Saturday, December 19, 2009

FAITH KEANE REICHERT Fiesty 108 Year Old Icon

Dear Faith: "Happy Birthday To You" at the age of 108 in 2009. As you held court in your wheelchair at a celebration held by The Roundtable of Fashion Executives, we all bowed in homage to your amazing mind, so clear as a bell, sharp as a tack and all that, and much, much more praise for your longevity astounds and leaves us in genuine “Awe”. Your many admirers lined up to greet you and when my turn came you remembered me by saying how you enjoyed reading my PollyTalk column. So extraordinary was your comment that I was quite stunned by your clarity and remarkable memory. So here we are reaching for the stars when you have already been there and back over a century of living life well and full of wonder and achievement.
My dear Faith, I salute your longevity. As you celebrate your long and illustrious life one can only stand in awe regarding the extraordinary events that transpired during your lifetime as a resident of New York City. Just think of it. You were born Helen Faith Keane in 1901, which means that the tumultuous years of WWI transpired, followed by the Art Deco 1925 Jazz era, then in the1930s The Great Depression spread through the years before WWII, then came other skirmishes and events through which you were challenged. Yet you have survived it all and in style. Daughter of polish immigrants you stood steadfast to the your destiny becoming a fashion icon, a radio and television personality, a professor at NYU for thirty years, and much, much more. Your amazing youthfulness and family background is the perfect ingredient for a novel in itself. As I look at Faith today I can still see the determination in her spirit which no doubt she possessed as a twenty year old woman.
The ebullient Faith had a knack for acquiring admiring nicknames, but perhaps the one that stuck most was “Happy,” for indeed she is and was happy about all her life, her congenial family and he great love for people. However, while “Happy” Faith is 108 in 2009 she is not alone. It is amazing to realize that her brothers, Irving (103) still runs his law office with his two sons and Peter (97) were alive as was Faith as well as sister Lee, who has since passed, for the building, the sinking, the salvaging and the filming of the Titanic. This experience plus many other epic events during their lifetime leave an indelible mark on their record of longevity. So much so, that the siblings have assisted with various medical research projects hoping to pin down any possible genes that might help medicine understand their longevity and health at advanced ages. Though nothing definitive came up it remains a mystery how the remaining trio in this four family saga is still active and enjoying their longevity. The family’s longevity continues to be of great interest and has been featured nationally on shows such as “Good Morning America” and in print in the Wall Street Journal. Even Oprah Winfrey called to take the four siblings in for a week in Chicago. “Lee who was alive at the time had never heard of Oprah before, Faith said. “When we explained to her about the show, she said only fools would watch television in the afternoon.” She added, “Don’t people have anything better to do than watch television.” So that epic Oprah viewing was squelched.
It seems to me that Faith had a rather normal upbringing that segued into a fine education. She attended Cornell University where she was a member of the women’s rowing team, and from which she would graduate Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in English in 1925. She later earned an MA in psychology from Columbia University. Now let me diverge and tell you about the rowing team. Faith is arguably the most well-known alumna of the women’s crew and when she returned to the Ithaca Campus several years ago she brought her own degree of fiestiness back to Cornell, her old stomping grounds. Faith pointed out to the new rowers how times have changed from when women needed to have parental permission to be active participants in sports. Faith, the oldest living female rower at Cornell, who coxswained the crew, circa 1925 recalls, “My sport for two wonderful years was rowing, but I never competed.” Faith is truly a renaissance woman who has had years fulfilling her destiny in fashion, broadcasting and education.
Before becoming a legendary broadcaster, Faith excelled in various fields. First as an $l8 a week copywriter for six years at Bloomingdale’s department store and graduating to the position of Fashion Coordinator. Then she moved on to Montgomery Ward as fashion coordinator for their catalog and retail stores, but along came academia to lure her away from retail. While still working day shifts at Montgomery Ward Faith began to work as a teacher, teaching night courses in fashion advertising at New York University. She eventually joined the faculty of NYU in their school of retailing, teaching first part time then full time regaling students for thirty years.
An outspoken innovator Faith landed a job on television when she complained about a show with which she was displeased. The producer invited her to lunch and he offered her her own program. This gave birth to the “Helen Faith Keane Show…For Your Information” aimed at women which aired for one year over WABD, a Dumont-owned station. The show eventually won the Mcall’s Mike award in 1951. For Faith, what’s changed most during her long life are, “The social mores regarding sex and intimacy. “You have to realize that during the 50s era being pregnant in public was considered entirely too intimate.” Faith did however touch on topics such as, ‘ask your doctor about breast cancer.’ About the development of her program Faith recalls, “The ladies would write to me with their questions and, when I received sufficient interest in a particular topic, I would seek an expert who could address it.”
This early pioneer of a woman’s talk shows also found time to get married. Her husband, Dr. Philip Reichert, a prominent cardiologist, was a graduate of Cornell Medical School (class of 1923) and throughout their lifetime together Faith had wonderful support from her husband. He died in 1985. The couple had no children, but one can surmise that the vast audience she reached with her talk show, and the huge student body that attended Faith’s classes at NYU and including all the fashion women she mentored were indeed her vicarious offspring’s.
An innovator from the start Faith joined two other colleagues to form a different fashion organization. At a time when The Fashion Group International had become so big that it was no longer possible to get to know other women in the industry, it was fortuitously that Helen Faith Keane and Lucia Forman and Betty Greene, decided in 1949 to establish a satellite organization, The Roundtable of Fashion Executives to fulfill the purpose of co-mingling with like-minded women executives. Originally they called the organization Vox Pop, the Voice of the Public, but in 1952 when Dupont refused to write a check to Vox Pop, you all changed the name to The Roundtable of Fashion Executives, and the name remains the same today. My how times have changed in this exchange-of-information membership. Meetings were led by a member who selected a topic, started the program and all members contributed spontaneously. Occasionally, meetings featured guest speakers, and members were permitted to bring guests. When you met in the 1950’s at the Ritz Carlton Hotel lunch cost $3.50 and by the 1990s at the Princeton Club lunch costs rose to $35, and today real individual lunch costs are $45 to $50. Meetings sometimes became Brown- Bag, to avoid the increasing luncheon costs. Today, The Roundtable of Female Executives remains loyal to its original mission.
Dear Faith, You are a living legend!!! Your amazing career from copywriter to television host and New York University marketing professor leaves me in total awe with admiration for your many accomplishments. Thank you for your generosity, your feisty spirit, you’re mentoring of so many women during your lifetime and still going ever forward defying aging. My heartfelt congratulations to a woman I heartily praise, and innovator, energetic, opinionated and marvelous!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009



