Sunday, 26 December 2010

Just Call me Cruella
courtesy Disney

by Mistress Justine Brown

They've pushed me too far this time. Who? The government. The British government to be precise, who have just announced that cigarettes can no longer be branded. They outlawed smoking in pubs a while back, and soon no doubt they'll outlaw drinking in pubs as well, for our own good. I blame them-- why not, everybody else does-- and their battalions of finger-waving nannies. I blame them for the state I'm in. (Now there's a nice pun.) And lucky I've got someone to blame for this, 'cause it's pretty darn ludicrous to have to reveal just how very affected I am, and how far I will go in my efforts to look cool. I'm as bad as a teenager. Worse. Yesterday I bought a tin of cigarillos and a cigarette holder. Even had a little puff. My New Near's resolution is to start smoking at last. How ridiculous can one eminently stylish, rakish, devil-may-care gal be?
Kate Moss. Take that, nanny state!

In one fell swoop I have crossed the line from tobacco contrarian to smoker (that's all it takes, a couple of puffs and voila!). Yes, for years I have been annoying people with my controversialist ideas on smoking. I get that it's unhealthy; we all do by now. I just don't get why smoking seems to be the one thing that the general public considers to be undeniably sinful. All kinds of foul stuff gets a free pass, but smoking, now there's some serious evil for you. A lot of people seem to really enjoy policing their neighbours. Did you know that the health authorities have outlawed the final cigarette? Yep. Some states practise execution, as we all know. Nowadays, the prisoner can't get a last smoke before he gets the rope, needle or electric chair, not even if the guards take him into the fresh air. Smoking is bad for his health. It could kill him!

I could go on. And on. I've never been a smoker, though all my punk rock friends were. My bedroom looked like a misty moor thanks to them. I know what a smoking habit looks, smells, and tastes like. I used to go hunting for butts in the snow with one particularly desperate friend. We knew all the tricks: hit the bus stops first, for example. So it wasn't hard to resist the cancer sticks. However, those of you who know me have likely heard of my plan to start smoking at sixty. Basically, it was going to be a consolation prize. Okay, I would be wrinkled and raddled, but at least I could distract myself and others with swanky tobacco tricks. But by then, I reasoned, I might have to score my smokes on the black market while the rest of you were buying weed at 7-11. It's looking more and more like I was right: smoking the peace pipe is going to be illegal in pretty short order. That's why I've decided to start now instead.

So I'm stocking up on paraphernalia. I bought my cigarillos at a tobacconist's den near Victoria Station. There were uniformed schoolkids in there buying candy, no doubt lured in by the increasing chic of smoking-- a sense of the forbidden intensified in no small part by the latest edict from on high. The other customer was a plushly dressed business dude, clearly a cigar man. "Hey," I asked brightly, "do you know something about tobacco?"
"Not as much as that gentleman over there does," he replied, indicating the shopkeeper.
"A friend of mine introduced me to pipe tobacco once," I reminisced. "It tasted fantastic. But I don't want to look like Gandalf. I'm looking for a cigarette that actually tastes good."
The fellow allowed as how he didn't smoke cigarettes ("Neither do I!"), but he figured cigarillos would suit a lady. Plus you're not even supposed to inhale them. The shopkeeper showed me a few options. I chose a slim little tin and a properly flamboyant holder. We conversed a bit about his future prospects, which look dim. Every time he opens the paper there's some new bit of bad news for war criminals like himself. A soft-spoken fellow from Pakistan, he looked rather flattened.

Anyway, now I've got my gear. I'm especially pleased with the holder. Now that winter's come and the air is clear, cold and frosty, I can irritate folk by waving it around and generally making like an old hand without even involving tobacco at all. I'll just whip out my holder, take a drag of oxygen, and blow.  The temperature will do the rest. I’ll breathe air rings around ‘em. Anyone who wants to duke it out with me over this issue can do it the old-fashioned way. Meet me on Wandsworth Common at dawn. We’ll settle this in a clash of cigarette holders. If you don’t own one, a pencil will do, or perhaps a plastic straw.

Not cool, just stupid? The merest of mindgames? We’re like that, we smokers, with our nasty little toys, our noxious fumes, our fictional scenarios conjured up out of the ether. We like to imagine that we’re wicked. How childish. Just call me Cruella, Cruella de Vil.

