owned. Published in 1977, it begins:

"Before you read this book, there are a few things I think you should know.
I am not a descendant of Hungarian "royalty" who ran across the war zone clutching nothing but grandmother's face cream formula (and a faded diploma from a long-defunct Budapest 'university of skin care').
I am not an ex-Hollywood star who decided to dabble in cosmetics after the celluloid faded into cellulite.
I am not one of the world's ten great natural beauties."

I believe that first line is a dig at Helena Rubinstein, who we'll talk more about later. She had passed away by the time Adrien wrote this book, but she had a storied past and a legacy of beauty recipes. Her products directly competed with Arpel's.
The Crash Makeover/Shapeover has a backbone of sensible advice: a lower carb and calorie diet, plus exercise and a lot of facials. But this book is a pretty involved project. Every day comes with recipes and lessons.
Tomorrow I'll share some makeover photos from the book.
Ms. Arpel was a big fan of what I call The Total Look, an everyday face which takes dozens of products to acheive, and which veers toward the drag-queenish. This look is featured in most every beauty book from the late seventies to early nineties. It tends to be quite aging, as evidenced by the photo of Adrien on the book's cover versus this very recent photo of her. Either her skincare secrets are worth their weight in gold or she set the clock back twenty years by washing off all that slap. She's adorable!

The book recommends an exercise regimen of jumping rope for five minutes everyday. In fact, Adrien reports that this is more effective than jogging for half an hour every day. There are also some pretty simple toning moves. And this, a very convincing chart:

Click to enlarge, please. At left, a woman at forty who exercises regularly. And at right, the same woman, after decomposing in the grave for several months. I mean, the same woman at forty, without exercise.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Welcome To My Pink, Fluffy Future

It's been a bit dark around here lately; three of my recent posts were about people dying, or being dead (and beautiful).  So I thought I'd offer a palate cleanser.  This photo of Jayne Mansfield in her pink shag-carpeted bathroom pretty much depicts what I planned on my adult life looking like when I was a child.  (Please click to enlarge and note: even the sides of the tub and the ceiling are carpeted.)  I used to imagine living somewhere like that, and strutting around in extremely fluffy pink sweaters with hot pink satin leggings.  Physically, I assumed I would resemble Loni Anderson.  
And everything has worked out exactly as I designed.

I kid, but maybe I'll be more Loni-like soon.  I just ordered a copy of her memoir, My Life In High Heels.  Of course I'm hoping to glean beauty tips, and I will share them with all of you.

Meanwhile, one more image of complete pink indulgence.  Fellow vintage blogger and pen pal, Donna Lethal let me browse around in her photos and I found this dreamy ad.  Clearly, this was the only brand of toilet tissue appropriate  for Jayne.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Dark And Stormy Night

My muse Edna and I share a birthday, one hundred years apart. At least, I think we do. Edna loved to obscure her age, and her birth records were destroyed in the infamous San Francisco earthquake. Today is the anniversary of Edna's death. Perhaps this means that I will die on December 14th, 2059?
To mark the occasion, here is a charming 1910 article from the New York Times reporting a near-death experience Edna had on a yacht, in Little Hell Gate, off the East River:
"We never had a bite to eat, not even a drink. Besides that, it was dark and stormy."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beauty Hints From 1910

This 1910 book by Margaret Mixter is one of the nicest items in my collection. Good balance of sensible advice and charming quirk, plus beautiful photographs. In fact, the photo in my masthead is from this book and illustrates home manicures. I just like the cagey look on the gal's face. Hopefully, I've inserted her image into some of your minds to stand for me. I guess that won't work on the percentage of readers who are related to me.
Tonight let's look at a few of Margaret's hints for applying cosmetics. I find this first tip especially charming because Margaret looked to the past for inspiration, just like I do.

"Beet rouge, that was popular with our grandmothers, can be made by any one. The raw vegetable is thoroughly washed and dried. It is then pressed against a grater until the juice is extracted, and this liquid is then mixed with starch or rice powder until the shade one wishes is attained. It is finally covered with a thin cloth to keep out dust, and set in the sun to dry. This is absolutely harmless when applied to the skin. A few drops of rose or lavender oil worked in will make it adhere to the skin better, but the preparation thus made requires thorough sifting through muslin to make it smooth."

