Friday, 25 December 2009

London Calling Avon: Punk Rock Girl Turns Avon Lady
Above: the Avon Lady of popular imagination

And Now--Miss Justine Brown in Conversation with Miss Calla Jameison!

When Miss Brown first met Calla, they were teenagers on the punk rock scene. Miss Brown remembers a lively, witty, pretty girl with glowing skin-- skin that sticks in the mind of Skool-goer Miss Laura Watson as well. Laura, a gal with a great complexion who has always had a keen for others, rated Calla's as the best of all the girls.

Then there was the time she went bald. How many girls can pull off this look? Not many.

Lynn, Ageita, Calla, Eve, and Dawn at a gig (pic by Eric Foto)

But Calla could. All these years later, who knew that pogo-dancing Calla would be a poster girl for the legendary cosmetics firm we call Avon? Can the one be reconciled with the other? When Miss Brown talked to Calla again, it all fell into place. The common ground here is a certain DIY ethos.

Q: Punk rock girl to Avon lady-- it's a dramatic transformation. Let's start with the girl. What drew you into the punk scene?

Calla early-mid 1990s

I met some people who were punk and quite willing to challenge the status quo-- both in music and politics. I was very much affected by the threat of nuclear war, so those punks' refusal to just blindly accept what our politicians told us really resonated with me. I was also very keen on the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Q: Tell us about your style back then-- makeup, hair, clothes, attitude...Best described as Original Dirty Girl. Lots of heavy eye makeup, hair bleached blond or dyed black. Black jeans. Sneakers. Half bras. Plaid mackies [super thick, soft lumberjack shirts, a Canadian classic --Ed.]; leather jackets. Safety pins. White out. Kilts. We used to party at my friend Lisa's apartment in the West End. She had the best makeup stash! There was a host of punk girls and boys and great parties. We would listen to the record player, drink sweet wine with straws and play with makeup. Great fun!

Later I caught politics, but cured it with history.

Q: Would you like to relate a salty punk anecdote or two?

A: I actually met Simon Snotface [a notoriously rowdy fellow, to say the least --Ed.] at Lisa's. I entered the elevator and there was this nice young man wearing only a towel and a grin! So okay, I thought, this is the West End; whatever. I was more concerned with the missing button number 23, Lisa's floor. I took a Ramones button out of my lapel and, God knows why I thought it was a good idea, stuck it straight into what turned out to be a hell of a lot of power. Simon was very kind, given that he was laughing so hard. He helped me up-- I had been blown across the cage! It was my first taste of power... but not my last! Anyway, it turned out that he was washing the clothes off his back in the basement, and was headed to Lisa's place too.

A recent visit to the Science Museum.

Another time I was cast in a movie by accident. I was living at the YWCA and a headset/clipboard type grabbed me and asked if I wanted to be in a movie-- Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue (1980). I got shoved into this trailer with a bunch of other punks: we were to walk down the street surrounding this chick, whooping it up, maybe taunting her. Dennis Hopper briefed us. He was quite aggressive and profane, as I recall. I've never seen the movie, but I was the one wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket with safety pins and NO FUTURE painted on the back with whiteout.

Q: You know quite a bit about the origins of Avon, which was founded in 1886. As you know, the first Avon Lady was a certain Mrs Albee. Imagine you are explaining the company to young punk Calla.

A: Successful Avon Ladies are quite independent and stubborn. They are not quitters, generally, even if they don't have the time to take it to the top. Pity the poor District Managers-- it must be like herding cats or witches!

I like to think about what a woman's life must have been like in, say, 1920. I'll bet there were a lot of single mothers and grass widows, what with their men having been killed in World War I, the complete lack of effective contraception, on top of the general difficulties of everyday human life. Contrast that with the heady, intoxicating rush of earning your own money.

Q: What is it like being an Avon Lady today?

A: I love being an Avon Lady. I've tried several other business models, but Avon stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to value and customer satisfaction, support and technical presence. The quality of the skin care and makeup is good. Avon stands behind its product, and Avon Ladies are the most important customers that the company has! We get the best deals, really reasonable cost-of-business expense and excellent support.

And the best thing, the thing that I love, is that Avon walk the walk. They don't tolerate shady dealers, and the deck is stacked in favour of the good guy. And I love knowing my neighbours-- who they are, their kids, who needs help with the lawn mowing and snow removal, who bakes the best cookies; that kind of thing.

I'd say to anyone looking at Avon as a business prospect, put down your $20 and try it. There are District Managers whose job it is to answer ALL your questions and happily drive all over hell's half-acre for you. So yeah, go for it!

(continued below)

At an Avon conference

Insider Tips by Calla 

If you've ever negotiated a family melt-down, an employee freak-out, or even just played poker, then you'll know how important it is to use your face and your body language to encourage calm, trust, and love. Moreover, sometimes a woman prefers a little more privacy, a little remove from the intimacy bare face implies.

Technical make-up, paired with good self-care, can help a woman put her best face forward. There are a few things you have to do to maintain optimum “face.” Luckily, they are easy to do. You can do these in any or no particular order.

Technical Makeup for Everyday Life
Film actors have long used products to fill in the worry lines and crows feet. Big cities have technical make-up stores: I recall going into the one on Robson Street as a teenager with some vague notion of buying green under-foundation to even out the red and purple tones. Holy Hannah Montana! Let me tell you, sisters, I have been struck dumb by bigger 150% out-of-my-league moments since, but that one has really stuck. Make-up like you would not believe. It was like a clown factory! I think I actually may have turned one slow circle and run out the door.

Recently, however, specific products that can be used at home have come on to the market. They are still technical, but the skills needed to apply them are easily mastered.

Now I am only going to talk about Avon products, because that's what I know. 

Crows Feet Corrector
Application time: including futzing around, 4 minutes
Number of steps: 2
What it claims to do: resurface and fill crows feet around the eye area

Does it? Yes. Bonus-- gives a massage to the area under your eyes

Often overlooked by the uninitiated, a thick firming cream called

Dramatic Firming Lotion is beautiful under foundation. It has a light almond scent and does not contain any of the anti-aging ingredients such as retinol, which are irritating to some skins.

Anew Wrinkle Zone Line Smoothing Duo is a skin-coloured treatment that fills the wrinkle zone. Loose powder sets it. 

Use Magix and/or foundation if you want before the setting powder. I love this product.

Bounce light off the area you want to soften. Use subtle shadows to reflect light. Employ light concealers over foundation. Keep your skin as smooth and matte as possible. Avon's Magix is a nifty little cream that lays down like a gel and provides and excellent base for foundation. Bonus: taking off your makeup later is a breeze. A final note: The best thing I've found to take off years is forgiveness. Laugh. Smile. Open your heart and mind wide open to wonder.

Thanks, Calla! You've provided a strong sense of your experience with an an iconic company. In addition to being iconic, Avon is well-respected in the beauty industry, not least because, in 1992, they became the first company to mass-market an alpha-hydroxy night cream, bringing one of the new generation of treatments to the public-- an anti-aging cream that actually works.

Over the past few weeks Miss Brown has been testing Avon's Anew Reversalist Night Renewal Cream, which she obtained through a half-price special in the UK. (It retails for $32 in the U.S.) The cream is billed a rejuvenator, and features a patented ingredient called Activinol.

Reversalist smells good and is a pleasure to handle, which is more than she can say for a lot of similar creams: Roc's retinol-based night lotion works, for example, but provides zero ritual pleasure because it smells and feels so medicinal. There are creams that do one (smooth the skin and restore even colour) and creams that do the other (feel fantastic), but Avon's does both. And without creating a cavern in the pocket. Miss Brown will be going back for more-- half-price sale or not.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Never Mind the Dentist, Here's the Sex Pistols

article (and cartoon) by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

As a kid I had pretty decent teeth. My mom made it a point to put fluoride drops, which were all the rage in the 1960s, in our milk at mealtimes in the hopes that those teeth would grow strong and be free of major dental work. It was an investment. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t need braces; plus, I really knew how to floss. Smugly, I was pretty much ahead of the game.

