Of course I’m referring to Sissi the Empress, whose 175th birthday (she would’ve been terrified by the prospect of ugliness this age implies)  we celebrate today, on Christmas Eve (Happy Holidays to you all!). Not for nothing she was called Eugénie, after the obscure patron Sainte Eugénie, commemorated on 24 December.

Between cleaning the last corner of my already ultra-sterilized flat and venturing to decorate the Christmas tree alongside a totally amateurish brother, I decided to take a moment of respite and celebrate my favorite 19th century Empress. Also, since the ‘Quote Monday” has been off for a while, why not revive it with a thematic excerpt from Sissi’s diary to compensate the shortness of the post?

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She was aware they believed her insane and actually pronounced it out loud, publicly, though I’m momentarily unable to recall the exact circumstances which lead to her uttering such audacious a line. Certainly no previous Austrian monarch ever attempted a similar bravery in facing the court. A true eccentric, this woman, and a brave one at that.

She was so interestingly dynamic I believe it’s nearly impossible not to least feel the most malnourished affinity for her and to support my conviction, here are some things I bet you didn’t know about our Sissi (and neither suspected):

  • She admired gorgeous women perhaps as much as men did, with the exception that she only, exclusively, solely accepted the company of this particular category, and even had a picture album to count her preferences (over 100 samples, which numbered beauties from Lola Montes and Maria Sophia of Bavaria to unconventional Amelie Gautreau).  To complete it, the Empress wrote the Austrian ambassadors across Europe to send her photographs of charming ladies in their vicinity, causing amusing scandals regarding the purpose of the collection.
  • She had an anchor tattoo on her shoulder to express a love for sailing never to diminish for as long as she lived. Husband Franz was reportedly displeased by the daring.
  • When catching a sea storm, she often had her attendants tie her to a fixed chair on the main deck, claiming she imitates Ulysses due to the magnetic attraction waves exerted on her… Imagine what terrible coercion subdued the ones who abode her whim but responded before the Emperor if any unfortunate incident took place.
  • To avoid fulfilling her marital duties in the detriment of much desirable traveling, Sissi encouraged Franz’s sexual affairs, especially the long-term relationship with actress Katharina Schratt, whose reputation she always protected. Rumors of their friendship enabled Kat to continue the liaison for over 30 years, as a faithful mistress and friend to the miserable Emperor.

Wasn’t hers a titillating life?

Having been completely absorbed in a vortex of personal business and family duties and artistic urges to materialize with calculated dexterity a series of projects in charcoal on paper and long writing labors to transform a novella finished some months ago in a good novel, I admit I might’ve ignored the blog. A little. More.

So today, while browsing through albums of black-and-white photographs which recently became the number one source of inspiration for most of my drawings praying to discover a gripping portrait, a dramatic closeup, a wildly seducing cheesecake, an intriguing candid, whatever may turn in one graceful, expressive theme, I rediscovered the Cecil Beaton magic. The named Cecil Beaton being after Wikipedia’s description an English fashion&portrait photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and an Academy Award-winning stage&costume designer for films/ theater, quite a complex, keen bisexual gentlemen if you’ll ask my rather personal opinion.Who had a high taste of fashion and an indisputably amazing eye for beauty, evidently (it’s not like one could get on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame without the mentioned qualities – and he’d be the man to tell you that).

Since my first incursion in the monochrome world of silver-screen stars and interbellum personalities I was simply fascinated by the flawless, misty, charismatic figures depicted in the works of photographers such as E.O. Hoppé, Paul Tanqueray, Yousuf Karsh and, of course, Beaton, my special favorite.

His varied subjects,his way of capturing the perfect angle to enhance the elegance of the lucky poser, his minute decorum and the atmosphere built around it, all delicacy and smartness, have the most wonderful visual power over the viewer any age, as you can see for yourself through my compilation of Beaton’s best images.

The haughty Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chanel inside her Parisian home.

And Coco once again, wearing her signature multiple-row pearl necklace.

Now Audrey Hepburn for “My Fair Lady” in a Belle Epoque costume designed by Beaton.

A marvelous Marlene Dietrich displaying her equally splendid profile and the hands whose shape and fluidity never failed to exert a great deal of fascination to me, regardless how odd it may sound.

A Katherine Hepburn I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t recognized from the start, the set capturing my attention firstly. What I like most about this particular photograph and the artist intended to also, is this fine allusion at Kate’s qualities in the placing of Athena’s statue beside her, a goddess of great intelligence but a beauty nonetheless.

Then we have Gary Cooper, the charming Hollywood dandy…

…and a deliciously young Marlon Brando reminding me of his looks as the fiery Stanley  in “A Streetcar named Desire”.

By the way, his costar, Vivien Leigh, was captured by dearest Beaton too.

For Vogue, a few times. A coupe of times.

Middle-aged Joan Crawford in the 50’s.

One of Grace Kelly’s iconic pictures, 1954.