"The inclination of women to darken their blonde brows and lashes is one that must be controlled. Surface colorings that do not sink into the pores do not injure, but chances are they will not improve. Nevertheless, if there is satisfaction in experimenting, it may be done. Burnt cork, obtained by literally charring a piece of cork, is a harmless black.
It will hold better if the hair is first slightly touched with glycerine. It comes off easily.
India ink, dissolved in water, is another harmless application, but it must not be allowed to touch the skin. A fine camel's hair brush is best for putting it on."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Trend: Time Travel

Do you know about My Fifties Year?  I didn't until today.  A woman who goes by the alter-ago Marzipan Jones is living as a 1950s housewife for one year.
Here's a revealing interview with her on Vintage Bulletin.  And Marzipan isn't alone. These Time Warp Wives starred in a BBC documentary.  And apparently, there's a whole movement.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beautiful Corpses

“I’ve had people mention that they want their breasts to look perky when they’re dead."

This article reports that plastic surgery techniques, such as line-filling, are on the rise in mortuaries.  Actually I've been meaning to write something here about mortuary beauticians because the subject fascinates me.  If you share my morbid tastes, here are some links.
Nadene cosmetics feature colors specifically designed to recreate a lifelike, but natural appearance.  The line includes the lip colors Natural Male and Old Age.  
That reminds me; a few years back some normal cosmetic line came out with lipsticks named after women.  My sister Laura bought the one called "Laura," and it was an awful grayish brown.  Every time she wore it I called it "Dead Laura."
Here is a short article about some of the challenges a mortuary beautician may face.
And here is an interview with a woman who left her job at Disney to go into the field.  She says, "I was working at the Happiest Place on Earth and I was miserable, and now I’m working at the saddest place on earth, and I’ve never been happier."
The interview is really quite disgusting.  So here, if you want.  You've been warned.  Really.

Monday, December 8, 2008

That Corselette Is Ruining Your Figure

I wrote earlier that I'd prefer an old-fashioned undergarment to the ace-bandage shorts that are Spanx. But what I find charming, some deem detrimental. The garment Lilyan refers to below must be a corselette, still terribly popular well into the 1950s:

"No garment has done more to destroy the American woman's figure than the combination corset and brassiere one. No one wearing such a garment can attain the correct standing position because of the downward pull of the suspended garters. The wearer has no shape, no waistline, flabby, protruding hips, forward shoulders, and will find that after wearing the garment for a while that abdominal muscles have sagged thus resulting in constipation and other disordered, Throw this garment away immediately and purchase a step-in girdle.
Let me explain this a different way. You will agree that in wearing this garment you wore the front garters short and the back and side garters long. Why did you do this? Because if you didn't wear the back garters long you would never have been able to sit down. Did you ever stop to think what this would do to your figure? Every fat women has large hips entirely due to the lack of this knowledge. In other words you protrude your hips which naturally give you large hips."

--Lilyan Malmstead, What Everyone Wants to Know (1928)

The Girdles of Yesteryear

Daphne Merkin has a delightful piece in yesterday's TMagazine about her search for a classic foundation garment in this modern city of Spanx.  
Girdles and corsets range aesthetically from sexy to mechanical.  If I was looking for a slimming foundation garment, I would rather feel like I had an old-fashioned secret, than a medical secret.  Spanx seem to me like something prescribed post-surgery.  

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Take it off. Take it all off.

Scandinavian beauty tips... pending!

A copy of Gunilla Knutsen's Beauty and Health the Scandinavian Way (1971) is on it's way to my mailbox.  Gunilla is the blonde bombshell in this Noxema shaving cream ad who famously purred, "Take it off.  Take it alllllll off."

I'm really looking forward to the book because when it came out, the Times reviewer, Judy Klemesrud wrote, "Gunilla's book contains 59 pages of photographs of her, braless ('I don't own a bra') in a leotard and tights, demonstrating Scandinavian exercises."

The book also contains beauty tips such as:
"To clean beauty cream from under your nails, use a few drops of mouth wash mixed with water."

And!  A recipe for a Scandinavian diet secret: Oatmeal Soup.  Oh, I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You Look Terrible, I'm Calling An Ambulance

In 1961 Allan Grant shot these amazing photos of the Beauty Hospital of Dr. Robert A. Franklyn, in Bel Air, California. (LIFE)
On occasion I've remarked to my sister that I need to go to the Hair Emergency Room. Now I know where that could once be found.

