My Sissi Mania and Her Own Beauty Obsessions

April 1, 2012

I’ve been trying to avoid the subject since I started to write on this blog regarding various interesting and undoubtedly eccentric historical characters but it clearly seems that my resolution wasn’t meant to be accomplished: I just have to tell you about my utter obsession with the fair Empress Elisabeth Amelie Eugenie of Austria you most likely know under her familiar nickname also used as the title of the Romy Schneider adapted biographic movie and for the popular cartoon, Sissi.

sisi

As a child I was tremendously mesmerized by the richness of the ancient Greek Pantheon whose artful reflection could be admired in the two major literary works of pre-christian times, Homer’s  “Iliad” and “Odyssey” which were, coincidentally, as I was to find later on,  Sissi’s favorite reads (we also shared the same infatuation with the legendary Achilles). No wonder I instantly fell in love with her character once I happened to catch some further information related to the Bavarian beauteous royalty depicted galore in the epoch novels I had barely begun to relish. We’ve so much in common despite being a century apart, from stylistic tastes to the hair color (chestnut with golden tints)  and the day we were born in (Sunday…) that I couldn’t refrain avidly searching for more juicy anecdotes, stories, journals, poems and news papers columns to complete the figure I grew to contemplate daily, wondering how she did certain things the rigid court etiquette imposed at the same time  managing to accumulate enough strenght for protecting her libertine and bohemian spirit from the obligations required as the consort of Austria’s Emperor, Franz Joseph. Her gowns were pure refinement and her habits awoke uncountable rumors amongst the high society smug chaps hence it was near to impossible my not being enchanted by Sissi. The more I found, the eager I became to stumble across new dimensions of her personality and learn fresh facts connected with her bizarre propensities the whole of Vienna and even Europe gossiped about. Enigmatic, a bit tragic, non-conformist: what is not to love?

Alas, a single post would never incorporate  half of her deliciously vivid life, lyric works and, overall, persona so I’ll confine to discussing miscellaneous customs the Empress of Loneliness was renowned for throughout Europe and even parts of the other continents which couldn’t have been spared of her vitriolic existence.


Today I thought of apportioning you urban myths (surprisingly often true) relating Sissi’s flabbergasting pulchritude which alas defined the great woman in the eyes of most of her contemporaries and share some of her beauty obsessions which made the main topic of countless fashion magazines that were actual gospels for the wannabe socialite ladies in the 19th century.

One could correctly state that Sissi’s characteristic trait, concealing a high intellect and amazing linguistic capacities (she was fluent in 8 modern languages plus ancient Greek and the traditional Latin), was  her unnatural appearance, the only thing with which she could fearlessly confront the world, concomitantly preserving her sensible ego and draw the benevolent attention of large masses of adorers. Her striking silhouette and the incredible long hair framing her vixen face were, in fact, the first factors to contribute to Franz Joseph’s shallow infatuation with a girl (she had barely turned 16 the summer they properly met) whom  his mother, controlling Archduchess Sophie, thoroughly disapproved as she had had elected Sissi’s elder sister, Duchess Helene, to become her obedient daughter-in-law, the future Empress of Austria, a position requiring virtues the shrewd Archduchess pretended not to find in the childish Sissi. And perhaps she was right in the end, Sissi proving to be most incompatible with her newly acquired title, but this opens a whole other topic I don’t aim to debate here.

So Sissi was an animated piece of jewel possessing a profuse appeal: no wonder the mob worshiped her from day one, especially the Hungarians identifying their need of emancipation with her rebel attitude.

Enhancing her native handsomeness, she dissimulated a most sensitive core, faster gaining the endorsement of those who condemned the girl for not being subdued by the protocol (except the Archduchess- she was the average eternally displeased mother-in-law).

Tall (she had 172 cm, more than her husband despite being pictured smaller in the official portraits not to emasculate him), slender to superlative, her tight leather corsets diminishing a wasp waist Sissi managed to keep until death, moment when she was sixty,  the Empress’s hallmark was categorically the Rapunzel-like brass hair inherited from the majority of the female ancestors in the Wittelsbach family. She could complain of it giving her headaches but it totally worth it, I think.

It took a whole day to wash it appropriately in the wanted essence of cognac and egg once every two weeks, being forced to cancel any formal obligation, and the routine care of her abundant mane lasted least 3 hours, quite a prone to bizarre ceremonial.

Than again, organizing her beauty ritual was the sole thing she could control in her otherwise oppressed early life, under the Archduchess’s directives,  and continued as a rule during her later years. The rigorousness with which she practiced it only reflected a subliminal will to put some order in her chaotic existence and thus Sissi, often restless to the point of hyperactivity, very impatient, gathered the determination to sit passive at her “table which was moved to the middle of the room and covered with a white cloth”, “shrouded in a laced peignoir” to let the hairdresser Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik  create her famous ornate hairstyles. She recognized: “I’m the slave of my hair.”