AUDREY HEPBURN, Fashion Trend Setter, Philanthropy, UNICEF Good Will Ambassador

Dear Audrey: When you played a model in the film Funny Face, when you played the chauffeur’s daughter in Sabrina and came back from Paris chic and soigne carrying a little French poodle, and when you played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I remember how you were my favorite fashion diva. It was from these movies that your on screen persona captured my imagination. Like so many other admirers I coveted your aristocratic and iconic style. Your wardrobe of simplicity and seemingly effortless elegance, aided and abetted by the young French couturier Hubert de Givenchy personified the chic elegance of the 1950s and 1960s. Commenting about Givenchy who became your lifelong friend and collaborator you once said, “It was as though I was born to wear his clothes.” However, you were more than meets the eye of film star celebrity. Later I came to know you, as did the world at large, that you were not just a film star but a philanthropist and goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and later your son’s Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, created the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund in order to continue your humanitarian work.
By gazing at Audrey’s beautiful face one would never imagine the depredation of Audrey’s early life. Born in Ixelles, a principality in Brussels, Belgium as Audrey Kathleen Ruston (May 4, 1929-January 20, 1993), she was the only child of Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, an English banker, and his second wife, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat. Although born in Belgium, Audrey had British citizenship and attended school in England as a child. Her father’s job with a British insurance company enabled the family to travel frequently between Brussels, England and The Netherlands. However, Audrey spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including the German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World Wear (1939-1945). Her father later prepended the surname of his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn, to the family’s and Audrey’s surname became Hepburn-Ruston.
In 1935, Hepburn’s parents divorced and her father, a Nazi sympathizer, left the family. This sad event in Audrey’s young life was later referred to as the most traumatic moment of her life, but more events to shadow her history are were to come. In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing that the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. It was at this time that Audrey trained in ballet. However, in 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the occupation Audrey adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an ‘English sounding’ name was considered dangerous. It wasn’t popular to be British and “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in occupied Holland was not an asset: it could attract attention and result in confinement or even deportation. During the Dutch famine of 1944 Audrey and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits. She developed acute anemia, respiratory problems, and edema. Most significantly the hardships she suffered during the war (constant anxiety and hunger) left her physically weakened.
In 1948 Audrey left the Netherlands with her mother Baroness Ella van Heemstra to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina. However, the toll of wartime hardships that affected her stamina, combined with her height (5ft 7in) coupled with her poor nutrition during the war, meant that she was rejected for prima ballerina roles for which she had studied for so earnestly in Arnhem and London. She turned to other possible careers—working in the chorus line, modeling and acting. The rest is history. Ballet’s loss was cinema and the fashion world’s gain. During the filming of Monte Caro Baby Audrey was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play GiGi, which opened at the Fulton theatre in 1951. Providence played into her life when the writer Colette first saw Hepburn, she reportedly exclaimed, “Voila! There’s our Gigi!” Her film credits are extensive and legendary tributes to a great movie actress who survived it all with great grace and perseverance.
Audrey had a sense of her own unique, personal style. When she was first sent to the couture house of Givenchy the great couturier was expecting the other ‘Miss Hepburn’---Katherine. From the moment he met her his assumed disappointment gave way to adoration. She preferred to wear pastel colors, black and ivory with the occasional hot-pink statement. Givenchy said of her, “All the responsibility for the way Audrey looked is hers. She made the selections.” One wonders how Audrey acquired such elegant and simplistic taste. No doubt, it is as the French say, ‘je n’est ce pas,’ something that is inborn. Further attesting to her unique style sense when I was on assignment in Hollywood, California I interviewed Edith Head, the multi-Oscar winning film costumier about her book, ‘The Dress Doctor,’ she said, “Like Dietrich, Audrey’s fittings became the ten-hour not the ten-minute variety. She knew exactly how she wanted to look or what worked best for her, yet she was never arrogant or demanding. She had an adorable sweetness that made you feel like a mother getting her only daughter ready for the prom.” Audrey was 5ft 7 inches tall, bust 32in, waist 22in, hips 34in. For most of her life these measurements altered but slightly.
The Wedding Called Off
One of the legendary garments auctioned in December 2009 at Kerry Taylor Auctions in London included the ivory satin bridal gown designed for Audrey Hepburn by the Fontana Sisters for her planned marriage to James (later Lord) Hanson. Whilst Audrey was filming ‘Roman Holiday’ with Gregory Peck in Rome, she approached the Fontana sisters to ask them to make her bridal gown. Signora Micol Fontana said that the 23 year old Hepburn was “young, fresh, on top of the world. Audrey wanted complete discretion and had lots of fittings”. Some weeks later when Audrey called off the planned wedding to James Hanson she asked the eldest of the sisters-Zoe to give the dress away. “I want my dress to be worn by another girl for her wedding, perhaps someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine-the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find.” Zoe’s search centered on a poverty stricken young Italian girl called Amabile Atobella. Amabile visited Rome just once to have the dress adapted by the Fontana sisters for her to wear at her own wedding to farm worker Adlino Solda with whom she remained happily married. Amabile said, “I have had a happy marriage, so the dress brought me luck”. After the even she carefully wrapped the dress in tissue paper and stored it away without disturbing it for decades. It was not until 2002, when Micol Fontana, the last survivor of the Fontana sisters traced the gown for a retrospective exhibition of their work, that it was rediscovered.
A Celebrated Auction
At auction the wedding dress was sold with a photograph of Audrey wear- ing the original Fontana gown and a letter from the vendor confirming the provenance. It was estimated to fetch E8000-12000 Lot 333. This once in a lifetime auction featured around 36 items of clothing as well as hats, belts and a fascinating group of letters in which she describes an early film break, her proposed wedding to James Hanson and the time spent filming “Roman Holiday.” The collection also includes stunning evening wear and a plethora of chic little black dresses. Auction contact: Of course you all know that Audrey did get married twice once to Mel Ferrer and then to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti.
And so it is time to say goodbye to dear Audrey whose iconic style lives on in the hearts of all women who wish to achieve elegance, grace and distinction. Your amazing survival, your angelic quality and your legendary humanitarianism lives on forever in the hearts of us who admire your noble spirit. Your admirer, Polly Guerin