Here, a patient idly files her nails while sitting in an Electro-Magnetic Loop said to prevent aging. I'm somehow reminded of Sleeper. These photos are so spookily atmospheric, full of Hitchcock Blondes and perhaps even murder. But first! A series of healing, prettying baths.

Sand Bath.

Seaweed Bath.

And my favorite, the Sponge Bath. Because it is not that one is bathed with a sponge, as in a non-beauty hospital; rather one is bathed in sponges, piles and piles of sea sponges. Soothing, no?

Now you're exactly where they want you.

This woman, trapped in a magnetic collar, contemplates how she could have possibly been so gullible. Beauty Hospital indeed, she thinks.

And then they were upon her.

If this story has not served as warning to you, I suggest Glovie's Beauty Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

And Spider Eyelashes, Too

In a captivating profile of Liza Minnelli in this week's New York, Emily Nussbaum describes the star as being, "...back to that beautiful spider's body: the cubelike high-up torso and crazy-skinny limbs."

"... just in case you're wondering, she doesn't seem even mildly crazy.  She's warm, cagey, girlish."

But the real thrill for me in this piece lays in the section about Kay Thompson.  Kay was Liza's godmother and the second act of Liza's new show will pay tribute to her.  As Emily puts it:
"If you've heard of Thompson at all, it's because she wrote the Eloise children's books, or perhaps for her role as the 'Think Pink!' editor in Funny Face.  But to those who knew her, Kay Thompson is a thrilling showbiz secret, a kind of skeleton key to mid-century Broadway and Hollywood."

I mentioned Kay Thompson and that Think Pink! scene here.

Here's Kay, posing under a portrait of Eloise at the Plaza.  From the article:
"'She was this funny, serene source,' Liza tells me of Thompson and her influence on Liza's childhood.  'I remember once we were walking around in New York, I was about 4 and she had a big wolf coat, gray, just heavenly looking-- she was so tall and thin."

Oh, and I was just about to write something about the Lily Pulitzer in W this month, but Sadie Stein just did, and it's perfect:  Palm Beach Story: Lily Pulitzer is Bizarrely Fascinating.

A Call To Eradicate The Eradication of Flaws

British Girl Guides have named the airbrushing of models one of the top ten political and social issues concerning young women today.  Right up there with violent crime, national debt and climate change.

To illustrate this point, I've chosen a tenuously related shot of our gal, Nina Leen, photographing a swimsuit model (who needs no retouching) in 1945.

Monday, December 1, 2008

He Can't WIn

Over Thanksgiving, I was thrilled to meet my teenage cousin's First Girlfriend.  Sure, the red, plastic braces startled me for a moment, but when I figured out her gums weren't bleeding, I saw that she was adorable, a pre-knockout.

I took a walk with my cousin late at night when all the guests were gone.  He needed a female perspective on the new terrain.  "Why does she think she's fat?" he asked, baffled.  "I keep telling her to eat.  She's literally half my size."

I explained that all teenage girls think they're fat and called his attention to the world of stick-figure billboards his girlfriend lives in.  "I know," he said.  "But literally no guys I know like that." (He currently enjoys the word 'literally'.)

Then, he told me she recently demanded he admit that she is not the hottest girl in the world, or even at their high school.  He refused to agree so she tortured him for hours, promising she wouldn't be mad, offering up names and evidence that other girls outrank her.  Finally he caved and named someone just to end the misery.  She smiled and said, "See?  That was easy enough and it's fine!"

"Oh no," I groaned when he told me this.  "That is definitely going to come back to bite you.  Soon, and hard.  Don't ever fall for that again.  It's a trap."

"I couldn't help it, " he said.  "I literally can never win when we fight."

At least he realizes that.  A lovestruck teenage boy is just no match for the emotional complexities of a teenage girl.  I wish so much that I could stop that girl from wanting to be prettier or thinner.  One day she'll look back and know how perfect she was.  Well, at least when the red braces come off.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back At The Fat Farm, In High Heels

You know how charmed I am by the exercisers of yore doing it in street clothes instead of spandex, but this just makes my day.  Pushups in heels! 

I'm still knee deep in the LIFE archives and I found these photos, taken in 1938 by Alfred Eisenstaedt, of Rose Dor Farms, a "reducing school for women."