Following, Liz Taylor’s vixen profile a whole generation of men loved…

… and Marilyn, the fake-blonde of the century, in her avowedly favorite photo of herself, 1956, at the New York Ambassador Hotel. The assignment Beaton had taken in her that year contributed to Monro’s campaign to redefine her public image of stupid beauty or pin-up girl by exposing a rather more sophisticated part, a mature seduction the audience hadn’t suspect she was capable of, as reflected in Cecil’s work.

“Miss Marilyn Monroe calls to mind the bouquet of a fireworks display, eliciting from her awed spectators an open-mouthed chorus of ohs and ahs …” was Beaton’s description of his model.

But apart from movie stars ( recall the variety I prized at the beginning), he also made an amazing job  immortalizing the celebrated faces of high-society…

…where outrageously wealthy and equivalently unhappy heiress Barbara Hutton played a major role…

…or those of musical elite represented by Onassis’ lover, soprano Maria Callas…

…remaining not to forget the literary figures (here T.S. Eliot)…

…the prodigious painters (behold Andy Warhol)…

…the wacko Dali with enchanting Gala …

…and the political titans.

Royalty, in its turn, passed before Beaton’s objective throughout his impressive career and he had thus the opportunity to meet personally noble personages from history books, including the Queen Mother of Romania, Sita Devi of Kapurthala, Princess Margaret and the outrageous exiled couple the world never ceased to gossip about:  Edward, with his beloved Wallis.

Not to mention the Queen herself, Elisabeth II, in diverse poses of certain periods.

Guess to whom belongs Lilibet’s magnificent coronation portrait?

Decidedly, his life was a gripping adventure, traveling across Europe and beyond its margins, accessing an assortment of entourages and classes, contributing to the building of uncountable legends in publishing their photos or dressing their bodies… Between banging Fred Astaire’s elder sister, Adele, writing extensive diaries and playing some minor parts on English stages, Beaton certainly succeeded to catch a glimpse of immortality…

What do you think? Wouldn’t you just adore to interact with worldwide celebrities, style icons, geniuses?  I know I definitely would.

Today I was browsing through some charming old magazines which have mysteriously piled up near my desk the past few years when I found this incredibly ingenious and obviously purely French pictorial of Yves Saint Laurent Rives Gauche (meaning “for men” branch of the exquisite fashion house) from 1998, proposing an artsy way to broadcast the then newest (and implicitly hottest) winter collection, something exclusively the Parisian designers could come up with (if we remember the Chanel parfume commercial with sensuous Vanessa Paradis posing as one of Ingres’ girls).

I liked the ideas so much I just had to put it here, comparing the original painting with the distorted and modernized vision which seems to exploit the very essence of our society through the light of the previous, sharp, smart, fine, luxurious but nonetheless glazed with a foam of sexuality meant to attract, to spellbound the potential viewer. Well, this and the generous resolution to serve you the names of the YSL team’s original inspiration.

Le Dejuner Sur L’Herbre (1863) by one of the most brilliant innovative figures in the quite innovative itself 19th century, Monsieur Eduard Manet, whose present equivalent suggested in the YSL representation I have elected to become my own inspiration for a thematic drawing I suppose I’ll show in a future post with the condition of coming up well. It’s too much a harem assembly for me to resist sketching it my style.

Olympia (1863), also by Manet, the outrageous icon of the expression succes de scandale.

Les Trois Graces (1792), relatively dull painting in comparison with Boticelli’s three beauteous girls (but, hey, the French are highly chauvinistic about art, as Deborah Davis once said) by Jean Baptiste Regnault

Rockby Venus (1651) by an admirer of curvacious women, Spanish prodigy Velasquez.

Jeune Homme au Bord de la Mer (1836), little romantic work done by Hyppolite Flandrin.

Gabrielle d’Estrees et la Duchesse de Villars (151594), an extremely tasty Louvre masterpiece whose symbolism vies conventional translation, leaving the intrigued spectator  weave his own, profoundly personal, story relating to the weird hand-gesture the dark haired noble does… I know I have my imagination titillated by it…

Le Sommeil (1866), the pronouncedly erotic Goustave Courbet painting somehow brought to a less morally-offensive state in the eyes of heterosexuals, if you know what I mean.

Finally, an Ingres baigneuse happily thinner and with the additional long-haired sexy guy tossed in a ritzy bed. Really nice!

There was also a Latour inspired photo of the following “Fortuneteller” yet its size was terrible and  the resolution so poor that I couldn’t decide on putting it here, amongst the others.

So I assume I’ve made my opinion pretty clear by testifying that I’m presently going to draw the first Manet sample but what do you think? Which has the honor of having captured your attention best?

Chanel

It’s common knowledge only French have the chic to elevate mere fashion to epitomic art, enhancing the pith of a plain fabric to its full potential of divine clothing which oozes sophistication through simplicity, and who could represent this natural flair better than Chanel?