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


My dear Edith: It’s been quite some time since I interviewed you in Hollywood at Paramount Studios, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. As you sat at your desk with your iconic page boy hairdo and bangs that fringed your signature dark glasses, I wondered what was behind the persona of one so revered in costume design history in America? After a long career that spanned from silent films to the Golden Age when Hollywood had fabulous films and fabulous clothes, and you dressed all the great stars, you garnered eight Academy Awards, more than any other woman in history. Over the years you became a highly-prolific designer, lecturer, producer of fashion galas, fashion editor and author. You truly personify an amazing diva, who infiltrated the hallowed halls of design without even an art portfolio to prove your worth. But herein is the tale of a young girl with a lot of luck on her side and an angel to guide her way.
LANDING A JOB AT PARAMOUNT In the matter of landing her first job at Paramount Edith admits the truth. In her book, “The Dress Doctor (Little Brown and Company) Edith recalls how it all came about. “During summer vacation, looking for a summer job, I answered a newspaper advertisement, which said the studio was looking for sketch artists to help design the clothes in a forthcoming Cecil B. DeMille epic called, “The Golden Bed.” Edith explained that she had been studying in the evenings at Chouinard Art School. “My daytime job as a teacher made it possible for me to attend classes at night and I thought that the pay as a sketch artist might be better than a teacher’s salary. I wrote for an appointment and received an answer: I was to be at the studio the next morning at ten, bringing sketches. That night I made the rounds at Chouinard and collected all the students’ best landscapes, seascapes, oils, watercolors, sketches, life, art, everything. Looking back, I cannot imagine doing such a thing and acknowledge this youthful and naive indiscretion with my late apologies.” When Edith showed the sketches to Howard Greer, the studio’s head designer he exclaimed, “I’ve never seen so much talent in one portfolio! Report tomorrow for work,” he said, “your salary will be fifty dollars a week.” Fifty dollars a week looked like a fortune to a schoolteacher earning fifteen hundred dollars a year.
DISCOVERING A FRAUD The next day Edith was sitting in front of a drawing board staring at a blank piece of paper on which she was to sketch evening dresses and riding habits. She recalls, “I sat there a long time. I’d figured I could fake it but…. “What’s the matter?” Howard asked. “Don’t know how to draw!” I admitted."But all those wonderful sketches in your portfolio!” he exclaimed. “Borrowed,” I said. It didn’t take long for Greer to realize that Edith didn’t have much talent. Oddly enough, for some reason Greer found the whole situation amusing and took Edith under his wing and taught her how to sketch and become a designer. Obviously, Edith did have a natural talent and learned fast. “From the first day at the studio, I was fascinated, enthusiastic and willing, but I hadn’t the least notion that I’d ever survive. I wonder why I did. Perhaps it was because I worked hard and was willing to tackle anything---paint polka dots on china silk butterfly wings for Peter Pan, paint shoes with printed patterns to match printed gowns to be worn by a famous film star.” Edith continued her studies at Chouinard at night and studied everything Howard Greer and his top assistant Travis Banton did.
THE BOTTOM OF THE TOTEM POLE Luckily, Edith was a quick student. Within six months, she could sketch in the style of Greer or in the style of Banton so that it was impossible to tell that someone else had done the work. Edith was on her way but at the bottom of the totem pole so designing for great stars was out of reach, but not for long. She recalls, “My first big assignment was to do the Candy Ball costumes for Cecil B. de Mille’s film, “The Golden Bed.” I drew girls dressed as lollypops, peppermint sticks and chocolate drops. Howard asked me if I knew how to the designs could be executed and I assured him they were simple. So he took the rather amusing sketches to show de Mille, who was known around the studio as The Great Man. He melted on the spot and promptly Okayed them. “Then came the crisis. I’d drawn very elongated girls with bodies like peppermint sticks and candy cane fingernails two feet long. Came the day of the shooting and, shortly after, came a blast from Mr. de Mille—who was never a patient man. The peppermint sticks had started cracking during the dance routine. Using real candy proved to be a mess, whenever the dancers got within a half a foot of each other, the candy would stick. From that day on, I’ve never drawn anything I could not make. Stardom as Hollywood’s celebrated costume designer was yet to come before she did some of the best dressed animals on the screen. Later when she became head designer for Paramount the roster of stars dressed by Edith Head reads like a veritable “Who’s Who” of Hollywood. Some of the great stars include: Katherine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Olivia de Havilland, Dorothy Lamour, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Shirley MacLaine, Julie Andrews and Faye Dunaway. Commenting about her career Edith stated, “Costume designers are not like other designers in the world, because through our magic we can change actors and actresses into the different roles they portray. We are a very specialized craft and tremendously important to the reality of the picture.”
EARLY LIFE IN MINING TOWNS Surprisingly, Edith Head began her career along dis-similar lines. A native Californian, her step- father was a mining engineer. “Of all the mining camps we lived in, this is the one I remember best, four miles out of a metropolis called, Searchlight, Nevada. I hated the loneliness of the desert, dreamed of cities, of playmates, of sounds, of people next door; but I loved it, too---the cactus and the greasewood that sprawled on the desert flow, the tiny yellow flowers of spring. My first patients were the local animals and pets who had to endure dressing up for my tea parties.” At some point the family moved to San Bernardino, California and received her BA from the University of California and MA at Stanford, specializing in languages. Subsequently she taught Spanish at the Bishop School in La Jolla and later in Los Angeles. It was while she was teaching that Edith began studying at night at the Chouinard Art School and the rest is history. She married once to fellow classmate Charles Head, but the marriage was short lived. Later Edith married set designer Wiard Ihnen in 1940 and their marriage lasted until his death in 1979. However, she continued to be known as Edith Head until her death. (October 28, 1897-October 24, 1981).
Dear Edith, Your legacy rises to the celestial stars. Your work on a wide span of motion pictures and television shows, your advice as The Dress Doctor, and your amazing rise to stardom as America’s first and foremost costume designer leaves me breathless with awe and admiration. I am, as always, your admirer, Polly Guerin.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The grand seductress, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor may never have succeeded to the British throne but her reign of celebrity can best be attributed to the period in which she was a conniving American socialite who married, as her third husband, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. The king's desire to marry a twice-divorced American with two living ex-husbands caused a sensation throughout the world, and particularly a crisis in the United Kingdom and the Dominions. This decision led to the King's abdication in December 1936 and all ears were pinned to the radio to hear the King decision to marry "the woman I love." After the abdication, the former king was created Duke of Windsor by his brother George VI. Edward married Wallis six months later after which she was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, but never "Her Royal Highness." One wonders what was so special about this amazing Deco decadent woman to be able to capture the king's heart? Albeit she was a good style setter, she wasn't exactly a beauty. Perhaps it was her sexuality that pinned him down to her allegiance?
An Advantages Alliance
As a prominent figure in the privileged social set in Britain in the 1930s the reigning celebrity couple was Edward, Prince of Wales and his then-mistress Lady Thelma Furness. It is no doubt that the Prince met Wallis at various house parties when she was married to her second husband, Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a shipping executive and former captain in the Coldstream Guards. Wallis was ripe for a new assignation. For one thing, Ernest was beginning to encounter financial difficulties and providence played its opportunistic hand when Lady Furness was away in New York. Abetting Wallis' access to the Prince, before she left Lady Furness unwisely asked Wallis to look after Edward and indeed she did. While Furness was traveling Wallis wove her web of attraction and became the Prince's mistress ousting Lady Furness and alienating him from his former lover.
The Fatal Attraction
You've heard of the term 'fatal attraction.' Well, the Prince was so totally besotted with Wallis that he found her domineering and abrasive irreverence toward his position appealing. In the words of one biographer, he became 'slavishly dependent' on her. If one could look into Edward's upbringing, nannies at birth, shunted to private schools and absence of close motherly love one can perhaps understand the alienation from his family that developed in one so sensitive that he was willing to accept partnership with such a controlling woman. His courtiers became increasingly alarmed as the affair began to interfere with his official duties. Off they went with no concern for his official Princely duties to holiday in Europe. As was the custom of wealthy men, he showered Wallis with money and jewels but when Edward presented Wallis to his mother, at a party in Buckingham Palace, his father was was outraged, primarily on account of her marital history. What's more divorced people were excluded from court.
Romantic Crisis
By the time that Edward had ascended to the throne as Edward VIII after George V died, it became apparent to all concerned, the Court and Government, that Edward was determined to marry Wallis. One major setback was the Church of England that did not permit the re-marriage of divorced people with living ex-spouses, and Wallis already had two ex-spouses. Her marriage Edward would be her third alliance. They could get married in a civil ceremony, but the constitutional position was that the king could not marry a divorcee and remain as King. The marriage idea between the King and an American divorcee was extremely unpopular not only in the British Empire but also because Wallis was perceived as a conniving woman who was pursuing the King because of hsi wealth and position. Although Wallis under pressure by the king's Lord-in-Waiting, Peregrin Cust, 6th Baron Brownlow, was urged to renounce the King, and she did so in a press statement. The King, on the other hand realized that in order to remain the King, Wallis could not be Queen. Furthermore if the King were to marry Wallis, the government would be required to resign, causing a constitutional crisis. Under these conditions if the King wished to marry Wallis he had no option but to abdicate.
The Bitter End
No member of the British Royal family attend the wedding on Wallis and Edward and they were childless. Rumor has it that Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) remained bitter towards the Duchess of Windsor for her role in bringing George VI to the throne and for prematurely behaving as Edward's consort when she was his mistress. This attitude was mere speculation because Queen Elizabeth never voiced it publically.
So the celebrity couple reigned over friends and acquaintances throughout the world traveling with their gang of pug dogs and great amounts of travel luggage. One never knows whether Edward, the Duke of Windsor ever regretted his choice or how truly happy he was in the end.
There's is much more about Edward and Wallis' life together but I have touched on here only the segment of their amazing romance and his abdication. For more information contact www.theduke&