In 1978 our 11th grade psychology class went on a weekend field trip to a facility resembling a ranch. It was like group encounter work for the budding Rogerian starter set. I only vaguely remember playing silly games in small groups and sitting in a lot of big circles. What I do recall distinctly is that on Saturday night it was my turn to help do the dishes. I was to dry them and my good friend John was to wash. While acting out some comedy shtick he turned suddenly and passed me an industrial-sized cooking pot, which I caught with my mouth. My teeth had their own group encounter as I watched shattered bits fly up in the air. It took me a moment to realize what had happened. 

When I arrived home from psychology camp my mother saw her investment in a jagged state. She was not a happy camper. If I had learned anything from that weekend retreat maybe I could have offered her grief counseling with my newly acquired teen empathy skills. I was to have prosthetics, two fake front teeth. And she was to have a very large dental bill. I easily accepted my fate, but a part of me always wonders how great my original teeth might have looked today.

The punk scene gave me a much wider view and perhaps more acceptance of those who, like myself, are dentally compromised. In fact it seemed that many of my music heroes had just about the worse teeth I’ve ever seen. Take Joe Strummer, for instance. Had his teeth ever experienced the ‘sip, swish and spit’ routine outside of a nightclub environment? What about Ten-pole Tudor with his ebony and ivory smile, or Shane McGowan and his mahogany picket fence? How dashing. And plenty of Damned, Pistols and Dead Boys members may not have had a peaches and cream complexion, but they had that same canned corn colored smile. These punk icons’ teeth were appealing in the way that lipstick was on Robert Smith’s mouth-- and chin and cheeks and sometimes forehead. 

Below: Mr. Shane McGowan and his famous accessories.
One learns to equate messed up teeth-- or the absence of them-- with a punk sensibility that says my mouth smells like a composter and I don’t give a toss, thereby excusing the need to see a dentist. The same unfortunately doesn’t hold true for our punk rock sisters. Evidence of a failed dental program is reflected greatly in one's looks, ladies. It is probably one of the leading telltale signs of aging. Witness one Amy Winehouse: she looks about 59 years old and really she’s only 15, right? 
Sure, the missing teeth might look edgy for about 10 minutes, but we all know she has plenty of money to get that fixed, thus, sorry Amy, street cred: denied.

But the award for “Best Capped Secret” goes to Keith Richards, another rock hero and dental delinquent. He eventually managed to plant himself in the big vinyl recliner. Soup had been starting to look like his best friend in the twilight years with the alternative being what? If only he had the same foresight as my mom and had thrown some fluoride in that IV drip during his famous blood transfusions! Today, however, having put his mouth through rehab, Keith is sporting a set of ‘teeth’ that would make your grandmother’s Poligrip quiver with an “I want to get with that” kind of lust. 

But maybe Keith’s teeth look too good. A set of fabulous pearly whites can look a little odd when juxtaposed against a face resembling fruit leather. Has Mr. Richards turned himself into Lyle Wagner’s doppelganger or just about any TV game show host? Look out Bob Eubanks and Wink Martindale! Fortunately, loading up on plenty of nicotine and coffee ought to even things out.

Lyle and the new Keef-- can you spot the difference?

I must admit I was quite negligent about my teeth for a spell, especially while I wasn’t on any sort of dental plan. My wisdom teeth started to crumble, and gold caps were hammered over my molars faster than you can say “nice grill, homes”. And as I got older my gums decided to recede like Sting’s hairline. (Okay, maybe not that bad). While that whiny crooner probably thought it made him look more virile, my recessiveness revealed the metal under the porcelain next to my gums, alerting everyone to the fact of my caps. This was unacceptable-- finally, I had them replaced. I invested in a proper bleaching tray one gets from the dentist, not those silly white strips. Now, like Keith, I can boldly present myself to the world with a carefree smile, snarl or sneer.  

Step right up, Skool-goers! Some of you are attending, but not on our class lists. WHO will be the 50th official reader? Just click on "follow" at the right of the blog and give Google a password. Miss Brown will then send you a full-size PRIZE from the fab UK line Soap & Glory. You can also choose between a girl-treat and a boy-treat.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Boys' Own Makeup Manual

 Slow backstage with co-conspirators after backing up The Cramps in 1986. Tom Anselmi, John Armstrong, Mary-Jo Armstrong, Stephen Hamm, Terry Russell, your very own Miss Brown, Ziggy Sigmund and Christian Thorvaldson: we all dressed as nurses. John was guest guitarist and we girly girls sang backups on "Pills." (photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, courtesy Scott Beadle)

by Miss Justine Brown

The Skool is a girls' school, but we sneak boys in for fun. Punk and goth boys have style stories aplenty. Take the tale of Al J for instance. When Miss Brown was fourteen, she had the run of an apartment below her mother's place. Al was a regular visitor. A pretty, funny, sweet, smart singer in the iron grip of a treacherous love for booze, Al used the now-classic recipe of sugar mixed with a little water to achieve his chaotic spikes. Add some black eyeliner and--voila!-- Al was an oil painting.

Another frequent visitor was Andrew Miller, a school friend.That old picture of Miss Brown and Andrew (see the Punk Rock Hair post) brought a vivid image back into her mind, something that epitomizes Vancouver punk style for her. The two of them made a spectacle of themselves in the hallways of their highschool by day, and went out to the Windmill and the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret to pogo to bands at night. People often told him he looked like Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. He did, actually. He even got into a few clubs on the strength of it (that and a little eyeliner). And when Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones were notoriously ensconced at the Denman Place Hotel to make a movie, Andrew really went to town.

Andrew had sandy-coloured hair, light enough that he could dye it green with food colouring and the grassy pigment was actually visible! One perennial problem, however, was the winter rain in Vancouver. Andrew covered up with either a) an old lady's cream-coloured faux-fur hat, or b) a simple plastic bag. This plastic bag didn't quite do the trick, and the green dye stained the standing-up collar of his white "business guy" shirt--worn flapping outside his waistband, of course. That leaking hair is the detail that, if tugged, brings the whole of the early Pacific Northwest punk rock scene with it-- the lack of readymade products, the resulting inspired  solutions, our lack of money, the hilarity... and the pitiless rain which always threatened to undo our meticulous styling work.
 Vancouver or Venice? Sometimes, it rained SO hard, people took boats instead.

Punks with cars to protect their look were pretty thin on the ground (especially among the 14-year-olds). Bands had cars-- or more likely-- vans. Getting wheels was tantamount to starting a band, and bands were at the pinnacle of our social hierarchy. So vehicles were prestigious in more ways than one. (Looking back, Miss Brown is struck by the force of that hierarchy. Everyone had a niche, and plenty of us struggled to keep our rung on the ladder. Once in a while someone would make a break for the top.)

DOA guitarist Dave Gregg, Miss Brown's boyfriend (ahem) from her sixteenth to twenty-first years, took a contrary approach to his own good looks. A contrarian amongst contrarians, his look could be described as  anti-anti-fashion. One of his favourite pairs of trousers was polyester with an elastisized waist, the kind heavy people wear when they have simply given up. The pants were big and baggy.They were also too short, like so many of Dave's pants (he was 6' 4"). No Mr Big 'n' Tall for Dave! He preferred naked ankles.But the most striking thing about this particular piece of polyester attire was the pattern. Picture this: plaid overlaid with big yellow daisies. Miss Brown dubbed these the Test Pants. If your love could survive the visual torture that was these pants, Miss Brown reasoned, then your love had passed the test.

