Beauty Of Our Time: Beauté Du Siècle

Sunday June 9, 2013 | Beauty Culture

You may not know this about me, but… I am absolutely fascinated by the subject of beauty!

Poetry, music, art, science. Everything draws inspiration from beauty. It is not something you can easily define and hold onto. Rather, beauty is coquettish. Full of elusive meanings and flabbergasting  delight.

I always like to know and learn more about the role that beauty has played across time and across different cultures.

So when delving deeply into a subject, I often turn to books, which will forever be a source of enlightenment.

This week, a real jewel of a book arrived and became part of my ever growing collection of beauty literature.

The book is called Beauté du Siecle.

And it is a super shiny 400 page silver monolith of a book.

Beauté du Siecle

Beauté du Siecle is the collaborative work of several journalists and fashion magazine editors.

The book is dedicated to the history of women’s beauty:

“From the heroines of antiquity to the goddesses of modern times… each epoch chooses its archetypes, erects its own myths and invents its new recipes.” 

First, we are taken on a historic tour, which begins in ancient Egypt and guides us along to modern times. Then the book jumps across different domains, from art, cosmetics, magazines to perfumes.

There is a section dedicated to ethnic beauty, which is something that I am particularly interested in, as it is a story that is rarely told.

And of course, what would a beauty book be without a visual component?

The images within this book are truly marvelous and were chosen with exquisite taste.

Beauté du Siecle

Beauté du Siecle describes itself as a book that shows how our appetite for novelty constantly triggers the emergence of ideals of perfection, which are as unrealistic as they are ephemeral.

I only hope my french is up to par to understand all the highbrow and flowery language contained in this book…

But I’m up for the challenge.

More French Beauty Secrets: Two Lipsticks And A Lover, By Helena Frith Powell

Wednesday May 22, 2013 | Beauty Culture

Two Lipsticks And A Lover is a book written by Helena Frith Powell.

It’s a guide to help you “unlock your inner French woman.” Another version of this book was published under the title “All You Need To Be Impossibly French.”

Helena Frith Powell is a British writer and journalist who lived in France at the time of writing this book. In this book, she set out to investigate what exactly makes French women so elegant, glamorous, chic and super thin?

But are they really?

Again, as with my other article on 5 Classic French Beauty Tips, I have to start out with a caveat. These stereotypes of French women are just that. Stereotypes. And during her investigation, Helena mainly talks to illustrious, upper class and super wealthy french women to reinforce these stereotypes.

I would safely bet that the majority of french women do not live according to these stereotypes.

Nevertheless, the book is an entertaining read.

And there are a lot of cultural and lifestyle observations here that we can learn from and perhaps, even adapt into our own lives. 

Two Lipsticks And A Lover By Helen Frith Powell

Personally, I’m a big fan of the zen approach that french women have towards exercise.

The gym culture and the marathon culture really hasn’t taken off in France as it has in the U.S. Instead, women prefer more serene forms of exercise. Like walking, cycling, ballet floor barre exercises, yoga, playing with their children, and especially making love!

As Helena put it, french women “treat exercise rather like they do food; a little everyday.”

When it comes to food, they never deprive themselves. But the key is that they eat some kind of fruit and vegetable everyday, they eat small portions and they stop when they’re no longer hungry.

In order to maintain their figure, they also make use of slimming creams and gels. I’ve seen these a lot in the pharmacies and parfumeries. While I’m here I probably ought to just try one.

If you’re curious as to which slimming creams to try, Helena cites a study that rank L’Oréal’s Plénitude Perfect Slim and Elancyl’s Concentré-Lissant Chrono-Actif as the top two most effective creams. Both are available in the UK.

Vintage Lipstick Ad

Another admirable french characteristic is their positive attitude towards aging.

Older women in France are still looked upon as sexy and desirable. In fact, lots of older women past their 50s still take very good care of themselves and even take on younger men as lovers.

The absolute key to the French way of ageing? Staying natural. French women don’t fearfully cling on to their youthfulness or try to completely eradicate the passage of time. Also, they see beauty as something to work on.

If you want to age gracefully, start early by protecting your skin from the sun and eating well.

The book focused a lot on french women’s obsession with sexy, matching lingerie.

There was also a chapter on fashion and observations about how french fashion has adapted to modern times. These days, it’s quite normal to pair a Chanel jacket with jeans and a t-shirt. Ironically, although haute couture originated in France, french people these days can no longer afford them. Haute couture is now made mainly for the delight of foreigners with money

There were many other cultural observations in the book that I found fascinating, but not really having to do much with beauty or style. Things like cattiness among french women and work ethics (or lack thereof).

It would be interesting to hear what french women have to say upon reading these observations about themselves.

Many times I found myself laughing out loud while reading some of the observations about french people. Especially because I personally have had the pleasure of experiencing the truth behind them. For example, the stereotypes about horrible french customer service? I’d say 75 percent of the time, it’s true.

Vintage Poster

The part that made me laugh the most though were Helena’s observations on the french tolerance for taking on lovers and extra-marital affairs.

While Americans and Brits have puritan and rigid attitudes towards marriage, french people see fidelity as “arbitrary and sterile”. To the french, love (or lust) excuses everything.

French men and women can have lovers outside of their marriage. Provided that they keep things on the DL, of course.