Friday, November 6, 2009


CARMEN MIRANDA: The Brazilian Bombshell
Dear Reader: Those of us who remember that dynamic "tutti frutti " dancing diva, Carmen Miranda, will never forget her bombastic style and sensuous singing. Carmen Miranda who died on August 5, 1955 at the far too young age of 46 set the standard for Latin performers. She broke through racial barriers to make a dramatic mark on the silver screen in Hollywood and by some accounts she was one of the highest-paid artists and reported to be the highest-earning woman in the United States during the 1940s and 1950's, the heyday of her oeuvre.
Promoting Brazil
Although Portuguese-born, Miranda was famous for promoting Brazil in her role as an entertainer. It is no wonder, therefore, that Brazilians called her their own. When she died, according to her wishes her body was flown back to Brazil where the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. In tribute to her colossal memory more than a million people stood on the funeral possession's route to mourn her untimely death.
A Good Will Ambassador
This was no ordinary diva. Carmen Miranda was a good will ambassador for Brazil as part of President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy, designed to strengthen links with Latin America and Europe. The premise of President Roosevelt's policy was that in delivering entertainment like hers, the policy would be better received by the American public. And, indeed it did just that. The public wanted more but her career was short lived.
A Samba Singer
The phrase "Tropicalismo" and CARMEN MIRANDA click together like the rhythm of a samba. The Brazilian Bombshell began her career as a samba singer in 1928 the height of the Jazz Age in American movies, but she was already a genuine superstar in Brazil. I recall seeing many of her iconic stylized and outlandishly flamboyant performances and reveled at her amazing dexterity and vitality that lit up the silver screen with jiggling musical numbers. All the while her antics were original entertainment exuding sexy shimmy and shakes all the time dancing to the beat of a Brazilian band and singing one of her trademark songs, "Chick-A-Boom, Chick-A-Boom." When you repeat these words, "Chick-A-Boom, Chick-A-Boom," you can just feel the beat that makes you want to move to the Latin rhythm. Carmen Miranda became known as "the lady in the "tutti-frutti hat," appearing in Hollywood movies wearing high platform shoes and towering turban-like headdresses made of fruit or other exotic decorations. The platform shoes gave the petite entertainer height as did the towering headdresses and the sensuous evening wear she wore slithered to the curves of her curvaceous body.
Tutti Fruity Inspiration
Carmen Miranda's hat fetish may harken back to the early days when she was employed in a hat shop in Rio, which incidentally was called Olinda, the name of her oldest sister. Carmen Miranda was primarily a super star, a modern woman who multi-tasked her talents in several directions. Her fruit laden hats and sensuous costumes inspired a collection of fruity Bakelite jewelry--pins, brooches, bracelets, necklaces, which today are highly collectible mementos of her iconography. Any woman on a budget could find commercial versions of fruity jewelry, which were sold in fashionable department stores. I remember my aunt Doris, who was quite a flamboyant character herself, wearing a matching tutti-fruity necklace and bracelet, plus an outfit that reminded me of Carmen Miranda's style. Doris was a party woman and paid tribute to Miranda by dancing to the tune of Latin bands in the late 1950s.
Entertainer Extraordinaire
A trouper to the end, Carmen Miranda unknowingly suffered a mild heart attack during a live segment of the Jimmy Durante Show. Miranda quickly pulled herself together to finish the show, but the strain was too much for her and she died later that night after suffering a second heart attack at her home. In retrospect accounts in the newspapers of her passing revealed that her untimely death was caused in part by the fact that in the later years of her life Miranda, like so many other stars, began taking amphetamines and barbiturates which took a toll on her body.
Further abetting her unhappiness she had an extremely difficult and abusive marriage. Her sister Aurora stated in the documentary, "Bananas is My Business, that the marriage was a burden in her life; he only married her for her money." Amazing, is it not, that despite it all she smiled and beguiled us with her ebullient silver screen personality.
The Art Deco World Congress
Members of the Art Deco Society of New York will be attending the 11th World Congress on Art Deco in Rio de Janeiro in 2011 and among the places they will probably visit is the museum dedicated to Carmen Miranda in the Flamengo neighborhood on Avenida Rui Barbosa. Marcio Alves Roiter, Founder-President of the Instituto Art Deco Brasil, is spearheading the Art Deco congress in Rio, which is destined to be an outstanding occasion to visit Art Deco architecture, museums, galleries and all things that are Latin Art Deco. To learn more about the Art Deco Congress visit: ( The Carmen Miranda museum in Rio houses a treasure trove of original costumes, her amazing "tutti frutti" hats and clips of her filmography. Why not take a vicarious trip to Brazil now by visiting the museum. For more information about the exhibits click the Rio link at Doni Sacramento has also created one of the best Internet sources on Carmen,
Legendary Landmarks
If you're in California nostalgic inquirers may wish to visit Carmen Miranda Square, which is only one of a number of Los Angeles city intersections named for the legendary performer. Interested? Go to the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive across from Grauman's Chinese Theater where Carmen Miranda's footprints are preserved in concrete. Imagine if you will how it might feel to put your feet into Carmen's imprints and recall the pulsating rhythm that must have emanated from such animated feet.
Get Into Carmen Miranda Groove
Why not take a vicarious trip back in time, put on some samba music and remember Carmen Miranda's incredible energy, "joie de vivre" joy for life and her captivating smile. If she were with us today she might say, "Dance like you've never danced before, stay up all night, get carried away and dance like nobodies watching but do it Carmen Miranda style!!!"

Saturday, October 31, 2009


by Polly Guerin

Dear Josephine: Your legendary performance in Paris conquering racial prejudice, your Rainbow tribe of adopted children , and your amazing espionage work during WWII all add up to words: Stupendous, Amazing Diva, Formidable!!! The world may remember your beautiful dancing body, costumed for the Danse des Bananes (Banana Dance), but by the 1930s recognized as a sensation, chanteuse extraordinaire and a movie star, you were Europe's highest-paid entertainer. Your elegant fashion style was the height of chic and imitators of your celebrity followed.
My vicarious thrill of visiting the restaurant, Chez Josephine, named after the club Chez Josephine, which you opened in Paris in 1926, brought back remembrances of an extraordinary individual, a woman of steel but with a sensuous body that one reviewer said, "She is in constant motion, her body writhing like a snake." The Chez Josephine restaurant that honors your name and your memory, owned and run by your adopted sons Jean-Claude and Jarry (Jari) in Theatre Row, 42nd Street, New York, is as beguiling and enticing as the memory of "La Baker," the first Black superstar given the nicknames the "Bronze Venus" or the "Black Pearl."
Le Revue Negre
Rising from humble birth, Josephine's early years were desolate to say the least. Living as a street child in the black slums of St. Louis, her street corner dancing attracted attention and she was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show. From there Josephine made her name as a vaudeville cutup and dancer during the Harlem Renaissance, performing in "Tan Town Topics" revue in 1925 in the Plantation Club, above the Winter Garden Theater (Broadway and 50th Street). Later Josephine landed in the chorus of the popular Broadway revues Shuffle Along (1922) and The Chocolate Dandies (1924). Perhaps it was as the last dancer in the chorus line that Baker honed her skills as a comedian for in this position the dancer was expected to perform in a comic manner, as if she was unable to remember the dance, until the encore, when she recovered and performed with additional complexity. But it was her performances in Paris at the age of 19, when she appeared in La Revue Negre as an exotic "savage," topless and barefoot, dressed only in a skirt of feathers (the bananas came later) that transformed her into a Paris sensation. Baker's success coincided with the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes (Paris, 1925), which later gave us the term "Art Deco." The event included exhibitions of ethnicity including African art and Baker represented the Black Goddess--a sensual, creative force and fashionable icon of the era.
Chiquita Her Pet Cheetah
In later shows in Paris, 1930, she was often accompanied on stage by her famous pet cheetah, Chiquita, who was adorned with a diamond collar. "One night the cheetah escaped from Josephine's compound of animals and made his way to a house in an adjoining village and tried to climb into bed with an elderly lady. When the officials demanded that Chiquita be put in a zoo, Josephine lowered her head mourned its absence saying, "He died." As far as Josephine was concerned, her jungle cat behind bars at the Jardin D'Acclimatation might as well have been dead." (Wm Wiser, The Great Good Place/W.W.Norton & Co.)
Under the management of Giuseppe Abatino, or Pepito, a self-appointed royal who sometimes assumed the title Count of Albertini, Josephine's reputation changed dramatically and her stage and singing voice went from being a 'petite danseuse sauvage' with a decent voice to 'la grande diva magnifique.' Pepito had a quick study of manners and mores, and passed on these refinements to Josephine, transforming her into a woman of fashionable chic. Josephine could be seen crossing the Pont Royal with Chiquita, her jewel-collared pet to coordinate with her matching outfit.
Honors & The Rainbow Tribe
Josephine most successful song, "J'ai Deux Amours" (Two Loves Have I), 1931 reflected her affection for France and when World War II broke out, she volunteered to spy for her adopted country. She devoted herself towards raising funds for De Gaulle's Free French forces and operated as a spy during her travels. However, none of the honors received---the Legion of d'Honneur, the Medaille de la Resistance and the Croix de Guerre for her military service---nor the celebrity attached to the name 'Josephine Baker' could pevent the foreclosure and loss of her chateau, Les Milandes, in 1969. Long before Modanna and Angelina, Josephine Baker was the ultimate celebrity adopter. The chateau, a home for her adopted family, housed twelve orphaned children, of various hues and personalities, collected in the countries throughout the world where she had performed, an international family of outcast infants she called the Rainbow Tribe. In the spirit of the United Nations and "the Family of Man," Baker wanted to show that people from anywhere could live together in what she called, the "Village du Monde." (World Village) She was the first entertainer to create a virtual theme park with a simulated African village, J-shaped swimming pool and even a nightclub with herself as the main attraction. However, Josephine's extravagances and mounting debts forced the chateau's closure and the court evicted her and the children in 1969.
Homage to Baker
It is comforting to know that Baker's extraordinary story, objet d'art, posters, costumes and film clips are preserved in the Chateau des Milandes Museum in southwestern France. One can tour the chateau and even see one of the children's bedrooms as well as Baker's unprecedented taste for personal luxury. Long Live "La Baker"style.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Thursday, October 22, 2009