Miss Brown's platonic ideal of Dave included a short back-and-sides bleached-out hairdo. She was sorely of course disappointed most of the time. Dave took his hair into realms of ugliness none of the rest of the punks would even dream of. Mainstream folk found us ugly, but we sure didn't. Dave's hairdos were another matter, however.

Consider the following incident: one night at 3am Dave pulled up outside Miss Brown's house in his van. He cut the motor and climbed the fire escape to her room at the top of the house, gently tapped on the window, and was admitted. He had just returned from a three-month tour (the theme to Gilligan's Island cues up in her head). Miss Brown was ecstatic, albeit a little weirded out. It had been so long. Things got weirder when, still in darkness, she stroked his head. It seemed to be bald.

Turning on the light, she was horribly dismayed to behold The Haircut. Dave was tittering, pleased with himself. He had really defeated his natural handsomeness this time. Not only did he have a Hari Krishna-style tuft at the crown (all the better for the deity to pull you up to heaven with, my dear), he had let the hair grow in a bit, then reshaved it, leaving a thin circle around the circumference of his hairline. The effect was vaguely target-like and monstrous in her eyes. And to think of the planning that had gone into it! It was an assault in the first degree on Miss Brown's overweening aesthetic sense. Add the fact that he was on some kind of shower fast and boys oh boys, was it hard to get re-acquainted with Dave after THAT tour.

Nowadays, of course, metrosexuality has come and (sort of) gone, and men think nothing of making up their faces and wearing sexy white nurses' uniforms to work every day, and cosmetic lines are specially designed for the urban dude. Soap and Glory ( recently come out with a laddish collection of bath and shaving products. This excellent line, sold at reasonable prices through Boots the Chemist, was designed by Marcia Kilgore, the lovely cosmetics sorceress who founded Bliss in the States, made her fortune and moved to London to spread cheer among the British with her playfully packaged-- think Benefit-- and generally fantastic makeup, skin and bath products (the products are available in North America now). Miss Brown's spouse has been gamely road-testing their Clean of England Shower Gel, which he says smells "herby" (that would be the goldenrod, ginseng and guarana extracts listed) and "not girly" in addition to keeping him squeaky. And is Mr. Brown happy to keep using it? Yes indeed. And that,folks, that is a man.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Slightly Undead: A Beginner's Guide

by Miss Alexandra Oliver

I would have been ever so interested, as a pouty adolescent back in 1986 (see photo by Martin Blache above), to learn that, 23 years on, North America would be in the grip of Vampire Fever. Finally! I would have thought, the hegemony of burnished, big-haired jockitude is over! Then I would have trotted through the Teen Section of my local bookstore, or seen a few rushes of New Moon and I would have gasped, reached for smelling salts and toppled over. For the teen vampires of this day and age strike me as being intense, Clorox-marinated versions of normal, ultimate Frisbee-playing, gum-snapping, text-messaging youth. No fragility! No danger! No true eccentricity! Yes folks, I have had it up the wazoo with the Twilight franchise, with its pre-fab romantic gooiness, its ridiculous martial arts segments and its caravan of perfect GQ men’s hairstyles. I give you Roger Ebert’s own verdict on the latest Twilight installment:
The movie includes beauteous fields filled with potted flowers apparently buried hours before by the grounds crew, and nobody not clued in on the plot. Since they know it all and we know all, sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem.

Yet there are lots of young gals out there who have gone ape over the whole shebang. They trail through my local shopping mall with their Team Edward bookbags, their extra layers of Bare Minerals Mineral Veil, their Alice Cooper eye makeup and their stares designed to seem just a trifle more sepulchral and vacant. Great Caesar’s ghost, I think, where is my Advil? And should I write a handbook for carrying off Slightly Undead properly?

Back in the day, you didn’t need Klaus Nomi makeup and fake teeth to seem of another world. You had to have an imagination. All the kids I hung out with were stealing time from Biology 11 and Debate Club to immerse themselves in Mary Shelley, Goethe, Schiller, Dostoevski and (of course) Bram Stoker. 
A 1921 edition of Dracula (1897)


They were studying the attitude. There really was no name for this attitude, but it was the essence of what made the look authentic. Like Romapen to the Roma and duende to the Flamenco dancer, it was indispensable to pulling the whole look off. So what was the attitude? Well, for one thing, good-old-fashioned elegance played a large part. Entering a room the right way, sitting down the right way, eating the right way, and, well…being polite. Because none of us could have ever imagined Johnathan Harker striding into a room, slapping von Helsing on the back and crowing,”Yo! Wassup, mothafucker!” 

I remember, back in 1985, receiving two gentleman callers in inky Pete Murphy spiked hairdos, cutaway jackets, riding britches and long boots. They had brought flowers not for me but for my mother. Three hours were spent in the family living room with my admirers sipping Irish breakfast tea out of the family Lomonasoff and asking my mum about what exactly women did when nylon stockings ran out during the war. To have that certain vampirical allure, you needed to draw people in. You could be flamboyant, you could be a drama queen, but you had to do it in the most anachronistic fashion possible. And adults were, by no means, the enemy. Not only were they closer to the past than you were, they were (usually) closer to death than you were. How cool is that?

The cult of individual satisfaction so popular in today’s day and age has given rise to a new kind of oafishness. Teens are getting ruder and ruder. Drivers are getting more and more aggressive. The language is peppered with text-message syntactical mutilations (UR SO HOT!), as well as endearing terms of address such as “tool” and “douche bag.” Mystery has vanished into the water closet. I cannot boast of having been called a douche bag, but I have brushes with modern oafishness on an ongoing basis. 

The other day, I found myself virtually pinned (at a children’s birthday, of all places) under a zaftig blond social worker, a devoted Sex and the City watcher, who insulted the House of Basekić by bleating, “Your husband is SOOOOOO YUMMY!” and then (O, horrors!), “I wouldn’t throw him out of MY bed!” What about I throw you out of that window over there, honeybee? Somebody bring me a forklift! But enough on the sorry state of today’s manners. Let us talk about the delights of superficial beauty.

In the 80’s, paleness was everything. To the mirth of family and schoolmates, my cronies and I hid from the sun at picnics and on the beach (see Miss Brown’s excellent entry on the same subject.) I actually used to play softball for my school in an enormous hat. As for makeup, this had its own set of rules. My circle associated foundation with the orange masks sported by the bouncing, athletic big-hairs we so assiduously avoided. Powder on the other hand was greatly prized and applied with a generous hand. My favorite was Christian Dior’s loose powder (in Ivory), which came in a handsome lapis-coloured box. Add to this some smoky black Lancome eyeliner and some blood red lipstick (I wore a wine shade pilfered from Mum, again from Christian Dior) and you were good for a night out. Blush was never spoken of, nor was lip gloss. Highlighter had not yet been invented, but if it had been, we would have probably gathered up all the tubes we could find, put them into a giant wicker man and burned the whole thing.

Vampirella gets her beauty routine underway (a gratuitous offering, but who can resist?--ed.)