And because exclusively magic could satisfy her aesthetic exigencies, Fanny had to resort to tricks: knowing the Empress scolded her for each and every hair that fell out throughout the combing, braiding and pinning Sissi’s rich tresses, she stuck it to an adhesive band hidden in her apron, bypassing the rage of her mistress when she was supposed to present it in a special bowl at the counting. Well, that’s an obsession and it isn’t as if Sissi could spare herself from fallen hair by numbering it!

Contrary to the popular myths, she even tasked Feifaluk with tweezing gray hairs away  but in her last months Sissi was reported to still have plentiful locks, “though streaked with silver threads”, a not so insignificant achievement.

Franz Joseph had the following paintings of his wife hanging in his private chambers at Hofburg Palace and it’s obvious he never ceased to be fascinated with the enigmatic Sissi despite being conventionally separated. They show her dramatic curls at their finest.

Yet this wasn’t the single thing she tended.

Devotee of natural looks, the refined Sissi disapproved cosmetics Parisians were mad to use galore, preferring instead tonics and nightly facial masks made of silk (presumably against wrinkles), raw veal to moisturize the skin or crushed strawberries. The favorite creme, ” Céleste”, was compounded from white wax, spermaceti, sweet almond oil and rosewater but she didn’t prized it as much as the previous treatments. Pretty wacko, right?

Wait till I tell you how she refused to part her lips while speaking because she found her teeth too yellow and deteriorated to be exposed!

Furthermore, for maintaining the hourglass figure she slept with cloths soaked in either violet- or cider-vinegar above her hips,  taking both a shower every morning and an olive oil bath in the evening , luxuries only the affluent people could permit. Unfortunately, these harsh cures caused several major health issues decades later, aggravating her arthritis and nervous anorexia which forced Sissi to search milder climates, a perfect pretext to stay well away from Vienna and implicitly her husband. In the benefit of her beauty, she traveled with 40 tons of baggage and 90 servants, not at all a negligible quantity. As a matter of fact, haunted by the prospect of getting old and ugly, she would have done a lot more.

After age 32, Sissi vehemently rejected to pose for portraits, believing  her fetching image had begun to fade and the world should remember her young, vivid. Ironically, she remained gorgeous yet another 20 to 30 years, information attained from eyewitnesses and the few photographs taken without her approval while she was strolling down crowded boulevards, her face screened by parasols or leather fans.

That’s what she said with her own sensuous mouth: “When I’ll grow old I shall retire definitively from public life for nothing is more horrible than watching how you gradually  transform into an utter mummy, ending up crawling like a worm- absolutely dreadful! One day I’ll cover my face with a veil and nobody, not even my closest friends, will be able to gaze upon me.”

She kept her promise.

The photo above depicts her exactly as she wished: her hair is dressed elaborately to reassemble a coronet to “get rid of the other one” (the Imperial crown), her attire is simple but majestic and the look in her piercing, melancholic eyes just seizes the audience.

Her efforts to preserve this ephemeral pulchritude paid off eventually and I can’t help to stare at Sissi in silent marvel.

Don’t you?

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9 Responses to “My Sissi Mania and Her Own Beauty Obsessions”


  1. So fantastic to meet a fellow devotee of this much misunderstood and under-appreciated historical figure!


    • indeed, i’m very glad to have stumbled across your blog and discover another Sissi-maniac amongst wordpress users! elisabeth was indubitably worthy of our admiration!

  2. Life Takes Lemons Says:

    Sissi had some hair, didn’t she? Could have tied herself up with it if she felt the inclination. And raw veal as a beauty treatment? Yikes!

    Fabulous post, Madame! I am looking forward to more on the lovely Sissi and I just know you have a few more posts regarding her in you 🙂


    • some of the ones who witnessed her ritual testified she looked quite gloomy, sitting on a chair with that awfully long, abundant mane enveloping her, quite like cousin Itt from the Adams!
      Thank you a bunch for the feedback and be sure that i’m going to post about the flabbergasting Sissi soon!


  3. Amazing blog! Absolutely something special! Thanks for visiting us ! You have something very cool here.

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  4. Love your writing style, found Sissi interesting but ultimately a little vain for my captivation. One thing I would mention, I love the look of your blog, but I cannot read the right side bar when its grey on the pink , frustrating!!


    • unfortunately i’m aware of it but i had this compromise when choosing the pattern for the background which I planned on dying blue yet ended up pink due to the same problem, the lisibility of that part

  5. Susan Abernethy Says:

    I just can’t help thinking about how her life ended. Great blog Madame!


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