The Ultimate Skool Uniform

.... from Mistress Brown's point of view, at any rate! We conclude our Skool Advent Calendar with another hard-won little black dress from the Lanvin for H and M collection-- of which more shortly. (The Browns are recovering from a wonderful meal and an epic trek across frozen and Tube-stricken London.) Meanwhile, a marvelous twelve days of Christmas to all of you from Beauty Skool.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Skool Uniform: Paper Debbie Dolls

As a Christmas gift to our loyal Skoolers, we are putting Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol's gorgeous Debbie Harry paper dolls into a permanent exhibition. Our Skool Uniform LBD Advent Calendar is nearly complete: stay tuned for one more little black dress with a special festive flourish! Take a minute between presents and bites of turkey to visit the inspiring Uniform Project site. What would it take for YOU to wear one LBD for a month solid?

Friday, 26 November 2010

On The Fringe

Article and illustrations by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
Mr Mark Bolan's famous hair
How often have we heard ourselves complain about the texture of our hair? It seems many ladies yearn for the opposite of what they possess. For example, gals with curly hair long for straight and vice versa. I happen to be an exception and you won’t hear me lament, “oh my hair, what cruel strands have I been’re sooo lucky you have wavy hair”. Although it could be a little thicker, I am, in fact,quite satisfied with my unremarkable straight hair.
This wasn’t always the case. Let’s dial back to a time when ‘classic rock’ wasn’t yet classic, it was just ‘rock’ and punk had yet to be invented. I’m reminded of a small window of time during that era when my straight Valerie Bertinelli hair was convinced it might look cooler with a perm.

"...My mom actually cried when she saw the hatchet job. Now you know how I feel, lady, I thought to myself..."

A Spiral Perm. This should be a perm to rival Peter Frampton’s. From the ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ live (duh) double album. I believe it was overuse of the Wah-Wah guitar pedal that actually made his hair come alive. As was the case with the hair condition of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and that guy from Metallica-- all Wah-Wah pedal aficionados. But, as usual class, I digress. Maybe it was a little earlier and Marc Bolan drilled it into my head with the line “I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair” as he banged a gong. Would this imply that with my non-corkscrew hair I am a square? I want the “universe reclining in my hair” too. To the nearest hair saloon, I must texturize!
This would be my first time at a real beauty parlor. Up until then it was all, ‘Sit still, godammit!’ as my mom tried to square off my fringe year after painful year. The outcome always lopsided, it looked as if she had been cutting my hair on the Andrea Gail during a perfect storm. And then there was the time I did it myself when I was six and discovered scissors. My mom actually cried when she saw the hatchet job. Now you know how I feel, lady, I thought to myself.
Since my mother wasn’t up to speed on home perm kits (thankfully), I nervously settled my teen-age self into a salon chair-- not unlike being at a dentist appointment. In fact, some measure of anesthetic would have been comforting when the state of my freshly permed hair hit full force from the giant mirror in front of me, and behind and beside. After hunkering down for about two hours with tight rollers wedged into my head it was a foregone conclusion: I was a frightening surround of Robert Plant and Stevie Nicks’ love child multiplied ad infinitum. 
Not only that but I had to fork over six months of babysitting money for the privilege. I had heard about salon nightmares and now I had my own initiation. The saddest part is that I tried to convince myself that it was an okay look. But it wasn’t. My Bertinelli feather-winged bangs had morphed into a horizontal mopped Don Martin character from Mad Magazine, which was a fine tribute if that’s the look you were going for. I tried pulling a few fusilli strands straight and down into a considerably more natural gravitational position, only to let go and hear “boi-innggg” as they snapped back into place.
Classic Don Martin 
It was on the way home when the word ‘perm’ really sank in. Noooo, I thought with a sinking horror. But it’s true; perm is short for permanent. I’m going to look like this for the rest of my life! I darted into the house and into the sanctuary of my bedroom before my brother and his friends could feast their eyes on this moving target. Damn you 1970s classic rock icons! I shook my fist at the KISS army poster above my bed. I tore off my jean jacket (adorned with the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo I had painstakingly hand-stitched on the back) and reassessed the damage at my large vanity mirror. Sob.
My new hairdo happened to be all the more tragic because at this point in my life I had just started to ‘transition’. No, I wasn’t pre-op sex change. It was that all-important time in a young person’s life when they heed the call to transition from their Led Zep “Good Times, Bad Times” hard rock ways to the new “let’s see my hippie parents figure this shit out” cult of punk. So what was I thinking when I opted for a knock-off Wilson sisters (of Heart, not Wilson-Phillips) hair sculpture? I don’t know. Perhaps some mystical deep-rooted sense of loyalty to those days of yore took hold of me -- or maybe it was that after-school joint. I tried pulling a comb through it. Nope. The universe will most definitely not be reclining in my hair anytime soon. My ‘do’ would be rejecting whatever might come near it. I now have my own force field. This will not be terribly handy if I happen to attend the upcoming high school dance.
Sure, I could have shaved my head or sculpted a Mohawk. But Skoolers, I at least had the wherewithal to assess my face shape and I came to the conclusion that removing all my hair would render me rather moon-faced (not an alluring look), and just a tad too exposed for my environment. But why was I thinking in terms of extremes? Why not have the best of both worlds? No I was not going to entertain the mullet nor would I implement the ‘faux hawk’-- I’m just not that butch. I would have to be patient.
At every reasonable opportunity I trimmed the fringe and looked forward to the full recovery of my smooth bangs. I found a way to accept the waviness elsewhere on my head. I told myself that it would look rather Joey Ramonesque. It would be okay. I’d make sure to supplement with plenty of heavy liquid eyeliner. And slowly, like a caterpillar shedding its unbearable David Lee Roth wigged cocoon, I would emerge with my lovely limp locks free from the bondage of 1970’s freakytown. Yes, free at last from the ridicule of my brother and his friends telling me not to go near any more light sockets. Free from my dad telling me that the school janitor called and said he wants his mop back. And free from being mistaken for Twisted Sister’s younger sister.
Meanwhile, I looked up again at my KISS poster, “Why, Paul Stanley, why?” I implored. The room started to spin (which wasn’t unusual actually), Paul shifted his intense rock god gaze down to face me and imparted these words of wisdom: “Be yourself and follow your own look”. Wow. That’s heavy. “Oh, and by the way”, he added, “You’re soooo lucky you have naturally straight hair”.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Endless Pajama Party
 Linda in bed, shoes on, waiting for that call
by Mistress Justine Brown