You know how everyone always wonders why old insurance height/weight charts allowed for two-inch heels?  This is why: nobody ever took their heels off!

Another view.  Of the shoes, people.  Look at the shoes.

Here's a "student" at the farm.  Click to enlarge and check out the gal's t-shirt graphics, zippered corduroy shorts, and pin curls. I bet her image is tattooed on some sailor's bicep.

This epically flattering shot was captioned thusly, "Women doing exercises to reduce of their hips and 'widow's humps' (which form at back of neck)..."

Personally, I prefer the more PC term, Dowager's Humps.

Lipstick, 1945: A Triptych

I'm rooting around in LIFE magazine's newly available photo archive.  I suggest you do the same.

Nina Leen was one of LIFE's first female photographers and became well-known for her photos of animals, especially bats.  

I love these pictures from 1945.  This was apparently an innovative way to try on lipstick colors, and I think it would have worked out better if the paper had been transparent.  

I love the size and shape difference here, but it's the very serious looks that really make these shots.

To conclude, I'll show you the photographer herself.  Here is Nina Leen applying lipstick to a model before photographing her. There's something sinister about this image.  It could almost be a spooky film still.  Doesn't the model look like a corpse, and Nina a mortician preparing her for viewing?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grace Kelly at the Fat Farm

So, continuing with Princess Luciana Avedon's The Beautiful People's Diet Book. Today I came across a passage that just begs to be blogged, considering my recent post. From the chapter, Weighing In at the Fat Farm:

"Vera Maxwell keeps a small painting done by Prince Rainier in the living room of her New York apartment. Three fat ladies walk toward a green house in the middle of the painting. On the other side of the house the same three ladies, nude, light as air, are flying on angel wings. The prince gave it to the designer as a souvenir of the two-week cure she took with Princess Grace and her sister at Neiman-Marcus's Greenhouse in Dallas, Texas.
"I think we both lost more inches than pounds-- I lost only four pounds," says Mrs. Maxwell. "I remember Fleur Cowles was there, and the first night Grace and I were so starved we ate the parsley off her plate. We still had hunger pains the second night, not realizing that you could call down and have skimmed milk sent up."
"You soon get used to it. We were on neither maintenance nor minimum diet; we had 1,000 calories per day, and the food-- what there was of it-- was marvelous. We had fish and meat only twice a week, but there were endless, beautiful souffles (made with broccoli or lobster or apricot and using one yolk to three egg whites)...
"The only thing we really didn't like was that we couldn't find a place to take a walk. Despite all the exercise, you long to get out for a quiet stroll. In Texas they've got nothing but roads with cars coming at you. Grace and I gave up--the closest we came to nature was getting stuck on the sandy 'soft shoulders' on the side of the road."

I cannot tell you how much I relished this story. Commemorative art work of Princess Grace's fat farm visit? In which she and friends are depicted as fat ladies? If you can find me that painting, I will marry you, even if you are not the prince of Monaco.

And that last image haunts me: the glamorous American princess, stranded beside a road in Texas, sustained only by a sliver of apricot souffle, unrecognized as traffic rushes past.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Exit Fat City Quick, Before You Marbelize Like a Steak!

"The five-pound limit turns out to be less fanatic than it seems. There is a physiological reason why it is easier to lose weight as soon as it is gained.
Any medical student knows this. The explanation goes that when you first put on weight, the fat is still 'soft' and high in water content. That is the time to lose it, before the body gets a chance to assimilate it. If you keep ten to fifteen pounds overweight on you for a year, it becomes part of the muscle structure. In other words, it marbelizes, as in fat steak, and is much harder to lose."

This is, of course, another brilliant quote from Luciana Avedon's The Beautiful People's Diet Book. But I prefer to picture it as something she proclaimed while wearing the outfit pictured at left. She proclaimed it, and then she reclined back against that sculpture to show off her best side, her spectacular hair, her bangles, and her excellent white pants.

As I told you, the Princess' thoughts on obesity, though written in the early 1970's, seem awful timely. No, not the one above, that one just feels true. In this selection from the chapter entitled, Exit Fat City, we see what has changed since she wrote, and that she seemed to sense the coming epidemic:

"There is no social stigma attached to overeating. No coroner ever writes that the cause of death was obesity. Your favorite poison is available without prescription at the local grocer's, where, as long as you can pay, no one will ever refuse to serve you.

