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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