Monthly Archives: September 2012

My Week: Red Haute Style

Well, last week kicked off in style with an interview with the wonderful jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall who has a new CD, entitled Glad Rag Doll, launching in October – and whom I last interviewed 11 years ago. It may mark a new direction for her in terms of what she has recorded before (though it draws on music she has loved for most of her life), and who she has worked with, but it’s the CD’s cover which has so far been the subject of web chatter – because the 47-year-old mother of twins is shown posing in a basque, designed in collaboration with the Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood.

Basically, as Diana says, she was “playing dress-up” and “getting into character” – the character being a 1920s showgirl.  You’ll have to wait until my article is published in The Herald to hear the rest of Ms Krall’s thoughts on the cover and the reaction it’s been provoking, but I was intrigued by the fact that since this is an (utterly beguiling) album of contemporary takes on mainly 1920s songs, she extended that aesthetic to her hair on the cover shot. Instead of recreating the predominant hair style of the 1920s – the bob – she went for a tousled demi-updo.

“I watched Bonnie and Clyde,” she explained, “and Faye Dunaway’s hair is of the period the film was made in – the 1960s – rather than the 1930s, so I thought ‘why not do the same thing here?’.”

A similar sort of anachronism is in evidence in the new movie version of Anna Karenina, which I saw last week with a couple of girlfriends. I had read nothing about it in advance, so it was only when I clocked the camellia/diamond necklace that Keira Knightley wears early on that I realised that Chanel Fine Jewellery was one of the stars of the piece.  As ogle-worthy as that necklace was, it just didn’t go with the period – something that the costume designer Jacqueline Durran has said she didn’t care about when she was working on the sartorial style of the film. Personally, I don’t think it went with the style of the dress, either..

I wonder what another Diana would have made of all the above: the legendary magazine editor and style guru Diana Vreeland, who is enjoying a post-humous comeback thanks to the new documentary about her, The Eye Has to Travel, which is currently playing in cinemas and will be released on DVD next month. I saw the film at the Glasgow Film Festival earlier this year. It’s a fascinating portrait of a fascinating woman who lived and breathed style. My only objection to it is how fast it moves – it jumps from image to image, clip to clip at a breathless pace – though, given how Vreeland herself spoke  (she sounded like  Audrey Hepburn on speed), I guess that’s quite apt.

Vreeland, a formidable working socialite with still -quoted style mantras (“Never fear being vulgar, just boring”) and observations (“Pink is the navy blue of India”), inspired the character of Maggie Prescott, the magazine editor played by Kay Thompson, in the glorious Audrey Hepburn musical Funny Face. Prescott may have ordered her troops to “Think pink!” but red was Vreeland’s personal colour of preference. So I’m sure she would adore the latest nail varnishes to land on my desk…

The Estee Lauder Pure Color Nail Lacquers Red Hautes Collection (£14.50 each; www.esteelauder.co.uk from October) is a set of five shades of that most enduringly popular of nail colours, ranging from what is actually a fuschia through to a deep, dark crimson. I’m smitten with Beautiful Liar, a cherry shade which anticipates the reds we usually see at Christmas time.

Oh, and speaking of Christmas, I was treated – on Thursday – to a sneak preview of Clarins’ festive collection over lunch with their chic PR, Jenn who immediately spotted that I was wearing the Spiced Orange version of the new Clarins Rouge Prodige Lipsticks (£17.50; www.clarins.co.uk) and the limited edition Clarins Instant Definition Mascara in Intense Plum (£20); gorgeous products, both – and available in the current autumn make-up collection.

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La Vie en Noir

As often happens with these things, it started on a train…  I was playing about with my camera during my recent journey to Zurich from St Moritz, when, to my delight, I found that I could produce images in grainy black & white.. The resulting photos immediately made me resolve that this winter, I’ll be ditching glorious Technicolor in favour of moody monochrome. After all, they reminded me of the look of the classic film noirs I love – Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep etc.

So, yes, I’m having a mad, passionate affair – with film noir. Well actually, I’ve been in love with that most atmospheric of movie genres for all my adult life – I’m clearly a woman of extremes. My favourite films tend to be deepest, darkest noir or riotous, giddy screwball comedies.

And one actress straddled both genres particularly beguilingly: Veronica Lake (pictured above).  Lake – whose fame barely lasted a decade, before she vanished in a puff of smoke much like the character she memorably portrayed in I Married a Witch – is the 1940s actress best known now not for her acting or comedic skills, but for her “peek-a-boo” hairdo. Essentially, in most of her films, only half of her dainty face was visible: the other half was largely obscured by a wonderfully wavy, shiny fringe which tumbled down towards her chest, and from behind which she often cheekily peered out with a sultry, knowing smile.