For almost a century, the house founded by Coco in 1910 aggrandized the heritage of haute couture, making it a public delight and a genuine style-idol worldwide,  thing projected not just in Karl Largerfeld’s shows but also in the commercials for No. 5 or Mademoiselle I consider the most elegant of all. Mainly because they promote a perfume and particularly because of the French touch, the No. 5 advertisements have a certain atmosphere of a posh intensity, always luxurious and as sensuous as the fragrance they evoke. Short, indeed, yet amazingly substantial.

No. 5

Since 1921, when it was given as Christmas gift to best costumers, the elite of society,  No. 5 remained firm on its position: Earth’s most famous scent, archetype of fineness embottled in an expensive crystal recipient reassembling a whiskey decanter. Slogans developed to describe its power sound like “every woman alive loves Chanel No. 5” or “Chanel becomes the woman you are” and contain subliminal messages of striking quality, followed by pictures which call upon the aesthetic proclivity of the customer.

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Chanel-commercial

In the next picture, with model Suzy Parker as the Chanel femme (because the women presenting it tend to be of Bond girl’s type), it’s explained that the perfume’s chemical composition was developed especially to blend with one’s “own delicate essence”. It “becomes you because it becomes you”, a play of words with double meaning underlines it.

chanel-commercial

In 1950, Marylin Monroe took the liberty of promoting No. 5 voluntarily, increasing its celebrity over the Ocean. When asked by a curious interviewer what she wore to bed (wonder what answer he expected…) , the controverted actress and sex-symbol retorted provocatively: “five drops of Chanel No. 5!”

Marylin and Chanel

Afterwords, the signature fragrance’s appearance in pretentious magazines like  Elle significantly amplified, more and more public figures considering a sign of wealth, of welcomed refinement, to put on No. 5. It soon became synonym with voguish.

CHANEL

Now that we passed the introduction we get to the fun part: contemporary TV adverts, modish and of undoubted quality.

Chanel

Parisian belle  Catherine Deneuve introduces No. 5 as “one of the pleasures of being a woman”, mostly speaking about it in her French accent whose charm she augments through luring gestures. Brief and clear, that’s how we can summarize it.

Catherine Deneuve by Chanel

Chanel and Vanessa Paradis

Vanessa Paradis, here posing like in Ingres’ “the Source”, was the 1992 image of Chanel and the spot, depicting her as a caged bird in Mademoiselle Gabrielle’s Ritz suite, was quite gripping and ingenious. The chromatic selection was basically simple, concentrating on a lustrous black, very Coco otherwise and evidently smart.

Vanessa Paradis by Chanel

Nicole Kidman by Chanel

But truly inventive was the 2004 Chanel “film”, starring Nicole Kidman and Rodrigo Santoro on the celestial music of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune“: a concentrated love story between a superstar and one ordinary man who saves her from paparazzi in a tornado of pink feathers, takes her to his peaceful penthouse and is forced to let her go when she’s demanded back. Profound, accelerated, beautiful, colors contrastingly rising from the fluid darkness which deepens the sentiments and contours a classy ambiance. The final scene, with Kidman walking on the red carpet in a black dress, compresses the spirit of Chanel: select, sinuous melancholy.

Nicole Kidman by Chanel

Audrey Tatou by Chanel

After playing Gabrielle in “Coco avant Chanel” movie, Audrey Tatou was elected to be the new representative for No. 5, filming a commercial  directed like a tale of love at first sight, an instant seduction in the Orient Express, charged with feeling galore and flaming as no other before. The spectrum of tints brightened, adding a lush sensation, but the timeless purity of the clothes’ lines remained unaltered.

Audrey Tatou by Chanel

Chanel No. 5

The last Chanel ad has Estella Warren as Little Red Riding Hood entering a golden safe with a stash of  No. 5 bottles from which she takes one, anointing herself with the perfume and thus being able to control the wolf threatening to eat her. Concise, original, flirtatious; a slight modification in the manner of filming.

Estella Warren by Chanel

Coco Mademoiselle

For the younger fans of No.5, Chanel introduced a modern version of the famous fragrance, “Coco Mademoiselle”, whose spokesmodels are Kate Moss and Keira Knighltey.

Kate Moss by Chanel

A year ago, the Coco Mademoiselle commercial with Knightley was broadcast on TV, in two variants.

Keira by Chanel

One shows Keira as a femme fatale, playful and alluring, misleading the photographer in charge with her pictorial only to abandon him when was fully seduced.  The theme color is cream, the shade of affluence, and her apparition on assorted motorbike screams novelty, being extremely fresh with a tiny bit of vintage.

Keira Knightley By Chanel

Keira, by Chanel

The second is rather fancy, in the typical Parisian landscape, with Keira undressing a masculine shirt (allusion to Gabrielle’s habit of borrowing some of her lover’s clothes) and throwing a flapper hat to dress in a red gown scented with Chanel, while Joss Stone sings “L.O.V.E.”  in the background.  Here we see once more the high-class of Chanel company: a mixture of old and new, an undying high-class.

Keira Knightley by Chanel

Watching these most glamorous commercials, can you refrain to wonder what will be next?

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