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My City of (Stylish) Stars Exhibition

Judy Garland in Balmain, Empire Theatre, Glasgow, 1951 (c) The Herald and Times Group

I’m afraid I’ve been a bit of an absent blogger these last couple of weeks because I’ve been completely immersed in a last-minute commission to put together an exhibition based on a book I was trying to get off the ground – about the stars who passed through Scotland from the 1930s onwards.

Gene Kelly on Gordon St, Glasgow, April 1953 (c) The Herald and Times Group

The idea came up in a conversation with the director of music of the concert halls in Glasgow. We were chatting about the Glasgow Film Festival (currently underway) and the fact that Gene Kelly was to be the subject of its retrospective. I told him that Gene Kelly had come to Glasgow on a flying visit in 1953, to seek inspiration for the forthcoming MGM film version of the Broadway show Brigadoon. And that I had researched his visit – along with those of other great stars.  And, most crucially, that there were beautiful, rarely seen, photographs of the occasion in the photo archive of The Herald and Times.

Back in the 1950s, and earlier, Glasgow was the often the first port of call for big entertainment stars performing in Scotland. Indeed, it was often their only port of call north of the border – and some venues, notably the Empire Theatre, were viewed as the testing ground for acts. If you could survive the Empire, you could make it anywhere – that was the philosophy.

Hollywood stars would come to Glasgow to publicise their films with personal appearances (as Cary Grant did no fewer than three times at the peak of his career), to appear onstage (as Mae West and Marlene Dietrich did) and for social reasons (as Elizabeth Taylor and Danny Kaye did).

One thing that struck me, while sifting through the pictures I’d selected, was that two of the biggest female stars I was featuring were wearing gowns by Balmain when they were photographed in Glasgow – and, of course, Balmain is a fashion house that is very much back in vogue. Here’s Katharine Hepburn looking gorgeous in one of the dresses designed by Monsieur B for her character in The Millionairess. Check this picture – and 22 others – out at the City of Stars exhibition at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from Saturday, February 25 until September…

Katharine Hepburn, King's Theatre, Glasgow, May 1952 (c) The Herald and Times Group

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 150,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Coco’s Last Head-turner

The bottle is iconic. Square with slightly curved shoulders, it is the embodiment of elegance and simplicity. The label is unfussy, with the perfume’s name laid out in black type. The lid sits raised off the shoulders – a glass rectangle resting on a neck around which, like a bow tie, is a band with the most coveted logo in the world in the centre: the two interlocking C’s. This could be a description of the world’s most famous perfume bottle, that of Chanel No.5, but it’s also a description of the bottle of one of the world’s most cultish fragrances – Chanel No.19.

Everyone knows Chanel No.5. It was the first fragrance launched by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, back in 1921 – and it became famous the world over as her signature perfume. Most people don’t know Chanel No.19, however. It was the last fragrance she created, and probably the last one she wore. Launched 40 years ago – half a century after No.5 – No.19 is about to become a whole lot better known now, thanks to the creation of No.19 Poudre (Powdered), a new and softer variation on its fresh, green, floral theme.

With Coco Chanel still a source of fascination as well as inspiration 40 years after her death, it’s surprising that her final fragrance – the last Chanel perfume made with her involvement, the last perfume she loved and the perfume which sums up the second half  of her career (complementing No.5 as the fragrance of the first half) – is still a such cultish phenomenon.

Like many of the great classical perfumes, it makes a statement. It’s not a fragrance that everyone “gets” or can pull off – and it’s certainly not the easiest fragrance to love, unless you have a fairly sophisticated palette. In the acclaimed book Perfume – The Guide, Tania Sanchez describes it as a “cruel” fragrance, “angular, unkind, tough and cold”, adding that: “For a fragrance with so many spring-time references, all white blossoms and leafy greenery, No.19 never lands you in any Sound of Music meadows. It keeps you in the boardroom, in three-inch stilettos and a pencil-skirt suit.”