In addition to the wonderful I Married a Witch and Preston Sturges’s magnificent comedy-drama Sullivan’s Travels, Lake also starred in a string of film noirs – among them The Glass Key, This Gun for Hire and The Blue Dahlia. She wasn’t in the same league, fatale-wise, as Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck or Lana Turner but she gave good noir nonetheless.. (Scroll down for a clip of her – and her peek-a-boo bang in action .. on a train, of course.)

Anyway, I’m clearly not the only one having a noir moment. The beauty world is having a bit of a fling with the genre too.  I always thought that Chanel Allure Sensuelle, my favourite Chanel scent before 31 rue Cambon and No19 Poudre came along, would be my femme fatale alter ego’s fragrance, but now of course there is a new contender: the recently launched Chanel Coco Noir (eau de parfum from £75) – a striking and seductive scent built on a woody base and musky notes, with a heart of fleshy white flowers and a spicy yet fresh top note. According to Chanel, Coco Noir was created for “women who choose intensity over the bland norm”.

Any femme fatale worth her fringe has her nails permanently painted a vampish scarlet or deep pink –  which is where the new, deep raspberry shade Chanel Le Vernis in Suspicious (£18, pictured below) comes in to play – at least until their Christmas nail varnish, Chanel Le Vernis in Malice (£18; from November 9), a  new twist on the ironic Rouge Noir, comes out. Personally, I prefer these colours to the darker, closer-to-black shades that are on offer but I am tempted, if only by the film noir-ish name, to try Estee Lauder Pure Color Lacquer in Black Iris (£14.50; www.esteelauder.co.uk).

While I wait to get my mits on some of Laura Mercier’s Cinema Noir collection for autumn-winter 2012, my noir fetish is also being fed by Guerlain whose new lip lacquer is a must for lovers of a bold scarlet pout. Guerlain Rouge G de Guerlain L’Extrait in Luxure (£29.50) is not for the faint-hearted but is undoubtedly the sort of vampy shade that a forties femme fatale would have worn. Its matte finish adds to the dramatic effect.

I confess that I wasn’t wearing that bold a lip last week – though I did have my hair down – when I received the ultimate compliment: at a book launch in Glasgow’s West End, a former editor of The Herald newspaper introduced me as “the Veronica Lake of Byres Road”.  My beaming face was distinctly un-fatale-like.

Anyway, to create a little bit of a film noir atmosphere while you read this, check out this gorgeous song – very cinematic-sounding, I think – from self-described “modern day dame” (and fellow peek-a-boo bang fan) Melody Gardot.. And below it there’s the clip of my inspiration, Veronica.

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Celebrating Grace

Grace Kelly. The name is synonymous with Hollywood’s glamorous heyday, timeless style, cool elegance and storybook romance. It may be exactly 30 years since her untimely, shocking death – on September 14, 1982 – but the fascination for the movie star who married a prince is still strong, and her influence is still keenly felt in the world of fashion and beyond.

During her 52 years – half of them as Grace Kelly, half as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco – the bewitching blonde from Philadelphia established herself as a movie goddess, a style icon and a fairytale princess. In other words – a total one-off.

Throughout her pre-princess career, however, all Grace Kelly wanted was to be an actress – and a serious, respected one at that. And although she only made 11 films (squeezed into three and a half years), they include four classics and one Oscar-winning performance.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, she was the daughter of a wealthy businessman – and two-time Olympic gold medal winner – who had made his money in the construction trade and was able to provide his children with a very privileged upbringing. The family had a 17-room mansion in Philadelphia and a holiday home in New Jersey. Servants waited on them, a chauffeur drove them, and the children attended the best schools.

While Grace Kelly’s three siblings took after their sporty dad, she was – said her younger sister, Lizanne – “a shy, retiring girl” prone to respiratory problems who avoided the rough and tumble of physical games and preferred reading and imaginative play. Her father, whose approval Kelly seems to have sought throughout her young life, didn’t know what to make of her – or how to handle her. Indeed, in just about every soundbite he ever gave when she was famous, he said that it had been her elder sister that he had expected to become a star.

Mousey Grace took her family by surprise when she announced, at the age of 17, that she was leaving for New York to study at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Not only was she leaving home, but she was determined to support herself – which she did by working as a model, and an extremely busy one at that. Her natural shyness with new people was often misinterpreted as aloofness, but it’s impossible to find a quote from anyone who knew her which does not mention her warmth and lack of affectation, even as she became a major star and then a royal.

Her first professional roles were on the stage but it was as an in-demand member of the emerging stock company of actors working on live television dramas made in New York that she first attracted attention in the business, not least for her dedication to her work and her discipline. She made her movie debut in the noir-ish drama Fourteen Hours (1951) but it was the brooding western High Noon (1952) in which she had her first sizeable role – as Gary Cooper’s young Quaker bride.

