Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nora Ephron Understands Auto-Beauty-Ography

Erika Kawalek at DoubleX interviewed Delia and Nora Ephron, about their stage adaptation of Ilene Beckerman's book, Love, Loss and What I Wore. On what first struck her about the book, Nora says, "... that the book is not about fashion at all. It’s about a much deeper question: How much clothes are us, or fail to be us."

I've written about clothes that failed to be me here: The Worst Things I Ever Wore, and here Story of My Bitter Defeat. Nora wrote an auto-beauty-ography of her own, I Feel Bad About My Neck.

And if you're new around here, I coined the term auto-beauty-ography to describe little life stories, told in terms of hair and weight and clothes, often disguised as how-to guides. Here are a few of my favorites: The Strange Case of Edith Carter, World's First Reality Star, and Great Big Beautiful Doll.
Find out more about the showhere. Want to go see it with me?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"The strongest noose is made of silk..."

"I read in SELF that the strongest noose is made of silk. But that was in an article from last year, so here’s what I’m wondering: Does that still “hold up” today?
Donna Doogan, Duluth"

I enjoyed this piece at The Awl, Letters to the Editor of Woman's Magazines, With Edith Zimmerman. Edith also writes a blog full of tiny, peculiar stories, rich with lines like this:

"And I would ask for a simple dress, but I would also ask that every other dress in the world be just a little simpler."

Technicolor Dream Dress

The Lumière brothers hand-painted each frame of this trippy 1899 film:

(via Kottke)

It is very much like this 1894 film, produced by Thomas Edison, and colored by a similar technique:

That film was banned for a while because it, "included titillating glimpses of the female performer's undergarments. But content wasn't the only concern. 'Indeed,' notes Champlin in an article on the film production code for American Film, 'it was the instant and immense popularity of the movies that stirred the first fears of their corrupting and inciting power.'"

Let's watch one more of dancer Annabelle Whitford to fully understand the corrupting power of her undergarments. While not colored, this Butterfly Dance is sweet and simple, school-playish, but haunting. It is so captivating when a dancer becomes another sort of earthling, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Give Green Porno "The Most Passionate 20-Arm Embrace"

Time for a new season of Green Porno, the most important film project of our time. By now, I am sure you're aware that Isabella Rossellini spends much of her time in crafty getups, doing it with various oddball creatures. This season features anchovy orgies, sea lion polygamy and Isabella on squid sex, "... I would give the most passionate twenty-arm embrace. Twenty? Well, eighteen. Two are not arms."

Here, the star poses as a fetching naked shrimp.

The new episodes, broadcast on the Sundance Channel and viewable online, are charming and wacky, but the intense WTF-quality of the first season has been supplanted by more of a narrative, educational framework. Several pieces start with Ms. Rossellini cooking members of the species in question (not the sea lions) on a cute kitchen set. She muses about where her food comes from and this segueways, dream sequence-like into the dress-up skits. Sometimes Isabella speaks with a biologist who answers questions on mating and environmental threats. It all just makes a little more sense, and that makes me a little sad.

The website has some silly new features. The Green Porno name generator assigned me "Bramble Hairstreak", which suits me entirely. And here you can find out what insect-based type of lover you are with a surprisingly dirty quiz:

Here are the other times I've mentioned Green Porno:

Monday, September 21, 2009

The 70s Adult Spotted in the WIld

"I was wearing a brown pleated skirt with a pattern of trees and deer; a cream shirt with a flyaway collar covered in cartoon Bambis; a tan jacket; tan tights; clumpy shoes, and a Dot Cotton coat with a furry collar. People were coming into the office and doubling up and taking pictures. It was bizarre going to meetings, and I got no sympathy at all.

The reason Georgie provoked such amusement was simple: she was dressed, coiffured and made up entirely in the style of 1970."

Georgie and her family are involved in the upcoming BBC series Electric Dreams, and attempted to experience life through the decades of technology. But the clothing is what interests me. A getup like that would garner compliments here in Brooklyn. Though I tend to stick to that classic rule of fashion: one deer-themed article of clothing per outfit. After Labor Day.