Apart from the three-inch stilettos, the description could easily apply to Mademoiselle Chanel herself – in the two decades running up to the launch of No.19. Or, at least, the public’s perception of her. She certainly appeared to be a tough old bird, quite ruthless – and arguably cruel – in her brutally expressed opinions, and physically she was wiry and angular. She’s immediately recognisable in the minimalist sketches drawn by Karl Lagerfeld for Justine Picardie’s recent biography: you only need to draw the jawline, the cheek bones, the sharp elbows at 45 degrees to her body – and the Chanel form is identifiable.

So how did No.19 come about? Well, the story of No.19 is interwoven with the story of Coco Chanel’s miraculous comeback in the last 17 years of her life. She had quit Paris during the Occupation, her reputation damaged by her affair with a Nazi officer, and had taken up a sort of self-imposed exile in Switzerland. Her 1954 comeback collection was her first since she shut up her couture shop in 1939. What triggered her comeback was her rage at the New Look that was sweeping Paris and beyond: Christian Dior’s landmark 1947 collection, with its new silhouette of the tight bodice, nipped-in waist and full skirt, was the antithesis of the aesthetic with which Chanel had revolutionised fashion a quarter of a century earlier. She had done away with the restrictive corsets and given women the freedom of movement thanks to her loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. She was incensed by the New Look – and, especially, by the fact that a man had dared to put women back in corsets, that a man was undoing what she had done for women.

Opening with a navy blue and white collarless jersey suit, Chanel’s 1954 collection harked back to her 1920s successes – fluid lines, comfortable fabrics, and all modelled by girls with the gamine figures that had been in vogue in the days when flappers flattened their breasts, and hid their hips and waists. The French and British press hated it, dismissing it as backwards-looking, a pathetic attempt by an old lady (Chanel was by now 71) to relive her earlier successes. Le Combat newspaper said: “From the first dress, we knew that the Chanel style belonged the past.” The Daily Express labelled the collection “a fiasco”.

Support came from an unlikely source: the United States. The Americans loved the collection. Vogue and Life magazine both ran big features on Chanel and her comeback, with no mention of the war or her personal errors of judgement. Orders flooded in from across the Atlantic from women who appreciated what Life called “evening dresses that have plenty of elegant dash, and easy-fitting suits that are refreshing after the ‘poured-on’ look of some styles.”

It took five years for the French to cotton on to what the Americans appreciated about the born-again Chanel style. And in the interim, Chanel had devised all the elements of what remains the quintessential Chanel look – to the collarless tweed jacket she added the quilted, chain-strapped bag (the “2.55”, launched in February 1955) and the two-tone slingback pumps (1957).

Finally, in 1959, French Vogue proclaimed: “The heady idea that a woman should be more important than her clothes, and that it takes superb design to keep her looking that way – this idea, which has been for almost 40 years the fuel for the Chanel engine, has now permeated the fashion world.”

Riding on a cloud of success again, Coco Chanel – although she no longer owned shares in Parfums Chanel, but did receive 2% royalties on perfume sales – wanted to launch a new perfume to accompany this new chapter in her career and celebrate her triumphant return. The women’s perfumes in the Chanel portfolio had all been created during her initial run of success: Chanel No.5, launched in 1921, had been followed by No.22 (1922), Cuir de Russie (1924), Gardenia (1925), Bois des Iles (1926) and Sycomore (1930) – all of which were recently relaunched as part of Les Exclusifs collection – then Une Idee, Le 1940 Bleu, Le 1940 Rouge and Le 1940 Beige (all 1930) and Ivoire (1931).

Chanel now wanted a perfume to reflect her new success in the second half of the 20th century. Throughout the early 1960s, she nagged Parfums Chanel about it but – according to Michael Edwards’s book Perfume Legends, the fragrance company wasn’t keen – and nor were the distributors. Edwards quotes Chanel’s legal advisor, Robert Chaillet, who said: “They feared it might torpedo No.5.” Chanel persisted with her request for a new perfume and as time went by, the request became a demand. Finally, in 1965, when Pierre Wertheimer – one of the owners of Parfums Chanel – died, Chanel got her way and began work on what would become No.19.