FLEUR COWLES INTERVIEWED By Polly Guerin, Fashion Historian

Dear Fleur: When I first met you at the Lowell hotel in New York City in 2003 you were ever more the embodiment of a remarkable woman, the vibrant author, painter, ambassador, hostess, philanthropist, raconteur and most famously the creator and editor of FlAIR Magazine. The magazine's legendary keyhole covers with distinctive peekaboo cut outs, fold outs and pop-ups intrigued and mesmerized readers who coveted each issue for its artistic pleasures.The reproductions of artworks and a variety of paper stocks created an a magazine of amazing novelty. Famed artists including Rene Gruau, who enlivened such magazines as Marie-Claire and Femina in the 30s,, contributed to its pages. At the time I interviewed Fleur she said, "The magazine has never been repeated copied or equaled, and its name and fame are still alive today. I gave my 12 FLAIR issues to the archives of the Fashion Institute of Technology, so that students may reference these remarkable journals, but I miss Flair and I miss you.
FLEUR COWLES (pronounced 'coals') took great pride in her short-lived magazine, FLAIR. It was published in the 1950s during her marriage to Gardner Cowles Jr., known as Mike, the publisher of Look Magazine. Fleur said, "I wanted each issue of Flair to be different, to be a sense of surprise. No issued followed a formula. I insisted that each issue be unexpected in its coverage and diverse topics. I intended FLAIR to be a new dimension in magazine publishing and the most beautiful publication anywhere to provide a priceless source of artistic innovation."Turning the pages of FLAIR with its die-cuts that revealed one sensational novelty after another was a graphic surprise that enhanced the reading experience. Fleur reminisces about how she created the Paris edition's double page spread with its window views of the Place Vendome. "Amusing as it may have seemed to a passerby, I simply sat in a doorway of a building, in the Place Vendome with my drawing pad and sketched out the various places of interest and these became the vignettes in the double page spread. In the magazine one couldlift the little windows and view inside the Ritz Hotel's tea garden, the boutiques of Elizabeth Arden, Coty, Elsa Schiaparelli and Lucien Lelong."Fleur Cowles, who rose from modest beginnings in New York became a social icon and friend of the powerful and famous of her era, was born, according to census records, on January 20, 1908 and died at the age of 101 in 2009. She was the daughter of Morris and Lena Friedman and her name at birth was Florence. It is alleged that around the time that she married Mike Cowles that she changed her name to Fleur.Her career began, she said, at age 15, when she became an advertising copywriter for Gimbels department store. After several marriages and a divorce from Cowles, who she divorced in 1955, Fleur married Tom Montague Meyer. Fleur gave up editing after marrying Mr. Meyer, but continued to write books and chronicled her life in her book, "She Made Friends and Kept Them" (Harper Collins). She also illustrated a number of her books, including "People As Animals," "the Flower Game" and "The Life and Times of the Rose.""I have an idea a minute," Ms. Cowles once said, "I'm a born idea myself." Fleur recommends taking life with 'no regrets' saying, "Avoid the big 'What If?' That's a terrible regret. Life is a continuous circle, it's not just about money, but about pride, advice, giving happiness, and creating one's dream."Thank You Fleur for with you as my muse I am following my dream to it's fullest potential. In 1994 the harry Ransom Humanities Center at the University of Texas, Austin, opened the Fleur Cowles Room, a replica of her study in London.
Posted by Polly Guerin at 7:43 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Everybody knows that accessories make an outfit, and it seems you can never have too many evening bags, especially a Minaudiere. The French word describes an elegant but small, highly jeweled hard metal case that one can nestle in their hand. These charming little handfuls are more an art form than anything else and placed on the dinner table or worn at a gala event these minaudieres look like portable art. "Bubbles," the late Beverly Sills, had hundreds of them and mostly as gifts or bought from Judith Leiber the famed handbag designer, pictured here, who produced animal, avant-garde and whimsical shapes all jeweled and emblazoned with eye popping colorful rhinestones. Among Bubbles' collection, recently auctioned at Doyle, were a Doctor's Bag Minaudiere, A Shell Minaudiere, an Elephant Deity Minaudiere, and a wide assortment of Faberge Egg Minaudieres. Minaudiere in its original sense was a charming way to describe a coquette, a person with affected manners.
Contemporary minaudieres are just that coquettish but their incarnation is ascribed by Deborah Chase, (a new RWA/NYC member) in her book, TERMS OF ADORNMENT: The Ultimate Guide to Accessories (HarperCollins), as having been created by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1930, when Charles Arpels noticed that one of his clients was using a metal Lucky Strike box as a purse. He adapted the look and named it after the wife of his partner, Estelle Van Cleef, who was "minaudiere" (charming). At first minaudieres were made of gold plated or silver metal and encrusted with genuine gems, but the look was too delicious to remain exclusive. Within a decade you could find the dainty purse on female arms throughout America. Deborah recommends that, "You look for vintage mother-of-pearl, petit point, or beaded minaudieres in flea markets and antique stores and to modernize the minaudiere change the short wrist strap for a long chain so that you can hang the small bag from your shoulder."
Mad about a certain book cover? Your own, of course! Have it immortalized on a square-shaped minaudiere. That's the concept behind a magical new line of limited edition minaudieres by Paris-based, Olympia Le-Tan, evoking first-edition covers of 21 classics. The collection is handmade in France, using canvas, embroidered flet applique and silk thread, with a brass strictire. Each minaudiere book retails for $l,500 and the boutique Colette is the exclusive Paris distributor for the collection. (213 Rue Saint-Honore, 7500l; +33-1-55-35-33-90.) Now that's a great new way to promote your romantic book. Not only is a book minaudiere a good marketing tool, it will certainly draw attention to your novel and You. Perhaps you can find a handbag manufacturer who can personalize a book minaudiere for your best selling novel.
Terry Mayer, jewelry designer, takes it one step further and creates book miniatures in silver or another alloy, and imprints the title of a book on the cover so you can wear the little jewelry book on a chain, front and center. Visit her at ♥
BIO: Polly Guerin's first job in journalism was as Accessories Editor at the fashion bible, the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily where she honed her skills on writing about accessories and later as professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology she lectured on Product Knowledge explained how accessories were made and manufactured. Polly is also a vice-president of Romance Writers of America/New York Chapter. Visit her at with links to her Internet PollyTalk column and

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Her name was linked with Aldous Huxley, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Man Ray and Constantine Brancusi to name a few. Perhaps the most profound relationship she shared was with Henry Crowder, an African-American jazz musician who was working in Paris and became her black lover. At this time she became an activist concerning racial politics and dedicated her life to civil rights but it cost her both her family and her fortune. Negro; An Anthology, edited by Nancy, came about because of her affair with Crowder and they both shared in its creation. The 850 page collection of articles, gathered by Cunard and Crowder was inspired by the excitement of the Harlem Renaissance, the negrophilia craze that swept Europe in the 1920s, and Cunard's desire to create a book that would help Blacks understand their African ancestry.
However, her mother, the aristocratic Lady Cunard, born Maud Alice Burke, an American Heiress in her own right, did not approve of such an Inter-racial relationship and Nancy became alienated from her family, and at one point she was cut off financially. Her pursuit of the Black cause created a great deal of negative publicity but she bulldozed her way ahead reflecting in her work her rage against her family and the London and American societies that rejected her. In that era of widespread prejudice it enraged the general public that a woman of such impeccable breeding could choose to 'get down' with Blacks. In May 1932, two years before the book was published, Cunard received anonymous threats and hate mail which included phrases like "you are a disgrace to the white race," and " either give up sleeping with your nigger lover or face the consequence." Any other woman with less fortitude of purpose would have fainted. Not Cunard, she put some of the hate mail in the book and rallied on as a champion of the Black race.
Such is the legend of Nancy Cunard but who would have ever guessed that the beautiful heiress of the Cunard shipping fortune would spurn a life of privilege and fortune to become a pivotal player in many historical events of her era. Fight for the oppressed was her mantra. In the mid-1930s her attention focused on the anti-fascist fight and the Spanish Civil War. Lois Gordon in her book, "Nancy Cunard: Rebellious Heiress, Inspired Life," recounts that as the only eye witness reporter for the Manchester Guardian she trudged to battlefronts in the midst of artillery fire. Her stories about the suffering of Spanish refugees became the basis for a fundraising appeal in the newspaper. Cunard herself helped deliver supplies and organize relief effort. Plagued by poor heal and the dreadful conditions she was forced to return to Paris, where she stood in the streets collection funds for refugees. She predicted accurately , that the "events in Spain were a prelude of another world war."
It is sad to know that in later years Nancy Cunard had on one to rally to her side and help her in her to fight to battle of mental illness. Her health deteriorated and she weighed only sixty pounds when she was found on the street in Paris and brought to the Hopital Cochin, where she died at 69. Her ashes rest in an urn number 0916 in the Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise in Paris. Adieu, Nancy Cunard, an amazing Art Deco woman. Let's pay homage to the memory of this rebel crusader who spurned a life of celebrity to champion just causes.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Dear Elsa: What could be more witty than wearing the Shoe Hat, a hat shaped like a woman's high heeled shoe. Only Madame Schiaparelli, the friend of Salvadore Dali, Jacques Cocteau and other artists of the Surrealic and Dada movements could have created such a witty bit of fashion froth. Yet, even Daisy Fellowes, Franco-American editor of French Harper's Bazaar wore it and others followed your sensational advant-garde approach to fashion. You were the epitome of the art of "genius," which aptly describes your creative and innovative oeuvre. You brought a sense of playfulness to fashion, reacting as it did against the rational and formal real world and substituting instead fantasy and "je n'est ce pas." I am your admirer.
The Lobster Dress