Read more about my feelings on the beige-ness of 70s adults here:

Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman

What to Wear To An Orgy

The Only Bonnie You Need

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Made a Church of Your Hair-Do

"...When the urban situation causes the distance between us to increase and our interactions to be less frequent we have to use novel means to attract attention: big hair, skimpy clothes and plastic surgery. We become walking billboards."
--David Byrne on his perfect city
(WSJ, via Kottke)

Let's take a look at what else David Byrne has to say about hair:

The Other Side of Life:
"I made a church of your hair-do
And I made a shrine of your legs"

"I got skills and I got secrets, I can part my hair
I feel an empty space where love could be"

"The night is gone
And the day is here
The stupid sun is
The moon reflects
Your hair's a mess
It's lovely imperfections"

"I'm glad
I got hair, glad I got ears
I'm glad I got lungs, I'm glad I got tears
Glad that I never ever know what's real"

From Strange Ritual:
Mmm--I see hairstyles
Scenes of beauty
Scenes that disgust me
I see me --
I felt awe
Felt disgust
I felt bliss
I felt lust
It’s — not unusual"

gettinouta bed
gettin’ herself dressed
combin’ back her hair
dancin’ down the stairs"

Off topic: I think I've
angered the font Gods. Things are screwy. Working on it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cecil Beaton's Sisters

"What is elegance? Soap and water."

As promised, more on Cecil Beaton. The above quote is widely used, but strikes me as an impatient answer to the sort of red carpet questions now popular on the back pages of bad magazines.

Beaton had a long and varied creative career. He took iconic photos of stars like Marilyn and Audrey (and this one). But I most adore dreamy portraits like these of his socialite flapper sisters at fancy dress parties. You must click to enlarge these for full effect.

This one is Cecil's sister Baba, with friends Wanda Ballie Hamilton and Lady Bridget Poulett, at The Living Posters Ball in 1930. They are posing as soapsuds. Doesn't that look like so much fun? Anyone want to be this with me for Halloween?

Here is an earlier one of muse Baba, in 1925's "Symphony in Silver". Use of various sandwich wrapping materials as backdrops seems to be a theme. First we had Saran, and now Reynold's. I just love the headgear in all of these.

This is the other Beaton sister, Nancy, dressed as a Shooting Star in 1929. Stunning in cellophane.

On a hunch, I just looked up the history of this material. Sure enough, it began to be mass produced and in 1924 by DuPont. Aluminum foil was used for candy and such as early as 1913 but took a little while to spread. Cecil apparently delighted in putting these spiffy new materials to exotic use.

Beauty Salon

We've discussed the Hair Emergency Room and the Beauty Hospital. Today, the Beauty Hospice.

Last week, on a walk, I ended up in my favorite neighborhood bookstore, Unnameable Books. Unnameable is perfect: small and clean and perfectly organized, with carts of dollar books out front. (So many of the beauty books in my collection have been bought from such racks; the only people who seem to want them are you and me.) Inside, there is a mix of used and new, and an excellent selection of graphic novels. Often, there is also the owner, Adam, behind the counter and ready to make spot-on recommendations.

As I wandered the stacks, considering an early Ishiguro, something caught my eye from the shelf of staff picks. My head turned with a reptilian click, and I came face to face with this little book, Beauty Salon, by Mario Bellatin.

I have a pink chair just like those on the cover; I'm writing to you from that chair right now! Inside, I was delighted to find an eerie tale of a beautician turned caretaker. In some possibly futuristic city, an unnamed plague has taken hold, and the salon has become a place for the dying. Recently translated from Spanish, the prose is spare and lovely, and the story manages to leave many questions unanswered, but in a satisfying way.

Here's a bit about decorating the salon with tanks of fish:

"... when I first got interested in golden carp, in addition to the tranquility I got from observing them, I would always add something gold to the dresses I wore at night. It could have been a gold belt, gloves or stockings. I believed that wearing something gold would bring me good luck, perhaps save me from bumping into the Goat Killer Gang that operated in the center of the city."