... Even the airlines, while insisting their flight personnel keep trim, do not dare weigh passengers with their baggage, though I think that would be a lovely idea. Why should I pay for thirty pounds of excess baggage when the man sitting next to me does not pay a cent for his fifty pounds of excess flesh...
Mind you concern about the threat of obesity to health and performance is growing. .. First and foremost, the insurance companies give the obese a hard time. They have been doing it for decades, though I cannot say, looking around me in public, that their strictures have cut much lard.

... Obesity curtails the pleasure, fun, and adventure of life itself. While awaiting all those dreadful, often fatal diseases to which obesity makes you prone, you huff and puff, ... creak at the joints, hate to undress for sex, and are the brunt of even your closest friends' jokes and supposed jollities, which make you shrivel inside-- but not on the surface where shrinking is needed."

I know, I know. Now you're angry with the Princess. But please consider that she fought the battle against fat everyday, fully believing she'd turn hippo if she relaxed for a moment. And also consider that just recently, the very thin and vigilant Princess exited our Fat City and (fat) world forever.

Like it or not, more from the Princess soon. She turns out to be surprisingly reasonable in her suggestions for those with true weight problems. She recognizes that a severe struggle with weight takes a lot to overcome, unlike a ten-pound fluctuation. That is to be dealt with, as you know by now, by dancing and yogurting.

*scanned photo, courtesy of the adored Donna Lethal*

Peculiar Beauty on Oprah

No, not me.
Alert reader Sheila wrote to say that Oprah did a show today about unusual beauty standards and practices around the world.  Go here for a bunch of great clips (I of course just watched them all).

The lady at left is wearing a hejab that reminds me of pediatric-ward scrubs.  She hails from Mauritania, a country in Africa, where young girls are force-fed to achieve the national standard of big, plump womanly beauty.  When Oprah heard this, she broke into There's a Place For Us, from West Side Story.  That is me reporting what happened, not me making a lame joke.

 The segment on Japanese women featured two things I have heard a lot about this year: nightingale-poop facials and collagen-based foods (like cow-neck tendon) for lovely skin.  A restaurant devoted to that cause opened recently in NYC.  Lots of pigs feet.

I learned several things I did not know from these clips:

1.  Indonesian women wrap their midsections tightly in 20 meters of fabric to regain their shapes after giving birth.  This makes so much sense to me that I can't believe most other women don't do it.

2.  Iran is the "nose job capital of the world."  Really?

3.  The most desired hair for extensions comes from temples in India.  Worshippers shave their heads as part of a ritual offering to please the gods.  The temples earn 18 million a year selling the hair.  Apparently Chris Rock is in India doing a documentary on this "Temple Hair."  What?

I can now say with confidence that not just me but all humans are utterly obsessed with weird beauty stuff.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rare Bird


I wrote about an enchanting twelve year-old style blogger.  A lot of other people wrote about her too, and then I read on her blog that she was overwhelmed by the unwanted attention.  So I've taken down the link.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Digital Love Affairs Continue

Two of my favorite bloggers have posts today that I feel came from my own brain:

Tramp On a Friday Night: Tips from The Beautiful People's Diet Book

There are the cheetahs of the world and the hippopotami. Much to my chagrin, I was built for the herd-- one year of negligence and you would find me by the riverbank, shifting my bulk in a vast hippopotamus sprawl!

I've been re-reading the late princess' second book. You'll notice her name here is Luciana Avedon (there were marital changes between books), but to me she will always be royalty.

Diligently anti-hippo, Luciana is eager to share wisdom from all her glamorous and skinny friends:

"I'm a happier person when I'm thinner," says bright, pretty Jori Pepper... I'm surer of myself. When you wake up heavy, all you want to do is roll over and go back to sleep."

Regular readers know I love this kind of frank talk. Nowadays Ms. Pepper would probably have claimed that her goal was to feel great about herself at any weight. Here another beautiful pal chimes in with her routine for staying slim. I love the end of this passage:

As much as possible, I go to a dance studio where one does a half hour's exercises to jazz; the teacher then improvises and one tries to follow the steps without knocking too many people down. It's a hangout for all sorts of types-- a fabulous, scruffy, huge, and well-lit studio. And there's Tramp on a Friday night: jeans and easy shoes. You dance solidly for three hours and you lose four or five pounds.