Coco Chanel was involved in every step of the evolution of No.19, which was created by the revered “nose” Henri Robert. Chaillet later said: “Every week for over a year I brought her three different perfume bottles marked one, two, three. She sprayed herself with them from head to toe and then wandered around the fashion house waiting for reactions. If the salesgirls said: ‘Oh! Mademoiselle smells good!’ she was delighted. If nothing was said to her she would telephone me, furious. ‘This perfume is awful. I don’t want any. It stinks! Nobody noticed it!’ ”

Determined that the new perfume be a head-turner, Chanel settled on a daring formula which, says the internationally renowned perfume expert Roja Dove, “revolutionised” perfume. He says: “The thing that  made it such a revolution in its time was the overdose of orris [the root of the iris plant], which is the main classic powder note of perfumery, nestling in the base. You only notice it once the scent dries down.”

Both Dove and Jacques Polge, Chanel’s current “nose” and the guardian of all the Chanel fragrances, agree that No.19 is truly a connoisseur’s perfume. Polge explains: “In the industry, it’s always been very highly regarded – I don’t know of any nose who doesn’t rate 19 –  and those women who are faithful to No.19 usually come from a culture of perfume.”

Dove adds: “The so-called green note of perfumery – which is generally based around galbanum – is a polarising material. People either love it or really can’t stand it. And if you look at all the great classical perfumes that use it – perfumes like Miss Dior, or Guerlain Vol de Nuit, they are scents that you really love or you just can’t stand. What’s interesting is that No.19 has two hugely polarising materials – it has the note of galbanum, that so-called fresh note, and then underneath it, it has orris, the powder note.

“In my opinion, the powder note generally suggests somebody who is a little retrospective in their view on life; the so-called green note generally appeals to people who are forward thinking. So maybe the rather beautiful schizophrenia of this perfectly formed creation makes it polarising and therefore if you love it, nothing else will quite do, because nothing gives you this sort of duality – I can’t think of another scent that exists which combines freshness on a powdered note in that way.”

Certainly the simultaneously backward and forward-looking description seems to fit Coco Chanel. She always drew – whether subconsciously or not – on her past for inspiration. The distinctive chains of her bags were inspired, it is said, by the belts worn by the nuns who had educated her, for example. Yet she invariably moved fashion and fragrance forward with her bold choices.

With No.19 (so named after the date of her birth – August 19), she was soon vindicated in her choice. Jacques Polge cites the story of how, just a few months before her death, the 87-year-old
Coco Chanel was wearing the fragrance when she was stopped in the street by a young man. As she told it: “Coming out of the Ritz, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned around to see an unknown face. I was just about to tell him off in no uncertain terms, when he said to me, with an American accent: ‘Excuse me, I am with two friends who want to know the name of your perfume.’ To be stopped in the street by a man at my age, that’s not bad, is it?”

Whether Chanel switched completely from No.5 to No.19 as her signature perfume during her final days nobody knows for sure, but Roja Dove says: “I wouldn’t be surprised –  I’m sure that any woman who received a compliment from a handsome man might end up having a proclivity towards the liquid that brought that comment her way!”

Chanel No.19 quickly established a loyal following, but never – Dove points out – became “a blockbuster” like No.5. Its influence is evident in various highly successful fragrances, including Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, Cartier’s So Pretty and, most recently, Prada’s Infusion d’Iris. And it was partly to “reclaim Chanel’s territory” as the perfume company which constructed the original iris masterpiece, says Jacques Polge, that he decided to create the new variation, No.19 Poudre, which is softer and makes use of the new musks that have become available since the original No.19 was formulated.

Roja Dove is thrilled with the arrival of a baby sister for the original No.19. “The beauty of a launch like this is it means that a whole new generation will suddenly look at one of the great classical perfumes and whilst they may be drawn to it through the new version, they might be tempted to try the old one. It would have been a great tragedy if No.19 had faded into oblivion.”

* Chanel No.19 Poudre (from £61) goes on sale on July 15. For stockists, call 020-7493 3836.

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Style on Film: The Big Sleep

This was the scene that made me sit up and start paying serious attention to the fashions of The Big Sleep, the classic 1946 film noir which is best remembered as the second movie to star the sizzling hot team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The lady in the chic, tiered black dress didn’t even get her name in the titles – despite being more prominently featured than some of the other character actors. Her name is Sonia Darrin and she played Agnes, the hard-hearted dame who worked for the blackmailer Geiger. The first sighting of the movie’s leading lady Lauren Bacall finds her lounging in a stylish jacket, black trousers and loafers, as her character Vivian has an informal chat with private eye Philip Marlowe (Bogie).