What would the fashionistas in Maine say about the 1937 Lobster Dress? Well Schiaparelli, the most outlandish of the Parisian haute couture designers might have said, "If you can't eat your lobster you can wear it." Quite simply she created a white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband onto which the Salvador Dali painted a large red lobster on the skirt. And, dear readers of this blog, did anyone catch Wallis Simpson wearing the same dress at the Chateau de Cande, where photographer, Cecil Beaton took a series of photos of the temptress who caught the heart of a Edward VIII. Isn't this lobster dress quite symbolic as Wallis got her claws on the king apparent with a lobster grip?

The 1936 "Desk Suit"

Going to the office would never be the same wearing the "Desk Suit." Tailored and fit for even modern executive princesses, Schiaparelli designed the jacket with a series of pockets, real and false, fashioned and embroidered by the famous House of Lesage to look like desk drawers with buttons for knobs. Alas this may have been one way to carry your office to extremes, but it beats anything the "Devil Wears Prada" wore. The suit was based on two Surrealist drawings by Salvador Dali entitled, 'City of Drawers' and 'Venus de Milo of Drawers.' Surrealism in fashion thrived in the l930s, and

Scap's smart, sophisticated and witty clothes took the fashion world by storm. I predict that it's about time that fun was brought back into fashion. It was Scap who created sweaters with surrealist trompe l'oeil images. When Lili de Alvarez wore Scap's divided skirt

at the Wimbledon Championships in 1931 she shocked the tennis world but this paved the way for shorts which were soon to follow. Her sport collection were a sensation and Scap's business percipitated a moved from the Rue de La Paix to the Schiap Shop in the prestigious Place Vendome.

A Rival of Chanel

The Chanel empire may have been the most successful financially, Schiaparelli's legacy was that of an originator, she did not follow the rules, but was more originator in a class by herself, an artist who made fashion. Along with Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli is regarded as one of the most prominent designers in fashion between the two World Wars. Women coveted her crafty designs and trompe l'oeil sweaters. The rag business on 7th Avenue in New York City copied her original surreal ideas and coast to coast every little shop girl, secretary and model, who probably never even heard of Scap were wearing her fashions from coast to coast. Let's give credit where credit is due. Schiaparelli created wraparound dresses way before Diane von Furstenberg. Remember those l930s flicks with soignee ladies wear evening dresses with a chic little jacket? That was a first by Scap as well as fastenings on jackets with novelty buttons like vegetables or flowers. Details like this made fashion fun and exciting to wear. Even her perfume "Shocking" packaged in the brilliant hue of hot pink was notable for its torso bottle. It was inspired by Mae West's figure for Scap had created costumes for Mae West using a mannequin based on West's measurements.

Born into Royalty

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), the Italian fashion designer, headquarters Paris, was born under of star of privilege at the Palazzo Corsini in Rome. Her famous lineage included Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered the canali of Mars, and she spent many hours with him studying the heavens and forming her own dreams of

fantasy. After a short stint at a convent, not doubt arranged by her family after the publication of a book of her sensuous poems, which shocked their conservative sensibilities. At 22 after a hunger strike Scap escaped the confines of the convent and went off to London to work as a Nanny, but you can be sure that was not on her mind. While attending alecture she met and later married on of her lecturers, Count William de Wendt de Kerlor a Franco-Swiss. theosophist. The no account Count took off as soon as the arrived in New York and left Scap with their child, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, known as Gogo Schiaparelli, who in her day became a celebrated socialite. While in New York Scap met artist Marcel Duchamp, famed for his painting "Nude descending a Staircase" which was a sensation at the Armory Show in 1923. When another friend, Gaby Picabia, owner of a boutique selling French fashion in New York and DuChamp and Man Ray left for Paris, Schiaparelli joined them. The famed designer who freed women from corsets with his chemise dress encouraged Scap to start her own business which initially failed but by l927 her knitwear launch with the trompe l'oeil images took off and her success jumpstarted. During WWII she left Paris and unfortunately Schiaparelli never adapted to the changes in fashion and Dior's 'New Look' was all the rage. She closed her business in l954 and enjoyed her retirement years in comfort between her apartment in Paris and house in Tunisia. Adieu, Schiaparelli!! I can only think how much fun fashion would be if only your great surrealistic passion permeated fashion today.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

SONIA DELAUNAY and ORPHISM (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Sonia: As a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology I often spoke to my students about innovations in color and especially your remarkable ouevre as an outstanding painter and exceptional colorist. The connection between you and the German art collector, Wilhelm Uhde came about when I saw the remarkable film, Seraphine," about the French artist Seraphine Louis of Senil, a poorly educated woman who labored as a domestic in the south of France. Evolving as a
primitive painter Seraphine and Uhde, the avant-garde dealer, developed an unexpected relationship in which he promoted and sold the untrained, visionary maid's primitive art works. Wilhelm Uhde also played a major role in your life by presenting your work in his gallery in Paris and introducing you to Parisian society. You were a woman determined to succeed and married Uhde in a union that brought you to the forefront of the art world.
A Marriage of Convenience
In 1908, pressured by the demands of her influential and wealthy family Sonia needed to take steps to conform to tradition. During her first year in Paris she met and married the homosexual art collector and gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde. This union was no doubt a marriage of convenience to escape her parent's demands and at the same time for Uhde, through this public marriage to Sonia, it would 'save face' so to speak and mask his homosexuality. The marriage was an amicable arrangment and through Uhde's impressive connections and exhibitions of Sonia's art work the stage was set for her launch into the art world. Love in Paris
Love walked in one day when Robert Delaunay's aunt, a frequent visitor to the Uhde Gallery, introduced her nephew to Sonia. There was instant attraction and by April 1909 Sonia and Robert became lovers. They were two artists of kindred spirit but with Sonia's unexpected pregnancy it was decided that she and Uhde should divorce. The Delaunay's son, Charles was born the next year on January 18th.
Struggling Artists
About this time cubist works were introduced in Paris and Robert and Sonia were at the forefront of the movement. He had been studying color theories and "designsimultaneisme," which is similar to the Pointillism, as used by Georges Seurat in which primary color dots placed next to each other are "mixed" by the eye of the beholder. In 1912 Sonia began a series of non-figurative paintings called, Contrastes Simultanes, combining geometric forms with bright, prismatic hues. This work was based on the theory of the simultaneous contrast of colors of the l9th century chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul. Sonia became a leading Parisian artist of Orphism. In the Dulaunay's collaboration financial success was eminent. However, during the early period of the Delaunay's marriage they garnered a meager income and were supported by funds sent from Sonia's aunt in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Orphism Movement
Credit goes to the Delaunay's friend, poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire who coined the term 'Orphism,' a movement which developed out of Cubism, which made color the primary means of artistic expression. Sonia's work extended from painting to textile design, fashion, wallcoverings and stage set design. In 1924 she opened a fashion studio together with the French Haute Couture designer, Jacques Heim. Brilliantly colored and sharply patterned geometric designs were lavishly displayed in the creation of her 'simultaneous' fashions. She not only wore her Orphism influenced garments but stopped traffic in Paris when she appeared wearing a totally coordinated ensemble (cloche hat, coat and matching dress) that merged Orphism art and fashion with the interior of her automobile which was upholstered in matching textile. Sonia's art, fashion and textiles were at the height of commercial production and she exhibited her diverse collection in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which gave way later to the term "Art Deco." In 1964, she was the first living female to have a retrospective at the Louvre and later she was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor.
Early Influences
Sonia Delaunay (nee Terk 1885-1979) was sent at a young age to St. Petersburg where she lived with her mother's brother Henri Terk, a successful and affluent Jewish lawyer. Although her mother was reluctant at first to submit to the plan, Sonia was adopted by the Anna and Henri Terk in 1890. Through this privileged upbringing with the Terks she traveled widely in Europe which introduced Sonia to museums and galleries. In St. Petersburg her skill at drawing was noted by her teacher and when she was eighteen she was sent to art school in Germany, where she attended the Academy of Fine Arts. After reading a book which claimed that Paris was the center of the true art world, Sonia made one of her most decisive decisions and moved to the capital of light where her career took off through her marriage to Uhde. Sonia Delaunay-Terk died in 1979 in Paris at the age of 94 leaving a legacy of color and textile ingenuity, that has influenced countless artists who followed.
Sonia Delaunay was an extraordinary colorist, abstract painter and applied her talents and theories to all areas of visual expression. Her designs in textiles and fashion remain the epitome of modernism.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Modernist Designer: COCO CHANEL