Luciana was nothing if not thorough, and she was no snob. She went wherever she needed to go to get the dieting truth:

"When I was last in Paris, I went backstage at the Crazy Horse Saloon to see what the strippers thought about dieting. The four girls I talked with, Bonita, Capsula Pop, Franca Torpedo, and Madlena, were all in their twenties, an age when on tends to take the body beautiful for granted. "

Turns out the strippers existed mainly on fruit, protein and yogurt, as did most of Luciana's friends:

"When I have a weight problem," Merle Oberon says, "rather than cut down on everything, I simply live on yoghurt, raisins, and almonds for a day or two. I add vitamins and protein powder to the yoghurt.
"I don't diet, but buying larger clothes is such a bore that when I'm a few pounds over, I prefer to eat less." says Fiona Campbell Thyssen, former cover girl. "When one day of only fruit, one day of only meat, and one of salads doesn't do the trick, I get by on honey and yoghurt. Or if I'm desperate, I just stop eating and lose those extra pounds that are making my clothes hang wrong."

I have to say it again! If a diet book writer asked a current cover girl about her eating habits, the girl could be walking around with an IV drip and she's still claim three meals plus healthy snacks and thrice weekly desserts. A few years back, beautiful people were proud to announce their adherence to the The Don't-Kid-Yourself Diet.

Tomorrow, I'll let Luciana tell you what she thinks of the current obesity epidemic. Yes, she wrote about it decades before it actually happened but I think you'll find her thoughts quite timely.

"Buying larger clothes is such a bore."

This is Fiona Campbell (Walter) Thyssen, the "cover girl" quoted in the last post.  Cecil Beaton took the portrait and we are going to have to talk about him more very soon.  
I don't know much about Fiona, but she appears to have been a Baroness at some point.  The norm in Luciana's crowd.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Story of My Bitter Defeat

I told someone this story recently and thought maybe you'd like it too:

In fourth grade, my teacher announced that we'd be putting on a show about Famous American Historical Figures.  She had us turn to the back page in our history textbook for a list from which to choose our roles in the production.  

My eye fell upon the name Grace Kelly.  The most glamorous option by a mile.  The teacher made her way around the room, noting everyone's choice on the clipboard.  I saw it would be a while before she got to me but I wasn't worried; I was fairly certain that none of my other female classmates were Hitchcock fans.  They probably didn't even know who she was!  I'd watched Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief over and over with my grandmother, late at night on holidays.

By the time the teacher came around, I was already thinking of my mother's vintage 1950s prom dresses.  I'd pair one with my white Easter gloves.  It would be glorious!

"Oh," said my teacher.  "I didn't realize that name was on the list.  She isn't an appropriate choice.  This play is about American History."

"She was American,"  I said.  "She only moved to Monaco later, to marry a prince."

"No," said the teacher.  "Not her."

"But she was on the list!"

  "No."  It was her final answer.  "You can be...  let me see who is left...  George Washington.  You'll be George Washington."  

 I stayed home sick from school the next week and I wasn't even faking.  The role ahead literally sickened me.  But the illness did not last quite long enough.  Eventually, my mother and I lopped off a pair of gray Sassoon pants at the knee and hemmed them to make historic knickers.  Then we pinned cotton balls into my hair for a white wig.  And then, I stepped miserably into the spotlight and spoke, as a Founding Father.

If any elementary school classmates are reading and have pictures of this performance, know that I am coming for you in the night.  And I will take you down like a cherry tree.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Last Picture Show

I just looked at this spooky list of last photographs taken of people before they died.  Take a look if you have a taste for the dark, the sad, and the historical.  I do.  

This is said to be the last photo of Marilyn Monroe, but take that with a grain of salt.  I've previously heard that Lawrence Schiller took the last picture and the shoot I referred to here is also often named as her last.  I like them all.  The black turtleneck and pale stilettos here just kill me.  And Sadie, look at those pants!

On My Favorite Color, and Threesomes

My sister and I spent years of our childhood obsessed with the 1982 movie Summer Lovers
in which Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher frolic  around the Greek Isles with a French girlfriend.  I guess we thought it would reveal the secrets of our debaucherous futures: naked sunbathing, olive oil fights, tangled sheets everywhere.  You know, everyday adulthood.
I recently watched the film again and found it delightful.  While I've lost all interest in polyamory, I do want to stay in a carved white house on a cliff by the sea.