Impressed by the way even Cooper’s eyes shone with expressiveness when she watched the film afterwards, and deeply dissatisfied with her own performance and “flat eyes”, Kelly headed back to New York to study more so that she could do better. But the general consensus was that although she wasn’t great, it hadn’t been a disaster.

Producer Stanley Kramer later pointed out that despite being miscast and despite having to play opposite an established star with huge presence and charisma, “Kelly wasn’t swallowed up, because that ladylike quality she had came through.”

It certainly came through enough to persuade MGM to offer her a contract, one which she was reluctant to accept because she wanted to be able to continue acting on the New York stage. However, the promise of a location shoot in Africa with screen legend Clark Gable persuaded her to sign on the dotted line (in the airport en route to the Congo)- and her resulting performance, as a prim Englishwoman, earned her a surprise Oscar nomination and launched her on her meteoric rise.

But she really hit her stride – and began her run of classic performances – when she was chosen by Alfred Hitchcock to play the two-timing wife of murderous Ray Milland in his London-set thriller Dial “M” For Murder in 1953. Hitchcock saw in Kelly something that her own studio did not: he was attracted to her “sexual elegance” and he gave her the chance to make great use of it in Dial M, Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).

In an era of voluptuous pin-up girls, Kelly’s refined, ladylike sex appeal stood out alongside her intelligence, and although she was often described as “ice cool” or in other glacial terms, what Hitchcock capitalised upon was the warmth and passion that simmered below the surface. Kelly was, after all, rumoured to have had tempestuous love affairs with some of her leading men (notably William Holden).This passionate, sexy side was hinted at more with each of his films, finally exploding – with fireworks – in To Catch a Thief. Indeed, the English director once said: “Grace Kelly’s apparent frigidity was like a mountain covered with snow, but that mountain was a volcano.”

Not only did Hitchcock fall in love with Kelly professionally and personally – in the same way as he had done with Ingrid Bergman, who, by coincidence was Kelly’s favourite actress – but he had tremendous respect for her and accorded her more freedom than most of his stars. She formed a terrific relationship with the esteemed costume designer Edith Head, in whom Hitch had the utmost confidence, and they collaborated on the wardrobes for the Hitchcock movies; Hitchcock being a director who took a keen interest in the finest details of his films.

By the time Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco, during the Cannes Film Festival of 1955, the 25-year-old actress was already well on her way to becoming the style icon that she is today. From the get-go, her demure appearance – characterised by a penchant for pearls and a habit of wearing white gloves – had singled her out and sparked trends. When she won her Oscar, for the now less-well remembered drama The Country Girl – in which she courageously allowed herself to be seen looking frumpy and bespectacled – she dazzled the Academy audience in a mint-green satin gown which she had designed with Head. And, once her royal engagement was announced, in January 1956, there was almost daily speculation in the press about the contents of her trousseau – and of course the wedding dress itself.

The marriage of the Hollywood princess and the European prince in the summer of 1956 may have seemed like the ultimate happy-ever-after, but Kelly was a real woman who, by all accounts, felt real frustration at not being able to continue as an actress – though she did tell friends that playing a princess was to be her greatest role.

She and Rainier had four children and it was a miscarriage shortly after she had agreed to return to Hollywood to star in Hitchcock’s Marnie, in 1962, that put paid to a resumption of her career. Later – just six years before her sudden death – a new chapter of performing began when she came to the Edinburgh Festival to read poetry. This seemed to give her a new lease of life, alongside the charitable and cultural work she carried out in Monaco.

She died after suffering a stroke that caused her to lose control of her car on a journey from the family home in France to Monaco. Princess Stephanie, her daughter, was a passenger in the vehicle but survived the accident.

Her death robbed her adopted country of a much-loved princess, but she was already a movie and style icon, one whose influence remains as strong as ever …

* First published in The Scotsman, Thursday September 13, 2012

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My Week in Beauty: In a Mountain Greenery (Where God Paints the Scenery)

Well, talk about starting the week in style: I got up on Monday morning knowing that by dinner time I’d be lapping up the luxury of a five-star hotel in St Moritz, in the Swiss Alps, where I had been invited on a press trip… Actually, I didn’t get up; I ended up staying up all night  having managed five minutes’ sleep at the children’s bedtime and having failed to notch up any more. I had to leave the house at 4am, with the prospect of two planes and three trains ahead of me. Aaaarrrggghh!

To say that I resembled the walking dead by the time I arrived at the elegant Badrutt’s Palace Hotel – destination of the rich, the famous and, er, me – would be an understatement. Luckily, I was met with a reviving welcome cocktail and instant friendship by the hotel’s lovely PR, Anna, with whom I bonded over shared experiences and beauty products. (Put it this way, when I left St Moritz, two days later, she was off to splurge on some YSL Rouge Pur Couture Vernis a Levres – £22.50; having had a shot of mine..)