My dear Coco: The last time I visited your Maison de Haute Couture at 31, rue Cambon in Paris, I was a neophyte reporter from the trade journal, the fashion bible, Women's Wear Daily. There I was sitting on the grand staircase viewing the latest fashion collection wildly taking notes and sketches. That did not last long before one of the Directrices of the house promptly asked me to identify myself and promptly scolded, "No sketching of Madame's collection." Alas I was allowed to remain, though my pad and pen had been taken away. Your creations were destined for that "new breed" of amazing Art Deco divas, those self-confidant women who demonstrated their new role in society driving through the era blazing new trails of independence.
COCO CHANEL...Haute Couture Designer Extraordinaire (1883-1971)
Cloaked in mystery and romance Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel is one of the most fascinating women in history. Her extraordinary influence on the way women dressed in the l920's and l930's evokes an image of elegant simplicity and a modernist approach to easy-to-wear fashions that were at that time innovative and provocative. Yes, she is best known for the iconic Chanel jacket, which has had many different revivals, but the authentic classic style was a work of art, the perfection of a genius Haute Couture dressmaker.
I have seen the original Chanel jacket on many occasions when as professor in the Merchandising and Management department at The Fashion Institute of Technology I took my students to visit the archives of the costume collection so that they could see first hand this treasure from the Haute Couture. Attention to detail made the classic Chanel jacket quite a different breed of garment from the traditional tailored jacket. For one thing, it was hand-made and the printed or plain colored lining matched the collar and cuffs and coordinating blouse. The delicate gilt chains sewn to the hem of jacket added a degree of weight so the the jacket stayed in place, did not ride up. The sleeves were another innovation. They were sewn in three pieces to provide a comfortable arm movement. Note the photo above of Coco Chanel wearing the iconic Chanel suit. The way she gestures (circa 1951) to photographer, Alexander Liberman with her right arm illustrates one of her fixations, a comfortable arm movement. It is said that she would rip off the sleeve of her suit time and again to get a perfect fit. Chanel an entrepreneur of amazing energy and determination promoted herself as the role model for other independent women to follow.
Yes, my dears, she was a perfectionist and the end result of her labors and that of her couture house seamstresses was a highly comfortable garment, a suit if you will, that would last for years of wear.
Her choice of wool and tweed fabrics for the Chanel suit was often attributed to the fact that her romance with a certain royal who had connections to the wool mills in Scotland. There was a men's wear influence on her fashions. The basic idea came from the concept of military uniforms. Take for example, the development of casual wear. As the mistress of the Duke of Westminster, she had taken many trips on his yacht. The idle hours did not stop Chanel's imagination. Noting the crew's uniforms she developed sporty jersey yachting fashions and sportswear, which she introduced in her boutique in Deauville, the famous tony resort in the South of France.
Chanel was known to reinvent her heritage and several versions of her early years have emerged and debated. However, if truth be told, she came from rather humble circumstances and when her mother died and her father left the family because he need to raise money to raise his children, Chanel was was sent to the Roman Catholic monastery of Aubazine where she spent seven years under the tutelage of the nuns learning a trade, that of a seamstress. Though the nun's technique was rudimentary Coco's ability was sharpened when she visited female relatives in Paris who improved upon her ability to sew with flair. The time to escape the confines of the orphanage came when Coco turned eighteen. She left the orphanage and took up work with a local tailor.
At that time the serendipitous hand of fate played a dramatic role in changing Coco's lifestyle. While working at the tailor shop she met Etienne Balsan, French playboy and millionaire who took her under his wing and introduced her with the world of the rich and spoiled aristocracy and their playmates. Picture this: While women of the era, circa 1900s were dressed with flamboyant hats and yards of furbelow's and exaggerated fashions Coco , on the other hand, borrowed Etienne's sport jackets and caps and looked like a 'garcon,' a young stable boy. This penchant for the menswear may well have influenced her designs in years to come. However, at this time, she became the darling of the demi monde of the era who were guests at Etienne estate. She began making hats for these women and one might say that her designing career took off when her hats were also worn by celebrated French actresses. With sharpened wits she soon wised up to Etienne escapades and took off for Paris herself, where she opened her first boutique. Although it failed, Chanel was not discouraged and fortuitously Arthur "Boy" Capel came into her life and they fell in love. Falling in love was a regular occurrence for Coco and each time it plummeted her forward to higher levels of business and social success. For one thing, Capel provided the financial backing to open her second millinery boutique in Brittany. Chanel introduced women's sportswear, an off shot of men's casual wear in easy-to-wear fabrics like the humble jersey knits. Her intention was to provide women with simple, comfort dressing in the modern age that had been ushered in with the Jazz Era.
A series of rich and powerful lovers paved the way to fame and fortune. The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in England, counted among her many alliances, rates highest on the list of lovers. Chanel was hardly ever without a lover and was oft to say, "What is a woman without love." In 1939, fearing the wrath of her countrymen Coco closed her Maison de Couture and ensconced herself in the Hotel Ritz. During World War II, she scandalized Parisians by consorting with the enemy and having an affair with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German intelligence officer and Nazi spy, who it appears made it possible for her to remain at the Ritz. In 1945 she fled to Switzerland to escape the wrath of the citizens of France who were appalled at her relationship with a Nazi spy. Remember, many a French woman, who had consorted with the enemy and who was not so well connected or revered, suffered a less than pleasant fate. Their heads were shaved and they were driven out of Paris or their villages to fend on their own, particularly if they were carrying a child fathered by a German. Not so for Coco Chanel, she had connections. The British Royal Family's intervention prevented her from being brought to trial and it seems the French population seemingly forgave her.
Eventually the hysteria subsided and in 1954 Chanel returned to Paris and the fashion world reopening her Maison de Couture at 31, rue Cambon. For obvious reasons, her first collection wasn't a huge success with the Parisians but she found new, more affable clients in the Americans and her reputation continued to soar well into the 70s. The iconic Chanel suit had staying power, but Karl Lagerfeld who since l983 has been the designer for the house of Chanel, has forged ahead with new concepts in both the Haute Couture and pret-a-porter collections. To see Chanel's apartment in Paris go to and click on rue Cambon.
Dear Coco: You've led a remarkable life. You've been portrayed in the musical "Coco" as well as in the movie "Coco, and you've been featured in literary depictions of your many splendid affairs evoluting as one of the most influential people of the 20Th Century (Time Magazine). You have been and continue to be an inspiration to aspiring designers and to women you have given them license to enjoy the "joie de vivre" of living to its fullest advantage and to keep love close to their heart. Your admirer Polly Guerin