But all of this is really a preamble to tell you about my favorite color which I refuse to call merely pink.  My favorite color is faded red.  The above frame, taken right before Daryl and Peter extend the confines of their relationship, demonstrates two versions of the color I love.  And of course the digital photo of my television screen barely does it justice.  When perfectly executed, the color is deeply fleshy.  Kind of lip-colored.  Nantucket red is also good, but usually only available as a canvas tote bag or pair of men's pants.
In other films of the 70s through the early 80s, I've often noticed people wearing just the perfect t-shirts in various faded reds.  The only good thing about the faux-retro tee thing that went around for a few years was that red t-shirts were available, pseudo-faded.
I have even bought red articles of clothing thinking, this will be really good in about five years.  Sometimes the affect is achieved by weaving red and white threads together in a fabric.  My living room curtains are like that.  When guests call them pink, I correct, pale red.
I should start experimenting with bleach.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Beauty exists, and it’s unevenly distributed."

Last year I read an article in the Atlantic by Virginia Postrel about the current push of we are all beautiful, just as we are.  The author protested that beauty is actually a mathematical thing, measurable by science, recognizable even by infants.  
And yesterday I read about this "beauty machine," which morphs photographed facial features to closer approximate those mathematical ideals.

I often think about how nowadays we seem to describe all woman as beautiful, almost by default.  How do I look?  Beautiful.  May I set you up with my friend?  She's beautiful!  
Yes, there is a lot of image-related pressure around, and no I don't want anyone to feel bad about themselves, but honestly I think we're going in the wrong direction.  In my vintage-beauty library, true beauty was seen as a rare gift until recently.  Words like attractive and nice-looking were as good as it was going to get for most.  Pretty was doled out economically in fact.  It was common knowledge that most people were more gifted in areas other than looks.  

Feathers often ruffle at the thought of beauty not as a shift in attitude but as cold fact.  But maybe it could relieve pressure.  Because right now it seems like if a woman does not find herself and all other women physically beautiful, something must be wrong with her self-image.  
I was just talking to an anonymous friend about her struggle to accept a certain aspect of her appearance.  She said she wanted to get to a place where she could walk around thinking, "I'm_______ and that's great!" I asked her if there is not something beyond that.  What if the goal was not to see ourselves as beautiful, but to stop constantly describing ourselves?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Princess Luciana Pignatelli: I Believe in Dazzle

"I believe in dazzle and in learning all the tricks and flourishes that can make a woman glamorous."

This week we'll be spending time with Princess Luciana Pignatelli: royalty of confusing origin, and author extraordinaire of several auto-beauty-ographies. I've been meaning to write about her for a while, and just now I read on Donna Lethal's site that the Princess recently died. But I'm not sure that is confirmed.

The Princess is popular. Donna considers her a muse (the way I feel about Edna), and an Appreciation Society has formed on Flickr. She was last seen in 2003 by Mary Tannen.

This, her first book, published in 1970, begins with the Princess's theory on looks:

"A few times every century, a great natural beauty is born. I am not one of them. But what nature skipped, I supplied-- so much so that sometimes I cannot remember what is real and what is fake. More important, neither can anyone else."

The Princess, it seems, had humble beginnings:

"I was a lump, and everyone knew it. To compound the dreariness, my parents sent me to a school run by nuns. All legs and big feet, thick at the waist and thick in the nose, with no breasts and droopy shoulders, I had only one dream-- I would grow up to be madly sexy like the movie stars of the forties with their curves and cleavage. I longed for big breasts."

After walking us through many of her own beauty routines, the Princess lets her famous friends share their own tips. These tend toward the poetic and confessional:

"If you never sleep, or smoke like crazy, or never go out into the air, it shows. But if you're not happy, that's what shows the most. Some evenings, I can spend two hours in front of the mirror and nothing fantastic happens. I'm depressed and convinced it can't but I try. Other evenings, I put a little black here and there-- put a little black on my spirit-- and I look great."

"Even the most hideous people look beautiful when they're in love. With a good man, a woman doesn't need treatments, health foods, vitamins, or anything... at first."

The princess herself is perhaps most often quoted on something she actually attributed in the book to a Roman magazine writer:

"After the age of thirty, every woman needs a homosexual in her life."

If any of you know whether she did indeed pass away, please let me know at once. Everyone else: stay tuned for the Princess's diet tips and exercise demonstrations.