Today, being a busy mother, lady of the manor, writer and grad student, I have had to change things. I often air-dry my hair. I wear items that can be easily purged of yoghurt and crayon. I even wear sneakers (my ancient Coq Sportif ones) to go and get my son from school. And makeup? That’s changed, too. I no longer have the time to emulate the elegant severity of my 1980’s face. Instead, for my day makeup, I take my cue from, for example, Edwardian ladies: pale skin, slightly rosy cheeks and a stained mouth. It communicates “wan and interesting! No tanning bed and French Pedicure for me!” without taking an age to effect or breaking the bank. How do I pull it off, you ask?
  1. After rinsing my face in the morning, I hydrate with a good moisturizer and sunscreen (I’m chugging through a jar of L’Oreal RevitaLift Day, at the moment.)
  2. I pat on some Olay Regenerist Eye-Lifting Serum. I wait five minutes.
  3. I apply a tinted moisturizer with a foundation brush or damp sponge. (In this department, I like to mix Laura Mercier’s Illuminating Tinted Moisturizer in Bare with Roche-Posay Hydreane Tinted Moisturizer in Light. The former is too expensive to use alone every day, except for special occasions.)
  4. I apply a little concealer (I love Stila’s Cover Stick, but, in a pinch, I quite like Rimmel’s deadly cheap Rimmel Recover.)
  5. I reach for my lip and cheek stain, the astonishing LORAC Sheer Wash in Sheer Luck ( Though tricky to apply at first (blend! Blend! Blend!), this is a rare and flattering burnt rose colour. A lot of stains, I find, veer towards Barbie Pink or fuschia. This one does the trick. Sheer Emotion (in the same line) is great too, but definitely deeper and better for the night. Being a stain, it can be a bit drying, so I top it off with a smidge of Poppy King’s Medieval or the indispensable Smith’s Rosebud Salve.
  6. I attack my brows. My drugstore find of the year is unquestionably Maybelline’s Define-a-Brow pencil in Dark Blonde. It’s a truly authentic ashy shade and comes with a nifty, sharp little comb. To groom, I use a clear mascara such as Rimmel’s Style and Shine Clear Mascara or more Smith’s Rosebud Salve.
  7. I treat my lashes to one coat of Lancome Definicils mascara in Deep Brown, and the eyes are done.
  8. If I have time, and my son has not hammered the bathroom door down, I swish over some BeneFit Georgia powder ( with a large Kabuki brush to add brightness and to fix the whole deal and, bada-bing, bada-boom, I’m ready for my close-up.
    Fair, smooth skin, ironic eyebrows and stained red lips. Creatures of the night, look out! This is how it’s done. Team Edward, take note. And while you’re at it, watch your manners.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Sally Jackson

Starring Miss Sally Jackson (at left); longtime admirer Ian Tiles (here as Buddy Selfish); Sue Schnee

by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

My dear dead friend Sally, who, I can assure you, was very much alive at the time, was a style mentor for me in the early 1980s. It was the post-punk era and Sally influenced me in the newly-wedded fashion bliss of punk and rockabilly some termed "punkabilly". The members of this music scene favoured vintage clothes from the 1950s worn with a dash of punk rock irony.

Crinolines, fishnets and stiletto heels in various flashy colours started to inhabit my wardrobe. A curling iron was hauled out from the depths of my closet. Having been in exile since my lame attempts at Farrah Fawcett surfer waves, hiding next to my puka shells, it now sat expectantly on stand-by for bouffant dos.

I started to acquire photos of Marilyn Monroe in the hopes of adopting styling tips. She would stare back at me with a perennially surprised expression that whispered, “Oooh! You want to look like me? (Giggle)”. Yes. Yes I do, I would think to myself as I grabbed my Maybelline eyeliner pencil and poked it into my cheek, creating a fictional mole over a faint freckle-- I mean beauty mark. Ah yes, the affected beauty mark. A generous beauty tip, but use it wisely. And try not to touch your face-- you want a small dot, not a Mikhail Gorbachev.

Miss Jackson owned a retro clothing store called Bebop in Vancouver's Gastown, and she travelled all over the lower mainland and even into Washington State to various obscure thrift stores to replenish her vintage merchandise. She would stock her store with old whimsical bowling shirts, crazy poodle skirts and elaborately beaded sweaters. Of course, being the proprietor and a style maven, she always looked so put together. Sally didn’t just have Savoir Faire, she had Savoir Flair. I never once saw her in jeans, or any type of trousers for that matter. Except maybe retro ski pants with stirrups, those sleek numbers with the little fabric strip that goes around the base of your foot in case the hems of your pants ever get the wise idea to scoot north. 

One day I was hanging out with Sally and she had a hankering for hitting the cosmetics department at our city’s biggest retail store. I, still in early days of discovering all that make-up had to offer, had only patronized drug stores for all my beauty needs. (I still love drug stores because you can mess around with make-up without being hassled, whereas in big department stores one is usually eyed suspiciously by raging female drag queen sales clerks. And this was the early 80s after all, when ‘more’ was supplanted for the word ‘yes’ in every aspect of life, including make-up and hair.)

Entering the department we were instantly assaulted by Special Task Force Unit: Perfume Spray Girls. Coming at us from all angles they sprang out from behind pillars and fixtures; some repelled Mission Impossible-style from the ceiling as they napalmed us with all sorts of classy fragrances. Allergic to most things, Sally waved her arms frantically and gasped, “Stop! Stop! Uncle! I give!” I looked around for help and saw a team of doctors behind a sleek, sterile counter. “Sal, look," I said, "they’ve got a MASH unit set up, we can get help there!” Sally looked at me and said “No such luck, Tam, that’s the Clinique counter, don’t let the lab coats fool you; c’mon this way”. I looked back over my shoulder and could have sworn I saw stethoscopes hanging around those lab coats.

I followed Sally over to the Elizabeth Arden counter. I was way out of my league (and most likely out of the range of their target market). We started dipping into the meadow of testers. This was at a time when my germ phobia had not yet manifested and I indulged with giddy abandon. Sally plucked a particularly hot red lipstick and swiped it on. She then showed me how a lipstick could do double duty and started to apply it to the apples of her cheeks. At that moment the cosmetics clerk appeared out of nowhere. She gave us the once over, looking somewhat befuddled by our rockabilly look, and haughtily asserted, “That is a lipstick not a blush, ladies."

To this my make up mentor replied with a smile, “Actually what this is –- is a foolproof way to have your lips match your cheeks.” Sally and I exchanged looks, mine in admiration, Sally’s with an “I’ve got this covered” smirk.
“But, as you can see, we do sell blush,” insisted the sales clerk with great disdain.
“Yes, but it’s not necessary and this is cost effective--two products in one. I like my make-up to be multi-purpose,” Sally shot back as we moved on to another counter. The subtext being, ‘Back off, we’ll buy what we want and apply it how we want.'

And you, big hairy-snooty-scary cosmetic counter lady, have just been skooled.  
Tami Thirlwell-Nicol was raised on good old-fashioned mixed messages: radical hippy parenting and too much television. Aside from illustrating and painting, her latest passion is writing. Gentlemen start your lawsuits because Mrs. Thirlwell-Nicol is currently working on a memoir depicting her rocky road of relationship hell, a topic well researched.

drawing by our very own Tami T-N (click to enlarge)

Next Friday, join us for Miss Alexandra Oliver's brilliant discussion of the vampire craze--"Slightly Undead: A Beginner's Guide."

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Skool Visit: An Interview with Dame Darcy

  an example of Dame Darcy's illustrative talents

Class, we have an extra-special treat today. Miss Justine Brown converses with the glamorous Dame Darcy, girl genius artist extraordinaire! Dame Darcy is the author of the spectacular Fantagraphics comic Meatcake. Among her bands is Death by Doll. Her most recent book is the graphic novel Gasoline, which is being made into a film-- this just scratches the surface of her many projects and accomplishments. The delightful Dame's c.v. is enough to make your head spin!
Dame Darcy, the siren herself

Q: It seems to me that early Hollywood stars, who always stayed "in character" before their public, are far superior to today's stars in their velour track suits. The early stars considered it their duty to be glamorous at all times. Can you comment on this?

A: Toss your hair, lounge on the sofa in the lobby, and flutter your fingers as you talk. You are as gorgeous as any classic movie star.
Movie stars of the past had the right idea. It was part of their civic duty to
be beautiful. Stars get paid a lot so they should take their job seriously and try to uphold this. I think it's vulgar what they do today. I guess having class went out the window with wearing gloves in public. I wish it was the good ol' days again. But in a way it's not hard to blow everyone away with even just a little fabulousness nowadays.