Beauty Salon, from CityLights.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Notes on the Type

As regular readers know, I often quote odd and/or vintage advice books. I've always italicized the quoted material, but I've never been happy with the way my posts look. Just had an idea that I think works better.

Revisit one of our most awe-inspiring and peculiar characters to take a look. Better and easier to read, right?

Feedback by comment or email is welcome. I'll be going through and updating. Stay tuned for more Cecil Beaton, and a haunting beauty novella.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Martha Stewart is dressed and made up all goth for her special Halloween issue. Unless this is a prank?
(via BUST)


Hairdressers in Belfast, Ireland are being trained in basic suicide prevention after 30 people in the community committed suicide in only six week's time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cecil Beaton and Sharpie Markers

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was a British portrait and fashion photographer who is widely known for his set and costume design for the film My Fair Lady.
Later, I'll introduce you to his dreamy, haunting portraits of his sisters and other society girls from the 1930s.

I have a little gingham love seat facing the desk in my home office. My writing partner Molly sits there when we work. Various other friends have sat there to cry and tell me their woes. I like to think of them as "clients," since they are on a couch and I am at a desk, though it is unclear what service I provide.
Anyway, one day I would like to have it recovered, and after much searching, I found the sort of graphic, black and white rose print I longed for. And it was designed by Cecil Beaton! I'd love to get my hands on some of that wallpaper. Those projects await future budget.

Earlier today I read a piece by Nina Carbone at The Frisky about DIY projects involving Sharpies. The designers of Vena Cava told her they use the markers to draw on cotton and silk, so now I've gotten it into my head to draw black roses on a beige or white silk dress. I will use the wallpaper roses in the photo above as inspiration.

Stay tuned for more on Cecil Beaton.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ava Gardner: "Undies, Diamonds, Tiara, Etc."

Earlier, I got this e-mail from my sister, Laura:

"Just finished Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing"by Lee Server. Remember how I was saying that other star bios don't have enough dirt? This one paid me back and then some. I swear it was exhausting just reading it. Debauched doesn't even begin to describe! I dared Matt to literally open any page in the book randomly, read it, and not be shocked or surprised. He thought I was exaggerating.
He opened to a page where she went to a premiere and to a club afterward. Proceeded to go in the bathroom, strip off girdle, undies, diamonds, tiara, etc and stuff them in friends purses. Said something like 'I am so glad I am finally able to be myself!' She then took home all four members of the band at the end of the night (sleeping with them is implied).
By that point in the book, the only thing that seemed out of character for her was that she waited until she got to the ladies room to strip off the undergarments! Anyway, thought you or your blog readers might enjoy."

I think I speak for myself and my readers when I say, SOLD. I just checked out some preview pages on Amazon, and indeed, you can find the above incident on page 378. Perhaps even more delightful is page 154, which recounts what Ava was willing to do for the sake of art, after "a steady stream of hot drinks," and provides one of the things I most love to find in a biography: the subject's measurements.

Bust: 35 3/4
Waist: 23 1/4
Hips: 34
Neck: 12 1/2
Thighs: 19
Calves: 13
Ankles: 7 1/2

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Style of Amelia Earhart

"Gravity was uncongenial to her and she made light of even grave things. There was ether in the very sound of her name."

That's from a lovely piece by Judith Thurman in this week's Style issue of The New Yorker. It's well worth a read for excellent biographical detail, and the familiar but effectively spooky hints that our girl landed safely and lived on Blue Lagoon style. But this passage held special interest for me:

"She was lanky and nonchalant, with no hips or breasts-- no visible womanliness-- to speak of... She flew wearing men's underpants (they were apparently superior to a woman's for the purpose of a quick pee). For public appearances-- at White House dinners, in a ticker-tape parade, on the lecture circuit-- her wardrobe was unfrilly but elegant, and for a while she designed and modeled her own fashion label, an undistinguished line of tailored dresses and soft, two-piece ensembles."

Of course I've heard of Amelia Earhart luggage, but I didn't know she actually endorsed the brand until I found info on Couture Allure. I'd love to see those clothes.

Meanwhile, the outfit she wears in the photo above is perfection, no matter who designed it. I'd like to make those tall boots and leather trench my new fall look.