Vivian and Marlowe’s next meeting is even less formal: he brings home her kid sister, the troublesome Carmen, who has been found drunk in charge of the dead body of her father’s blackmailer.

The next morning, Vivian visits Marlowe in his downtown office. The checked suit and beret combo sported by Bacall here is the best known outfit from The Big Sleep, and the publicity shots featured Bacall working what had been christened “The Look” – her unique way of holding her chin down and casting her eyes up as she spoke.

Bacall later explained that “The Look” had been born out of necessity: when she made her first film, To Have and Have Not, she found that the only way she could disguise her nerves, stop herself shaking and her voice from trembling was to hold herself like that.

A rendez-vous at a bar provides Marlowe and Vivian with a chance of trading a little bit more banter – and affords us a glimpse of one of the most contemporary-looking outfits of the movie: the shiny jacket..

Later that evening, in Eddie Mars’ casino, Marlowe discovers that Vivian – like only a couple of other film noir femme fatales – fancies herself as a singer. Wearing good-girl white (well, she is one of the least dangerous of forties FFs), she is the centre of attention – and quickly captures Marlowe’s interest once more.

And to finish? Two dresses for the price of one as both Agnes and Vivian feature in the next scene – the point in any normal thriller when matters come to a head and the real goodies and baddies are exposed. But this being The Big Sleep, the film with the most convoluted and confusing plot of them all (so convoluted and confusing that even the writer of the original book, Raymond Chandler, couldn’t say who had committed one of the murders), that doesn’t quite happen. Better to revel in the performances, the chemistry and badinage between Bogie and Bacall and the fabulous clothes.

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Style Heroines: Jane Russell

I wouldn’t say she was a style icon, but Jane Russell – the sassy, statuesque sexbomb star of the 1940s and 1950s, who died yesterday – should be remembered in the fashion world for her services to the halterneck. Here’s a selection of some of her prettiest halternecks – starting with this simple monochrome dress she wore in the 1951 film noir His Kind of Woman.

It was probably not her own idea to showcase her magnificent bosom in this style – but it was no doubt written in to her contract that her cleavage be shown off in every film. Designer Howard Greer kept things tasteful and on the elegant side with the His Kind of Woman clothes (unlike The French Line wardrobe) – witness this pretty sundress…

My own favourite of her halterneck ensembles is the simple black halterneck top and trousers (with high heels – natch) that she sports for her only solo number in the wonderful musical-comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in 1953.

Raven-haired Russell was also unusual in the fact that she also wore a great deal of black onscreen – even, as in the case of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in colour movies. She wears two black evening gowns in the movie, including this sparkling halterneck. The idea was no doubt to direct viewers’ eyes towards the colourful new star the studio was trying to promote …

Appropriately enough, for a couple of stars ultimately both known for their halternecks (Marilyn’s most famous was yet to come – the white “subway” dress in The Seven Year Itch), Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell turned up to leave their mark on the Hollywood Walk of Fame wearing … you’ve guessed it – halterneck dresses!

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My Week in Beauty

MONDAY

I got ahead of myself quite a bit last week as I couldn’t resist trying out some exciting beauty products which won’t be launched for some time.

On Monday, I gave the next addition to Chanel’s mascara collection an early outing. I’d say “a trial run” – but one thing that the marvellously versatile (it lengthens and curls) Chanel Sublime de Chanel (£22.50, from April 15) didn’t do was run, even though I was very watery-eyed during the Glasgow Film Festival’s Monday matinee showing of the romantic epic Out of Africa, with Meryl Streep (pictured) and Robert Redford. The real test, however, will be to see how it fares when I next watch my favourite-ever romantic weepie, Somewhere in Time, which – like Out of Africa – has an achingly beautiful John Barry score.

TUESDAY

The lovely ladies from the Origins press office hosted a lunch in Glasgow on Tuesday, to brief local beauty journalists on the latest must-try serum.