Q: Have you yourself adopted the former approach-- always be grand and mysterious in public?

A: Yes, when I first moved to New York City and realized how many average passers by saw me on the street every day I made an oath to always be really fancy. Whenever I do shows I always wear something glamorous or at least showy. It's really important to celebrate your performance and uphold an image. In high school I always wore a veil over my face; people were really freaked out by its mystery.

Q: Please tell us about your personal style-- makeup, hair, clothes...

A: Incorporate your own version of beauty and style into everything you make. Personally I like faery and Rococo, but I also like hand-crafted folksy type things. My style was also influenced by the flamboyant Adam Ant type new wave pirate look, as well as Goth as in lots of black and stone statues etc. mixed with a little Victorian dark romance, through roaring 20’s jazziness and Renaissance/ancient Celt. So my style is best described as ElectRococo / VamPirate with a dash of American Gothic.
Everything I do is this style. All my clothes, the way I decorate my house, and often the other people I meet or are drawn into my world have a world next door with any or all of these facets.
Ask yourself-- Who are your influences? Emulate them and experiment in your own way. Go for it and see what exciting things form!

Q:  Do you think that personal beauty is magic-- that it has particular powers?

A: Yes! Beauty rituals are important-- the kind that are about your hair and skin, and the magic kind. Make a list, “what would I be like if I were beautiful?” Love your body. Own your beauty. Positive affirmations to hang on your mirror include: "I am beautiful, I am rich, I have everything I want, thank you Goddess." Be a beauty queen in your own way every day. Eternal beauty starts with your mind. Write a love letter to yourself.
Surround yourself with beautiful things, matching curtains and bedspread, matching tea set, etc. Develop beauty rituals, like bubble baths, hair and nails, skin care, make-up...

Beauty Spell
Acorn Youth and Beauty Spell
When 3 acorns are attached to each other they can be used to keep your youth and enhance beauty. If you have a charm of gold or silver of three acorns this will work as well.  Let the acorn charm charge under the new moon, and wear them in your hair.

Goddess Freya’s Potion of Youth
Freya’s favorite flowers are Cowslips (wild peonies); they are also beloved amongst the powerful spirits of the Faeries and are the transmitters of beauty secrets.
1.    Create an herbal infusion by boiling water over the blossoms
2.    When the water cools, strain the blossoms
3.    This potion can now be used as a tincture for your face, use with a cotton ball
4.    Use the remainder in a bath, it can be used up to 24 hrs

Q. The ravishing mermaid, with her fishy tale, appears a lot in your work. Tell us about that.

A: A primary Gnostic symbol being the snake like water spirit, the snake being the main symbol for Goddess culture and its connection to water.  This mirrors the mermaid legends and the mythical Atlantis or “Mu”.
The Dividian and Alexandrian Greek east and west simultaneously erupted in a renaissance caused by the longing for feminine wisdom and presence for both male and female to know and have balance.
We are experiencing a similar rebirth to this way of thinking and belief now.
The history of Tibetan Buddhism parallels the Gnostic tradition in that there is no need for a priest, because wisdom is innate.
The NO-in Gnostic equaling in Pragnia and translating to “inner knowing”
Jna is the name of an ancient Goddess in India.

Q: Have you got any striking beauty secrets you are willing to share with us?

A: Here are a couple-- D.I.Y. Witch-a-rific Lip-gloss with Tint

Ingredients (makes approx: 35ml = 7 tubes or 3 pots)

1 tsp of beeswax pellets
1/2 tsp carnauba wax
2 tbsp of beet juice and /or raspberry juice
little jars with screw on tops, you can reuse small jelly jars for example.

You can flavor your gloss with:

Essential oils or extract (for cooking):  Use peppermint (oil or extract), spearmint, orange, lime, and rose etc. Use approximately 3 drops per lip balm container or natural fruit flavors (and extracts): 1/2 tsp per batch.

For SPF 30 sun block add 1/2 tsp of titanium dioxide

1. To prepare beet or raspberry juice, run beets or raspberries through a juicer. Do not use juice from a store-- it has other additives which will dilute the tint or staining properties you want to be present in your lip-gloss.

2. Using a small non-aluminum pot. Melt wax on the stove. Turn burner on medium heat and slowly stir wax until melted.

3. Remove from heat, add other ingredients while stirring and pour immediately into lip-gloss container. Allow the mixture to cool before capping and using.

Your new concoction has a shelf life of about six months, and will keep best in a cool place.

Glitter Make-up
Mix Aloe-Vera with glitter. It’s sticky at first and will easily apply to your eyelids, arms, and cheeks, anywhere! When it wills dries it will adhere it to your skin so you’ll be sparkling all day.

Q:. Are beauties born or made?

A: All women are creations of the Goddess manifest. Every baby, every girl and every woman is beautiful.
Beauty is the power we all have at our own fingertips.
Any woman can own the power of beauty when she decides to become beautiful, despite her unconventional looks.
When I was a teenager I had a friend who was an elderly lady. We were going through old photo albums of her and her friends when they were young in the 20s and 30s and she made a comment that stuck with me my whole life. “Every one is beautiful when they are young.”
When you realize you are beautiful now then you can have fun with and own your beauty, and also prize cherish and preserve it for later years.

Make good habits and beauty rituals and know you are on a lifelong path. Just drinking a lot of water, getting the beauty rest you need and preserving your skin (from the sun/ no smoking) will do you a world of good you are thankful for in your 30s and 40s and beyond.
Trading in cookies and chips, which have chemicals, fat and carbs for carrots and celery still enables you to eat when you want and snack, but they replace fat with water.
I do raw food desserts like sundaes made from frozen bananas. Here's a recipe:

Banana Mana Sundae (eat for breakfast, even on Sunday its ok!)

Chocolate sauce: mix natural maple syrup with cocoa baking powder

Banana ice cream: freeze four bananas. Then put the bananas into the blender to make ice-cream consistency

Whipped cream: pour ½ cup coconut cream into blender and blend with honey or maple syrup and vanilla extract to thicken add coconut powder [I LOVE coconut cream-- Miss Brown]

Add frozen berries to this mix to make fruit sorbet topping

(Go to Chinatown or other Asian stores; they have a lot of inexpensive ingredients for raw food recipes)

Sprinkle with bee pollen sprinkles, chopped nuts, strawberries, blueberries or other fruit

And a cherry on top!

Vegan Hot Chocolate
1 can of coconut cream
1 heaping table spoonful of baking cocoa (2 if you like extra chocolatey, which I do)
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ cup of maple syrup (1/2 cup of you like extra sweet, which I do)
heat on low and stir.

Raw Food Chocolate Ice Cream
Double this recipe and use half for hot chocolate and the other half pour into a flat Tupperware container and freeze. This will later be your raw food chocolate ice-cream-- eat it with the banana split and you have banana AND chocolate ice-cream options.

Now that's some holiday cheer, folks! Thank you, lovely Dame. Be sure to visit

NEXT FRIDAY: mrs. tami thirlwell-nicol remembers punkabilly

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Going to Extremes

by Miss Justine Brown
How far we will go in our quest for beauty? Pretty darn far, as anyone who has seen photos of poor Mrs. Wildenstein, the so-called "cat woman",
and other plastic surgery victims can attest. The painter above, more cautious, is trying out new looks on the household pet instead of trying to resemble it! Either that or it's the cat wielding the lipstick, flip a coin.

Anyway, back to our heroine's chopped, bleached-out hair (see "Punk Rock Hair" and the pic in "So White She's Blue (with Cold)" for the story so far). There's Miss Brown, 14 years old and none too rich-- plus she shuns conventional hairdressers anyway, as we have seen. Dark roots look styley up to a point, and that point is when your dark roots are longer than your blond bits. At that juncture you are no longer a Blonde, with the whole web of meaning that that designation carries. (This has always intrigued me. You may get highlights, one way down that shining path, but it doesn't necessarily make you a Blonde. A certain minimum number of highlights, a certain ratio, and in the right places, do the trick. But determining that number is no mean feat.) What to do? How low will she go to find help? By the way, the simplest solution was offered by punk rock goddess Debbie Harry-- do the front part yourself and let the back take care of itself. But it took Miss Brown a while to work this out.