I think I managed to fool her into thinking I was less tired than I was – thanks to a quick dusting of my new preferred perk-me-up blusher, Guerlain Blush Duo in Chic Pink (which – as you may agree from looking at the picture above – is slightly coral-coloured; £32.50)  and one of my two favourite bright, glossy and moisture-rich lipsticks from the wonderful new Estee Lauder Pure Color Vivid Shine Lipstick collection by Tom Pecheux – Fireball, a coral red, and the near-fuschia Pink Riot (pictured  below; £14.50; www.esteelauder.co.uk). Oh, and I gave Origins Ginzing Brightening Mascara (£17 ; www.origins.co.uk) a go though, as fab a curling and lengthening mascara as it is, I’m not convinced that it contributed much in terms of “brightening” my face or eyes.

First nights in unfamiliar beds are always a bad bet for me, sleep-wise, but by lunchtime on Tuesday I felt totally revived. Why? Because I started my day with one of the hotel spa’s signature treatments, the Engadin Stone Massage, during which heated stones from the surrounding Engadin mountain range are placed on the body’s energy centres – even between the toes! I especially enjoyed having the heat on my tummy and back – and the way in which the therapist combined the hot stones treatment with traditional massage techniques. It set me up nicely for a full schedule that afternoon:  I lunched at the chef’s table in the hotel’s kitchen, helped make chocolates with the pastry chef, went for a sail on the lake and raided the local supermarket for chocolate and cakes.

I ended the week in a similarly upmarket hotel, back in my hometown of Glasgow. The new Liz Earle Colour (www.lizearle.com, from September 10) range was introduced to the local press over a sumptuous afternoon tea at The Blythswood on Friday. (So sumptuous in fact that each journalist had a cake stand to herself.) I’ll be trying out the cosmetics I was given over the next few weeks but will be putting in a request ASAP for a bottle of Liz Earle Signature Foundation (£21) which I tried at the launch. It felt sublime – and when I complimented one of the Liz Earle girls on her glowing skin, it was this silky foundation which she credited.

Since my return from Switzerland, my sleep hasn’t been great – I had the best sleep on night two in St Moritz (oh, and the silkiest-ever hair after washing my mane there) – so I’m planning to take a leaf out of Ms Earle’s book and use her new, limited edition, rose and lavender, version of one of my all-time favourite cleansers, Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser (£19.75 got 150ml), at night-time as its key ingredients are very conducive to relaxation … and sleep.

So is this: one of my favourite singers singing a song that – along with her version of Rodgers and Hart’s Mountain Greenery – I couldn’t get out of my head while I was being driven about in a Rolls Royce in St Moritz..

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Les Petites Robes Noires

Ah, the little black dress – THE staple of every chic woman’s wardrobe. Personally, I couldn’t live without one. Or several. Last winter, I bought two – a sexy, knee-length number with pockets (which reminded me of something a career gal in a 1940s screwball comedy might have worn) and a more romantic, calf-length frock with a full, draped skirt, nipped-in waist, plunging neckline and long sleeves. Very film noir-ish, it helped bring out my inner Veronica Lake.. (in my mind, anyway!).

Our emotional attachment to our favourite LBDs is almost as legendary as our attachment to our handbags. I never threw out my first favourite LBD, a long linen one with slits to the thighs and a nehru collar, from my graduation year of 1994 – and it came into its own this summer as I had lost weight.

The luxury Parisian brand Guerlain may never have sold clothes, but the latest addition to its collection of covetable fragrances is La Petite Robe Noire (edp from £42), a rose-based scent with black cherry, iris, vanilla and patchouli. It’s very pretty, and quite sweet – in fact, it reminds me of the new Lancome fragrance, La Vie est Belle, which one of my eight-year-old sons recently said smelt “yummy”. I admire both of these perfumes – and am drawn to the iris in both – but, personally, I find sweetness a turn-off, and my offspring’s comment sealed the deal. Lovely but, as Ira Gershwin said, “not for me”.

If having style is about knowing what you like and not compromising, then Edith Piaf – the subject of the stunning 2007 biopic La Vie en Rose, which I saw at the cinema on Friday – undoubtedly had a style of her own. I wouldn’t say she was a particularly stylish person but she had a signature look – and la petite robe noire was a key part of it. As if to highlight that this was a woman who knew what worked for her – sartorially anyway – there’s a scene in the movie where Piaf (played, magnificently, by Marion Cotillard – left)  is presented with a selection of black dresses. “La plus simple!” she decrees, as she proceeds to order that the collar be removed.

I’m not sure what she would have made of Guerlain’s La Petite Robe Noire but its sweet, easy-going nature certainly does not sound like the perfect match for the spiky, hard-to-handle and willful Piaf ..

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