Plantscription (£45; from March 3 at department stores and www.origins.co.uk) is its name, and if that sounds a little bit medical then that’s because it seems to be the ideal prescription for ageing skin since it enables it to repair itself. The test results and before-and-after photos which we were shown were pretty impressive – so much so that I started using my tube that very same night!

The medical-sounding name also alludes to the fact that this serum was designed to take on America’s leading prescription wrinkle ingredients, retinoids, and to do so without producing any of the associated unpleasant side effects – photosensitivity, burning, redness, dryness and stinging among them.

I can report that after using the serum religiously for just five days, I’m impressed – not by any line-reducing activity (yet – though the clinical tests showed significant improvement after just four weeks!) but by the brightness and evenness of my complexion.  And this from a rosacea sufferer … Watch this space.

WEDNESDAY

On Tuesday after lunch – and feeling somewhat mischievous after quaffing champagne in the middle of the day – I sneaked through to Edinburgh to see one of my favourite romantic comedies at The Filmhouse cinema – the sublime, Snow White-inspired Ball of Fire.

When I wasn’t lusting after Gary Cooper (who, to paraphrase a colleague, “does things to my innards”), I was hankering after Barbara Stanwyck’s glossy locks. My own hair was still not 100% cured of its dryness and tangledness so I was very relieved to discover that there’d been an Aveda delivery while I’d been in Edinburgh.

I started using the three key products in Aveda Damage Remedy – Aveda Damage Remedy Restructuring Shampoo (£18; www.aveda.co.uk); Aveda Damage Remedy Restructuring Conditioner (£19.50) and Aveda Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair (£18.50) – on Wednesday and have been thrilled with the results. I’d already tried the Dry Remedy range and, although the condition of my hair had improved, it was still not back to where it had been pre-Aveda colour. One of the Aveda hair experts at James Dun’s House salon in Glasgow then advised me that the range I should be trying was, in fact, Damage Remedy as I do not have naturally dry hair. So far, so brilliant. I haven’t yet dared try just using the shampoo and conditioner; I’ve been using the Daily Hair Repair – a leave-in conditioner-cum-styling cream which protects the hair from heat damage when you’re blow-drying it.  This trio of products seems to be working so I’m going to stick with it …

THURSDAY

I do love a proper, old-fashioned liquid or cream eyeliner which you can use to create a fifties-style flick… I’ve been using eyeliner pens and brushes for years, since I realised that pencilled-on eyeliner just did not stay put and always seemed to give me panda eyes.

The latest eyeliner in my make-up bag is No7 Spring Limited Edition Gel Eyeliner (10.50; www.boots.com), part of No7’s lovely, Riviera-inspired, spring collection. I’ve got the navy blue shade (it also comes in black and turquoise) and it’s really easy to use, though if you want a fairly well defined line, you need to build it up with a few layers.

Oh, and if the flicked-up eye line is a style you might want to commit to, shop around for a longer brush than the awkward little one that comes with the eyeliner…

FRIDAY

Great excitement here on Friday when I received a sneak preview of the new colour collection from Chanel for summer 2011. The arrival of Les Fleurs d’Ete de Chanel could not have been better timed as Friday was a glorious spring day here in Glasgow, the first hint that winter might be over.

This being a Chanel collection, I immediately looked for the nail varnish destined to be the next must-have (people are still searching this blog regularly for information on the greeny shade from last year’s Nouvelle Vague range) – and I didn’t have to look far… All I am going to say just now is that it’s not a colour I expected to like on my nails, but I am smitten. Oh, and the little chick on the right is a bit of a clue …

P.S: Before the summer collection comes out, Chanel is launching a new hydrating and sheer lipstick collection called Rouge Coco Shine.  If you live in Glasgow, book yourself in for a complimentary mini-makeover using the range, followed by a unique photographic experience in a Chanel photo booth. This event is taking place at Frasers on Friday, March 11, and Saturday 12. To book a place, call 0141 221 3880, ext 2038.

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My Week in Beauty

MONDAY

Appropriately enough for Valentine’s Day, I tried out the romantic and pretty new spring colour collection from Clarins – a company which has never really been a contender in the cosmetics stakes. Until now.