So Miss Brown needed someone to bleach her roots. For you hair colour virgins (as rare as unicorns these days), you can't just bleach the whole thing, shampoo style, over and over. Your hair would literally melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Miss Brown had seen it happen, and she was determined to avoid disasters. (So operatically miserable are these tales that they cry out for a posting of their own.) So here's how far she was prepared to go. Wait for it--our Miss Brown became a reluctant but regular Ouija board partner in exchange for bleach jobs.

Now this home hairstylist was a rare hothouse flower, nothing garden-variety about her. Her name...will be Cassandra for our purposes. She was a regular at punk rock gigs herself, and was dating Jim Cummins (aka I, Braineater), the artist, singer, and dandy about town. Cassandra herself was an artist and lived in a large Edwardian apartment in Vancouver's West End. Miss Brown had sat for both Jim and Cassandra, actually, and the results flattered her and tickled her vanity. (Miss Brown's frequently absurd adventures as an artist's model merit another post.)  Cassandra was a talented artist in her twenties. She had about three feet of beautiful, natural dark blond hair and otherworldly eyes. The other worlds that her eyes reflected were beyond the horizon of death. She read about seances in books featuring a spirit called Seth and written by Seth's "channeler". Yes, Cassandra wanted to speak to the dead, and she had bought a Ouija board for the purpose.

At some point, young Miss Brown had spoken to her of some childhood adventures with the mystifying board. That pointer (see the item on the left?), for whatever reasons, did appear to work. Miss Brown never faked it, as she revealed to Cassandra, and her ten-year-old partner friend would have been hard-pressed to push it all around the board with one solitary index finger-- for Miss Brown, testing her, would barely touch the thing. Go figure.

So: dark roots in need of blonding, Cassandra's years in hairdressing school, and her desire to commune with the dead...all added up to hours on the sofa, followed by a brilliant bleach job (with professional products, I should add!). Miss Brown was leery of the whole inexplicable enterprise. But punk rock hair won the day. (As I write this, deep in South London, I can hear foxes keening. They sound like babies crying; it's just how foxes sound. And fireworks sound throughout the night during the time of All Souls, of Guy Fawkes Day. Fawkes' foxes. All the sounds seem to chime in with these memories.)

Yes, punk rock hair won the day. It sounds trivial, but hair is anything but trivial to a teenager. So Miss Brown overcame her fears and scruples, the Ouija board answered Cassandra's questions-- well, it gave answers, anyway-- and Miss Brown emerged with perfectly peroxide blond spikes. No brassiness. Her hair was almost silver. Eventually, Cassandra no longer needed Miss Brown. She was last seen crouched over the Ouija board, gripping the pointer as it whizzed chattily around the arc of the alphabet. And what of Miss Brown's all-important hair? She dyed it black. So much more manageable.

Moving on to more everyday territory, Miss Brown has noticed of late that silver--even gray-- has become a popular hair colour choice among teenage London hipsters. It is having a moment. The young do not fear being mistaken for old ladies. She remembers going for a very similar look at age 14 or 15, and used old lady-hair products like Roux fearlessly--plus, they had great Fifties-designed bottles. Incidentally, Miss Brown and pal Eve once dressed up in old lady costumes in an effort to get into the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret without ID, during one of their clampdowns. The doorman, the legendary Igor, was not fooled.

In tandem with this youthful trend, magazines for older women are turning out articles on the desirability of chucking the brown dye and letting the gray come in. There is at least one prominent blog devoted to this very undertaking. The phrase "gray is the new blond" has been bandied about.

Now, Miss Brown is not young enough to pull off silver gray hair; nor is she old enough to have a full head of gray to grow in and silverize. But she definitely likes the sound of a violet shampoo, something designed to chase away the brassy bogies.  Miss Brown has located two promising-sounding lines: L'Oreal White Violet Shampoo and Conditioner (seems to be available through various websites like, rather than the mothership), and a similar line from Joico, Colour Endure Violet Shampoo and Conditioner ( Both are recommended for gray and blond hair. And there's something so charming about violet, especially this season. Dahling.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Cosmetic Counterculture

By mrs. tami thirlwell-nicol

At about the age of five I could be found routinely perched on the bathtub ledge carefully studying my mother’s application of liquid eyeliner. It was 1966 and she had perfected her mod look. She wasn’t much of an artist but she owned that one skill; delicately drawing jet-black lines above the lash line while a cigarette balanced diligently on the side of the sink quietly staining the porcelain with a golden nicotine. All at once her image had transformed from frumpy mum   

to sixties sex kitten. 
I filed that information away for future use. It was probably the only valuable mother-to-daughter adaptive behavior I ever acquired.
I started flirting with garden variety make up, pink lipsticks and blue eye shadow a la Marsha Brady in my early teens but really hit my stride as I inducted myself into the punk scene a few years later.  Armed with just that basic knowledge of eyeliner (and very little else because my mother’s only other make-up trick was white lipstick) I was left to improvise with what few pieces I deemed necessary. I had heard about ‘base’ or foundation but mainly from witnessing the atrocities of the orange paint that stops just at the jaw line. I guess the word ‘blend’ didn’t exist back in the ‘70’s. As much as I love David Bowie with Twig the Wonderkid on his Pin Ups album cover I was not about to let that look get the best of me. I solved the problem of dealing with the difficulty of foundation matching by simply using Covergirl’s Under Eye Concealer crayon. Everywhere. Talk about a matte finish! Not only flawless perfection but I looked chronically well-rested. (If not a tad otherworldly shall we say). Plus I was ahead of the game economically – that tube was only about two bucks whereas foundation would have set me back at least five.
After slathering on my concealer, eyeliner and several thousands coats of mascara the last step was either hot pink or blood red lipstick and I was set. A night at the Smilin’ Buddha lay ahead which involved plenty of drinking and clowning around. Usually I would come home too wasted to even consider the idea of removing my make-up and in fact this is the best tip ever: pass out with your make-up still on. Really – if you are under 27 years old, try it. (Any older and you may look like a Phyllis Diller wannabe on a day pass). You will awaken to a fabulous devil-may-care visage. What a gift. My make-up and I had truly become one. The colors had saturated nicely into my skin, convincing it that they had always existed. Like a good home-cooked lasagna, my make-up application was always better the next day.

illustration by the author (click to enlarge!)

Coming right up November 14th: Miss Justine Brown presents "Going to Extremes" 

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Hallowe'en: Strangest Day of the Punk Rock Calendar
a cat gilds the lily

by Miss Justine Brown

Well, I do declare (below: Dracula [Chuck Biscuits] holds mrs tami thirlwell-nicol in his clutches [Bev Davies])

Hallowe'en was the most unsettling night in the punk rock calendar. Why? Well, for one thing, all year long we were assailed by JOCK NIFTIES (see Miss Brown's last post) in Camaros who would drive by screaming at us. One of their favourite taunts went like this: "Hallowe'en is OVER!" Nice one. But for one starry night each year, Hallowe'en was not over, and no-one would reproach punk rockers for wearing hairstyles better suited to parrots, and outfits which suggested undertakers losing it after one too many Bloody Marys at the Vegas conference (black suits in disarray, white shirts hanging free, ties askew...).