While writing this book, Helena herself flirts with the idea of having an affair with a mysterious french man, who she anonymously refers to as B.

And do their flirtatious games turn into something more serious?

Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Find The Book: Two Lipsticks And a Lover On Amazon.
About The Author: Helena Frith Powell’s Website.

Chasing Beauty, A Documentary By Brent Huff

Tuesday April 16, 2013 | Culture

Chasing Beauty Documentary

Chasing Beauty is a documentary directed by Brent Huff.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the harsh realities of being a fashion model. The director, Brent Huff, actually worked as a top model for Ford Cosmetics in the 80s. Later he turned his endeavors to film-making.

This documentary focuses specifically on the topic of beauty as it pertains to models.

We admire models for their beauty. And in this world, beautiful people get a lot of free passes in life. So naturally, we’d assume a model’s life to be very easy and glamorous. But in fact, to become a model means entering a world of brutal, cut-throat competition.

The overarching theme of this film is that you have to be a pain-loving masochist if you want to succeed as a model.

Many of the people whom Huff interviewed come from widely varying backgrounds. You hear from fashion designers, agents, makeup artists, cosmetic surgeons, struggling models, retired super models, young people with high aspirations of breaking into the modeling industry, beauty pageant contestants and even people commenting in the streets.

Although millions of people try their hand at being a model, most of them end up having their hopes dashed. Even those who are beautiful and fortunate enough to break into the industry have to struggle just to keep their jobs.

The work is physically demanding, involves long work hours and provides no job security. And often, models are the ones who have to pay for their own travel expenses.

This brought to my mind a recent bit of news that I read, in which British Vogue has become one of the first in the fashion industry to sign a 10-point code of conduct for models. This code sets out to provide models with the most basic of workers’ rights. The conditions include being paid within a reasonable time frame, reimbursement for travel to and from jobs on location, and receiving workplace insurance.

Many models who begin working before they are 16 years old often have to face “surprise” nude shoots in which they have very little say. So it’s a relief that the model’s code also requires informed consent for jobs involving full or partial nudity.

When it comes to stopping such rampant exploitation of models however, the fashion industry still has a long way to go.

Chasing Beauty Documentary

As for the subject of beauty itself, the documentary cites which physical traits are highly sought after in models.

Youthfulness tops the list. As someone in the documentary put it, young models are still innocent and haven’t had enough time yet to abuse their skin. Skinnyness is another trait that tops the list. To be more specific, uber-skinnyness. Modeling agents claim that this is a condition demanded by the fashion designers.

Laying aside any pre-conceived notions of beauty, sometimes breaking into the industry can be as arbitrary as being in the right place at the right time. Or having really odd, unique, almost alien-like features. Just to grab viewers’ attention. Or sometimes it’s just about being unusually photogenic. There are models who’ve studied and mastered the way light falls on the different parts of their faces. And so they know exactly how to put their best foot forward when posing for photos.

Of course, you can’t talk about fashion modeling without touching the subject of eating disorders. One retired model admitted that for months, she ate nothing but carrots. Followed by a period when she ate nothing but pineapples. Another model talked about a girl she knew who ate cotton balls dipped in orange juice, just so that she would feel full.

Then there’s the matter of retouching photos. According to a makeup artist interviewed in the documentary, photos are retouched “almost 100% of the time.”

The film briefly shows how a computer program can be used to place a “mask” over faces and retouch them in a way that brings a person’s face closer to what their “ideal” face would be. By the way, if anyone knows what this program is called, tell me because I would love to get my hands on it and play around with it. And then blog about it of course.

My thoughts

Man, after watching this documentary, I’m not sure I’d ever want to work in the fashion industry. It sounds intense. And that’s putting it mildly.

To me, the most interesting story in the documentary was the one about Hoyt Richards. He rose to the pinnacles of supermodel-dom, only to lose himself in a religious cult.

Richard Hoyt Chasing Beauty

Hoyt Richards is considered by many to be the first ever male supermodel in the 80s. Back then, things were a little more bizarre with the rise of cults who targeted and recruited models for their looks, their influence and their money. Richards ended up giving at least $4.5 million dollars to the cult that he was then part of.

The only problem I had with this film is how utterly hodge-podge it is. There is no straight or clear storyline followed. It felt like a collage of random glimpses into the world of modeling.

Overall though, this was a really interesting documentary. I can see how it would be especially interesting to those who work in fashion and modeling. Or people who know someone who works or wants to work in fashion.

If you don’t have the hour and a half to spend on this movie though, I’d recommend instead that you watch this 9-minute TED talks with fashion model Cameron Russell.

In the video, Russell gives a very honest talk about what it’s like to work as a model. Dealing with the insecurity that comes from having to think about the way you look everyday. And the social influences over our ideas and attitudes toward beauty.

Russell’s social commentary is incredibly spot on.

“I am the recipient of a legacy. For the past few centuries, we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire. But also as tall, slender figures and femininity and white skin. And this was a legacy that was built for me and this was a legacy that I’ve been cashing out on.”  

~ Supermodel Cameron Russell, TED Talks

Chasing Beauty Documentary

Chasing Beauty by Brent Huff.
Rent and watch on iTunes.
Run Time: 1 hr 24 min.
Source of Images: Chasing Beauty Film Website