Clarins Neo Pastel Collection comprises some of the loveliest and most delicate pastels around this spring – and the key product is the limited edition Clarins Neo Pastels Eye Colour and Liner Palette (£30; www.clarins.co.uk), six suits-all shimmering shades that can be used in any number of combinations.

I’ve been on the look-out for a peachy-coral colour of eyeshadow to replace a Guerlain one I wore out last summer – and may well have found it in this sleek new compact which – along with the Clarins Blush Prodige Illuminating Cheek Colour (£24), that I tried last week – is likely to be a staple of my makeup routine for some time.

TUESDAY

‘Tis spring (well, allegedly), and beauty companies’ thoughts turn to perfume. So, evidently, do luxury shoe designers’ … One of the first new fragrances of 2011 is the debut scent of the celebrated Jimmy Choo.

Simply named Jimmy Choo (from £39; available from Harrods, Selfridges and selected Jimmy Choo boutiques), it’s officially described as “a modern, fruity chypre” , with green top notes, a creamy heart of Tiger Orchid and a base which blends “sweet toffee and patchouli”. Oh, and it comes in a python-inspired bottle (which could be confused with Flowerbomb’s similarly shaped pink bottle).

Given that I don’t much care for fruity, and the thought of sweet toffee in a fragrance brings to mind such sickly perfumes as Thierry Mugler’s Angel, I was surprised, on Tuesday, to find that the scent actually reminded me more of leathery, old-school, chypres and wasn’t overly sweet or sickly at all. It does have a heady – bordering on the cloying – quality and undoubtedly evokes the sophisticated sex appeal of a pair of Jimmy Choos, leather and all!

WEDNESDAY

Looking for something new to try out for the opening night of the Glasgow Film Festival on Thursday, I had a session with the gorgeous new Milly for Clinique Limited Edition Pretty in Prints Compact (£25; www.clinique.co.uk). Containing an eyeshadow quad in shimmering pinks and browns, as well as a blusher, this covetable compact and its lovely pouch were designed by Michelle Smith of fashion and accessories label Milly.

I loved the natural, delicate tones – though, with my pale colouring, couldn’t possibly team them with the Clinique Limited Edition Long Last Glosswear SPF15 in Milly Pink (£14) – but my favourite Clinique lipstick, Clinique Butter Shine in Pink Toffee (£15) completes the look perfectly.

THURSDAY

Lovely as it was, the Clinique palette wasn’t glam enough for the purposes of an opening gala, so I reverted to an old favourite – the purple smoky eye and nude lips – partly because I love it, and also because it always reminds me of Catherine Deneuve in the 1960s. And Deneuve was the star of the Glasgow Film Festival’s opening film, Potiche.

The film was really quite disappointing – a typical French farce which spoofed 1970s style and mocked male chauvinism. Catherine Deneuve still looks beautiful but she was dressed in the most vile clothes, and there were none of the expected sparks flying between her and her co-star, Gerard Depardieu (whose portliness has finally put paid to his sex symbol status).  My disappointment didn’t end there: someone pinched my goody bag (which was stuffed with gifts from Urban Outfitters). I went home and treated myself to a viewing of one of my favourite Deneuve films, the gloriously OTT 1967 musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (available on BFI DVD), in which she starred with her equally stunning sister, Francoise Dorleac (both pictured above).

FRIDAY

I learned a lesson on Friday: never experiment with nail polish if you only have a tiny drop of nail polish remover left in the house …

Inspired by the simplicity of the instructions from Topshop on how to create the “marbled” nail look – which involves mixing two nail varnishes together in a bowl of room-temperature water – I blithely took the plunge using a Topshop Nail Duo (£9; www.topshop.com). As Holly Golightly would have said: “Quel desastre!”.

Having added drops of the two varnishes pictured to the bowl of water, I’d used a cuticle stick to swirl them together. Instead of creating a pool of marbled pink and gold, the two varnishes rolled into a ball and stuck to my stick! I tried again, this time (as Holly would have said) sans swirling, and when – as directed – I dipped the nail beds into the colours floating at the top of the water, I ended up with gold and pink all over my hands and nothing much on the nail beds. Never has one tiny drop of nail polish remover had to cover so much ground ….

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