Inevitably there was a gig to attend, and the audience swelled by several hundred. What shall we do on Hallowe'en, Troy? Why, get dressed up as punk rockers and go see D.O.A. at the Oddfellows Hall, of course--even though we hate them and all their followers. So there they were, easily detectable in their "punk" get-ups. Sometimes they even wore, say, a rainbow afro wig. Any old weird thing would do. Most of them just turned up in their usual elephant flares and hockey hair, with a few safety pins and black eyeliner-- perhaps even an old tie-- as their costume.

To be a real punk and not a poser you had to be unable to camouflage yourself on Monday morning. You had to make yourself unemployable, in short, because almost no-one would hire someone with short purple hair.

Now Miss Brown knew she had really become a punk when she was failed to to look conventionally presentable even when it really mattered-- like on the occasion of a big family wedding. She tried, but nothing worked! Miss Brown normally enjoys puttin' on the ritz, but you can see the misery in her eyes and bearing in the snapshots on that occasion. With her poor grandmother's help she had picked out a yellow shirt dress (to match her bleached yellow hair), white panty hose, and, the most spine-chilling of all, a pair of white vinyl old-lady slip-on shoes. The kind that come folded up in a transparent plastic purse! She looked like someone who had been yarded out of the loony bin on a day-pass for this important family event. (Not so far from the truth, really.) That is what I mean when I say in earlier posts that there was nothing for us to buy, not even in the whole Hudson's Bay department store. Nothing! Miss Brown could have gone to a vintage store like Cabbages and Kinks (which unfortunately burnt down a few years ago) for a 50s prom dress, let us say, but Grandma was not going to come along and foot the bill at some bizarro vintage store.

But I digress. At those Hallowe'en gigs we were the languid experts, in our element while the posers struggled to fit in. Interestingly, some of them were converted on those nights and came back the next weekend with lawn-mower haircuts. They had found their circle at last-- a big bunch of people who had also been outcast at school.

The following day was bad, though. That's when the Camaros would roar by, some wag hanging out the passenger window and  screaming triumphantly: "Hey! Goof! Hallowe'en was YESTERDAY !!"

Now, I cannot leave you without a word about products. As autumn intensifies and winter looms, I have seen my mortifying sunspots disappear with help from, as I mentioned in my last post, Olay's fantabulous ProX SPF 30 day cream. I think it time to change creams with the seasons, so I am using Dr. Nick Lowe's offering. What's that, you say? You didn't know that Nick Lowe had traded music for dermatology? I thought EVERYONE knew that. Ho ho. Anyway, Dr. Lowe's line of ten or so items is being distributed by Boots, my favourite pharmacy on earth, not the least because they do exclusive products with interesting people. Bliss founder Marcia Kilgore's delicious Soap and Glory line --of which more later-- is another example. Boots the Chemist is a UK chain, but much of their stuff available worldwide--and online of course at

Dr Nick Lowe's recently amped-up The Secret is Out SPF 15 Lifting Day Cream has got it all: a pretty frosted blue glass container, sunscreen which blocks UV A and B rays (very important), a lovely consistency, and a cornucopia of anti-aging ingredients like pomegranate, raspberry, melon and ferulic acid. It's perfect for cooler climes-- creamy without being greasy, with a mild scent and just the right kind of protection and nourishment. Also available online at

next Friday: the alluring mrs. tami thirlwell-nicol presents "Cosmetic Counterculture"                               

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

So White She's Blue (With Cold): Punk Rock Skin

by Miss Justine Brown

ALERT! A fascinating interview about beauty's magical powers with girl genius Dame Darcy, author of Meatcake, the most original underground comic book on the stands, is in the Beauty Skool pipeline. 

The 19th century poetess Emily Dickinson insisted upon modesty. When, after she had been his patient for many years, her doctor insisted upon examining her, she made this one concession: he could remain seated in his doctorly leather armchair while she ran past the open door in her floor-length white petticoats. How right she was!

One day a 15-year-old Miss Brown and a group of pals piled into someone's wheels (always someone's wheels, since she never got Drivers Ed at the Skool) and motored down to Kitsilano ("Kits") Beach. How healthy and well-adjusted, you say! "Kits" is Vancouver's muscle beach---as opposed to say, its sick-making nude beach-- crammed with people eager to justify their gym memberships. The lawns are as manicured as the patrons.

Miss Brown emerged from the car in a long-sleeved t-shirt, pleated tartan wool mini skirt, thick black tights, and vintage Keds.
Miss Brown in a bathing costume photo Bev Davies

She ran to the shoreline and plunged in. As she swam about, an crowd was assembling like angry wasps. Someone had been using their nest as a pinata. When eventually she was compelled to emerge (her fingers resembled tiny white prunes), Miss Brown, dripping-- those tights were particularly sodden and heavy-- had to run the gauntlet as the tanned and near-naked villagers waved their pitchforks. Now, the squares hated us. And we, in turn, for some reason disdainfully dubbed them "jock niftys." But there was something about this refusal to wear a conventional bathing suits that REALLY enraged them. Our Miss Brown was lucky to get back to the car without a black eye.

She was determined to avoid the sun. Part of this derived from the general importance of sporting Sid Vicious-style white skin. But there was another reason. Miss Brown had grown up thinking, like everyone else since Coco Chanel made her fatal mistake and introduced the tan to high society, that tans were "healthy" and "glamorous" (Try telling that to a 17th century farmer! Or to the ladies who used to paint blue veins on their decolletage to make it seem paler). Miss Brown remembers her mother slathering herself with Johnson's Baby Oil; she remembers sunbathers holding tin foil before their faces to intensify the light.

On an August trip to Louisiana, Miss Brown did the sensible thing and stayed indoors for a full month. Her father and his new family drove her to Dallas to catch the plane north. They spent the last day camping at a lake north of Austin, a lake which seemed to offer respite from the mind-boggling heat and light. Our pale heroine spent the whole day in the water.

Horrors! The next day she woke to find herself transformed into a space alien. Her face was puffed up like a pillow, especially the forehead, which was also covered with blisters. Her eyes were reproachful slits.  That glassy lake, so cool and refreshing, had acted like a massive piece of tin foil. Miss Brown felt that she had spent several days in a microwave oven. Then she flew to Vancouver. Instead of going to hospital, she combed her bangs even more firmly over her face and toughed it out. It would be crude to tell you of how that forehead hardened, cracked, and fell off in great chunks over the next miserable days. It would be maudlin to recount how she cried bitterly, certain her face would never be returned to normal.

But Miss Brown's policy was the right one, it turns out (apart from those long hours in the perfidious lake). Since her early 20s she has been wearing a moisturizer-- Neutrogena, for instance-- with minimum SPF 15 EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. An article in Allure assured her that not only would sunscreen protect her from wrinkles and worse, it could reverse past damage.  A visit to (click on "What's New") is never a bad idea. For the past few weeks she has been using their admirable ProX Age Protection Lotion with SPF 30, for Miss Brown has noticed some hyperpigmentation of late. Time to wheel out bigger guns. This weaponry, while a tad expensive, is light, creamy and quickly absorbed. It also seems to be seeing off those dreaded brown spots. Of course, a big, fabulous hat would be preferable to sunscreen, which-- who knows-- may turn out to have some bad long-term side effects. But Miss Brown does not possess a hat head. It's a shame, for the Regency ladies pictured below seem to have the right idea entirely.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hairstylist's Hell

by Miss Amy Modahl

I once dabbled in hairstyling. I had a pair of fine scissors and was sure I could cut bangs perfectly to curl under with a hot iron and roll up loosely, light as air, just grazing the eyebrows. I worked diligently on my own bangs. I learned where to cut to make that perfect length. You see, I was a small-town girl. I knew punk from the music and tv, but I loved rock-n-roll. I loved big hair and Bad Company concert t-shirts, Van Halen, Aerosmith.
Name this 1980s hair band.

I would never have touched my natural brown with bottle colour. There would never be shaving one side, shaving both sides, a flat, plastered down bob. I wanted full. The fuller the better.
A big-haired rocker chick gives us the goods.