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TAMARA DE LEMPICKA, Painter Extraordinaire

Dear Tamara: Art Deco painter extraordinaire, Russian Revolution refugee, bohemian, socialite, classic beauty, but I remember you best on the cover of the German fashion magazine, Die Dame, Auto-Portrait, Tamara in your Green Bugatti, chicly helmeted, your glove hand at the steering wheel driving forward as a free, independent woman paving the route for women of the century to follow in your footsteps. What an amazing life your carved out for yourself and despite being born into a wealthy and prominent Polish family, your steely personality was your strongest quality that fostered courage and determination to succeed in a life, which through twists and turns could have easily made you a movie star. You possessed a persona and beauty that rivaled Hollywood stars but your reputation as a famous Art Deco painter is legendary. It comes full circle today as your iconic paintings are rediscovered and sort after by new admirers.
A childhood of neglect did not curtail Tamara's amazing independent spirit. The core of her heritage is that of a privileged individual. Born on May 16, 1898, she was named Maria and later in life adapted the name Tamara. Her mother, the former Malvina Decler was a Polish socialite and her father Boris-Gurwik-Gorski was a Polish lawyer. As was the case in the privileged aristocracy her wealthy and prominent Polish family shunted her off to boarding school in Switzerland. However, her first exposure to the Great Masters of Italian painting came when she fortuitously spent the winter of 1911 with her grandmother in Italy. Another plum in Tamara's development was when her parents divorced in 1912 and she went to live with her wealthy Aunt Stefa in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Tamara must have been quite a beauty even then because at the age of fifteen she set her sights on marrying the man of her dreams and with her campaign to win him over, albeit abetted by her well-connected uncle, she married Tadeusz Lempicki in St. Petersburg. Rumor had it, however, that this bon vivant man, ladies man and lawyer by title only, probably was more seduced by Tamara's significant dowry.
Their privileged lifestyle came to a startling end during the Russian Revolution in 1917 when Tadeusz was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Escaping to Paris, as so many other aristocratic refugees did, the Lempickas lived for a while from the sale of her family jewels. Tadeusz, who was so used to his privileged ways, was of no help and he was either unable, but most like unwilling to find work. The burden was placed on Maria to become the breadwinner. The Lempickas' dire circumstances may have been the very catalyst that pushed Tamara into painting. Paris, the city of light and haven for artistic venues was the ideal place for Tamara's artistic development. It was also at this time that Tamara gave birth of her only child, a daughter named Kizette, who like own neglected childhood, Tamara rarely saw her daughter and sent her off to boarding school.
De Lempicka developed a technique that truly exemplified the Art Deco era. he lines had an architectural quality, sleek, clean and elegant, yet a certain curvelinear softness which was described as "soft cubism." Through her aristocratic connections she produced numerous portraits and the Lempickas' lifestyle significantly improved. During the Roaring 20's Tamara was a recognized celebrity. She knew the best of the Bohemians from Pablo Picasso to Jean Cocteau and her bisexual appetite was legendary and became the source of the gossip mongers. Tadeusz got fed up with it all and they were divorced in 1928. Perfectly timing because a long time patron, Baron Raoul Kuffner, commissioned her to paint his mistress but true to her winsome ways Tamara replaced the mistress when the portrait was finished.
Through Kuffner, who she married in 1933 (his wife had died), Tamara was re-established on the highly socially connected cognoscenti. The depression didn't seem to curtail her output and her painting continued its popular course of commissions. The Kuffner's eventually settled in Beverly Hills, California and began to socialize with the Hollywood stars of the day. She became known as 'the baroness with the brush' and cultivated a Garboesque persona, which wasn't too difficult to do, because Tamara was still a blonde haired beauty and was often compared to the legendary star.
However, her trademark style of angularity in figures of celebs and aristocrats, carved like sculpture in streamlined poses, were beginning to lose popularity. Tamara tried palette painting but this technique never took off. She retired as a professional artist in 1962 and after Baron Kuffner's death, the same year, Tamara traveled extensively, then lived with her daughter Kizette for a while in Houston, Texas and finally moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1978 where she died in her sleep on March 19, 1980.
Dear Tamara, though your iconic style of painting lost favor in the 1970s, you are not forgotten, but rather adored again. Your fan's have rediscovered your oeuvre and in plays and music have paid homage to your amazing independent spirit, an Art Deco painter extraordinaire, who I will always remember racing into the future in her Green Bugatti.
Your admirer, Polly Guerin

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Dorothy Parker: An Extraordinary Wit!!!
Dear Ms. Parker: We miss your witty repartee, the famous Algonquin Round Table compatriots Woollcott, Benchley, Kaufman and other notables. Yours was a decidedly magical circle of like minded authors, poets, theater critics and motion picture writers---all characters in their own right who live on in the collective memory of those who aspire to be writers. Your admirer, Polly Check SpellingGuerin
DOROTHY PARKER: What can we say about Dottie that you don't already know? Although her accomplishments spanned many venues she was most famous as a sharp tongued wit. Upon finding herself pregnant by a lover she merely remarked, "Serves me Right for keeping all my eggs in one bastard," or "Brevity is the soul of lingerie," and my favorite,"The two most beautiful words in the English language are 'cheque enclosed,'"One of the most successful things she did was to fall in with the likes of Robert Benchly and Alexander Woollcott. These three were the original founders of the Algonquin Round Table and other notable characters of the day joined in. As the cognoscenti listened and the newspapers quoted their every remark of witticism the fame of the round table participants escalated into heroic proportions.Dorothy Parker's celebrity was a self-made phenomenon, though her last name was Rothschild, there was no connection to the banking royals. She had a modest background residing in the summer in Long Branch, New Jersey and also on the Upper West Side in New York City. Life dealt some sad blows at an early age. Parker was orphaned at five years old when her mother, Annie (nee Marston) of Scottish descent died. She never liked her stepmother, Eleanor, and insisted on referring to her as "the housekeeper," and I wonder if she ever said that to Eleanor's face. Her father, Jacob Henry Rothschild of German-Jewish descent, did not fare any better as she quite frankly detested him as well. That did not last long because her stepmother died when Parker was nine and her father died when she was thirteen. One wonders how she managed, but legend has it that she played piano at a dancing school to earn her keep whilst she was continually working on her poetry. Poetry opened the door to other opportunities. She sold her first poem to Vanity Fair magazine in 1914 which caused the attention of Conde Nast magazine, Vogue, where she worked as an editorial assistant. As would have it in a fledgling but talented career Parker moved on to Vanity Fair and later to Vogue, where she no doubt wrote that editorial caption, "Brevity is the soul of lingerie." Parker's caustic wit caught on with national acclaim as did he feature articles, short stories and most notable among her vast output is "Enough Rope," and "Big Blonde." A stint in Hollywood as a screen writer with her then husband, Alan Campbell collaborated on the script for the 1937 film, A Star is Born, for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing-Screenplay. Parker is noted for her celebrated love affairs, but notable are her three marriages, the first in 1917 to Wall Street stock broker,Edwin Pond Parker II was short lived, and although she divorced Campbell she did remarry him, making three marriages in a busy career. In Parker's later years she became politically active and when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, she remarked to a startled audience, "Listen, I can't even get my dog to say down. Do I look like someone who could overthrow the government." Parker lived a long a productive life, accompanied in the end by her dog and her alcoholic dementia. After her death on a sunny day in 1967 at the age of 73 her will revealed that she had bequeathed her estate to D. Martin Luther King, Jr. foundation, and after King's death, her estate was passed on to the NAACP. Sadly, Parker's ashes due to some unexplainable flaw remained in her attorney's filing cabinet for l7 years. For a celebrated American writer and amazing wit this was an incredible ending. Righting this wrong the NAACP claimed Parker's remains and created a memorial garden outside their Baltimore headquarters. The Plaque reads:"Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested, 'Excuse my dust'. This memorial garden is dedicate to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. October 28, 1988."So adieu Dottie, dear Dorothy Parker, remarkable and original wit, poet, author, screenwriter and wordsmith par excellance. We sure do miss you.
Labels: Algonquin Round Table Wit, Poet, Author