I was just 13, but I had the hair of a 16-year-old. My sister, being four years older, was of course, much cooler and had much cooler friends, so when they visited one day and admired my hair, I felt older, more important, dare I say beautiful. I was on top of the world. I took iron to lock and rolled under, rolled back, the heat close to my scalp, a spray of Aquanet, flip forward, spray, flip to the side, spray, spray, spray, bigger, bigger, lighter, fluffier. And when one friend asked if I would cut her bangs just like mine, I was more than happy to oblige. Sure Kim, no problem. The thing was, she had a big date that night, a big date right after a big performance center court half time with pom poms and little skirt. Sure, I said-- I'll get my scissors.

Kim was gorgeous. She had olive skin that tanned perfectly, tanned now from a booth and bottle. Her hair was light brown with natural curl and natural body, so full I couldn't hope to reach its heights; yet here she was admiring my do and requesting a bang trim. Of course, I said. Sure, Kim! and we went into the bathroom. She pulled her bangs down straight and said she really needed them shorter. So crunch crunch crunch, I chopped straight across, right at the spot where I would cut mine, just below the eyebrows, just so the bangs could pop up with that perfect curl. And after the snip, after it was too late to turn back, after, but just before the big game and the big date, after, but just before all eyes would be on her, before his special eyes would be on her at Ted's Pizza, her bangs went boing, flying so high up into the air that they exposed her whole forehead.

Mouth agape. This wasn't at all what I had expected. I grabbed like a drowning swimmer at a life raft, pulled the bangs back down, tried to dowse them with water, but no cure would work. There was no fix to tame the wirey curl in her hair, that spring so unlike mine. That hair I had admired turned against me. I had to face the facts. It was the time of reckoning. Now and forever, I had ruined her perfect look for her big night. Sorry Kim.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Belgrade Beauty Shop

by Miss Justine Brown

You have read "Blonde for Ex-Goths" by Miss Oliver, and now you need evidence, hard evidence that that melancholy schoolgirl (have you ever read Edward Gorey's "The Deranged Cousins"? Look at that first photo again) has indeed become a blonde. This is an account of a recent trip to Belgrade, Serbia, where Miss Oliver and Miss Brown spent one fun-filled day.

It started in the beauty salon, as such days often do. Miss Oliver (below) asked for a Veronica Lake without the blinding one-eyed effect, I asked for a Marilyn Monroe-just-before-she-died. Well, not JUST before-- in the year or so before. (It's my unshakable view that MM was at her most luminous in the early 1960s, when she was well past 30. Look at those Bert Stern pics if you don't believe me! But more on Miss Monroe in a later post.) The Serb hairdressers were absolutely unfazed by our criteria. I guess they know their classic flicks. Instead of using curlers, they filled our hair with hairbrushes. WARNING: do NOT try this at home. I did. I rolled one measly brush in as an experiment, and it all ended it tears. It had to be snipped out, and I have the short bits on my crown to prove it.

We emerged happy, and here are the pics to prove it-- otherwise who could ever believe that bouncing blond curls could make that morbid teenage pair happy, albeit some years later? We rambled down Belgrade's main shopping concourse, taking note of the fine mix of local-brand shops and the old familiars. We visited the Nivea Shop (, where we bought the cream in the traditional tin (supposedly superior, as is the German-made stuff vs. the Mexican. And then there's the rumour that Nivea has the same basic formula as Creme de la Mer). Apparently the product didn't take off until this design was launched in 1925. Back on my hobby horse-- Marilyn Monroe cited Nivea as her favourite face cream.

Miss Oliver took me to The Question Mark, Belgrade's oldest restaurant. It's across from a splendid Serbian Orthodox church, and is frequented by actors and priests resplendent in their Eastern rite beards. We started our meal with a shot of apricot rakia, slivovitz to you. Cheers! Givoli! And my memory gets a little hazy after that.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


by Miss Alexandra Oliver

Like my beloved bosom pal, Miss Brown, I am a blonde. It was not always so. Had you told me, back in 1990, say, that by 2004 I would be a blonde, I would have shot you a withering glance or, at worst, smacked you lightly with whatever lace parasol I happened to be carrying that day. 
Miss Oliver revels on a school biology camping trip.

My decision to emigrate to the sunny shores of wheat, amber and caramel came in 2000, after a particularly sad breakup and subsequent cross-Atlantic move. The gals who wrought this sea-change were the stylists at Vancouver’s wonderful Beehive Hair Lounge (, amazing colourists all. How I miss the Beehive! Here, in Burlington, I console myself by either going to Jen at Teo’s Hair and Bodyworks (, or by taking the train into Toronto. There, I avail myself of the services of the students at the Aveda Institute ( It takes forever (they are students, after all, and need to bounce their work off teachers during the process), but the price is right, the products are aces, and the outcome is invariably excellent. When visiting my in-laws in Belgrade, Serbia, I go to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall salon called Miss at 300 Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra. They do a great job and also give great retro blowouts. I wish they’d get a website.

One thing that links all gals (and chaps for that matter) who are, or who have been Gothic in persuasion at one time or another, is a particular outlook. It’s not outright gloom per se, but it’s a kind of dark romanticism tempered with good old-fashioned gallows humour. You, dark ones, may be asking: how can I remain myself once I have essentially been transformed into Barbie? As a mother in a suburb outside of Toronto, I have faced this painful dilemma many times. On going to the park or the library or to pick my son up from the Y, I am besieged on all sides by blonde-bobbed Alpha Mums who drive Cayennes and greet one with the glass-cracking cry of “Oh hi-yeeeeeeeeeeeee! I was going to CALL you!” Please don’t call me, I silently beg. 
Play Spot the Goth (check out the trio of blondes above. Alpha Mums in training.)

But back to the topic at hand. If you are a) interested in going blonde and b) unwilling to let the side down, it is useful to have some handy blonde role models in the back of your head. Emulate them and no-one will ever mistake you for the babystteresque Jennifer Aniston or that terrifying perkpot Meg Ryan. Here are my top five Moody Blondes:

  1. Catherine Deneuve:
Crazed in Repulsion! Operatically swooning in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! Bloodlessly servicing Parisian businessmen in Belle du Jour! And, of course, we love her in The Hunger. What other woman could transform the great Bowie into a despairing raisin?

  1. Eva Peron
Don’t cry for me, indeed. Did she have it or what? Note: I mean Evita as Evita—not Madonna as Evita.

  1. Hertha Thiele
She played an unstable, passion-crazed schoolgirl in Leontine Sagan’s seminal 1931 lesbian drama Madchen in Uniform. But enough about that. She was doomy, gloomy and luminous. Look at that great haircut, too!
Here’s another great picture:

  1. Dominique Sanda

Another great brooding blonde of mystery. Threw herself out of a window in Bresson’s Une Femme Douce, danced the tango with Stefania Sandrelli in Bertolucci’s The Conformist and fell to the brutality of the Nazis in The Garden of the Finzi Continis. Even today she still looks great, trust me.

  1. Lee Miller

Man Ray took her photo over and over and over again. Hmmmm.
Also a stellar photographer in her own right. Go, Lee!

Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest bit suburban and perky, I invoke these mysterious, flaxen muses and am restored to normalcy.

Upkeep: there are so many great products out there now—I love Kerastase, but it takes a bank robbery or a Russian oligarch to keep you flush in that line. I’m actually using two European drugstore products right now: Schwarzkopf Gliss Hair Repair Shampoo + Intensive Treatment and L’Oreal Elseve Nutri-Gloss conditioner for colour-treated hair. Both very decent. I also love the John Frieda line for blond hair. For flyaways I always reach for MOP Shine Drops. Silkening, ungreasy and silicone-free! Wouldn’t be surprised if Deneuve uses them too.