Linda Evangelista and I have much in common. So very much. It's spooky. There's the Canadian thing, and well, all sorts of stuff. Anyway, most importantly, we both refuse to get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. More with inflation; it's been a while since Linda drew our line in the sand. But since adequate offers have been a bit thin on the ground recently in my neck of the woods-- I swear there's something wrong with my phone-- Mistress Brown has been firmly planted in bed for quite a spell. As the days turn dark, you may feel the need to take up this position as well.

And there's nothing wrong with that! It's not a protest or anything, no sir. I love bed. From a wee girl I have made the hay my home-within-a-home. I sit at the centre of a shifting pile of books, papers, snacks, crafts (I'm into beading at the moment, which has led to quite a few Princess and the Pea moments), moisturisers and plenty of makeup. I have a hand mirror, and try out different looks from time to time.  Even now I am in bed, laptop perched upon my knees. If I have written anything worthy over the years, rest assured (ho ho) it has issued from this humble correspondent's bed.

Young Mistress Brown. Note silk pajamas and bed.

If I tell you that some of my happiest moments have happened between the sheets, will you promise not to smirk or waggle your eyebrows? Life is a perennial pajama party here in Milady's Boudoir. I'm thinking of pajama parties of yore now, proper ones where the pjs stay on and everyone engages in wholesome activities, like playing Monopoly, dyeing their spiky hair and painting their toenails. Cocktails are quaffed, but delicately, because no-one wants to wreck the party place.
pj parties of yore

Of course, stylish pajamas are the key to stylish pajama parties. When I became a punk, I was gratified by the prominence of pajamas among the denizens of that world. Attentive Skoolkids will recall that one of my best friends knocked 'em dead, ravishing the menfolk by staying fully clothed in the sack, shoes and all. She balanced this look off by wearing red paisley pajamas during the day. Sending boys to the store in their pjs became a crucial test: if they weren't willing to do that little thing for us, we wanted nothing more to do with them. I also remember fondly a trend among some guys for sporting silk kimonos over t-shirts and jeans for a languid daytime-into-evening look.
 Just add boy of your dreams

The Chinese have given us the world's best pajamas, those fitted satin ones with embroidery. I am wearing a pair as I write. Head down to your local Chinatown to find them, or, if for some excellent reason you are confined to your bed, simply order them off the net. Now that you are suitably attired, you may be in the mood to socialize. Rather than-- Heaven forfend--don't go getting crazy on me, now-- abandoning the boudoir, why not bring the party to you? Treat your friends in the run-up to Christmas. A lot of spas and salons are offering in-home services these days. Recently I discovered the existence of a fabulous den of femininity, Lost in Beauty (, a lovely salon in London's deeply fashionable Primrose Hill, popular with the feted "Primrose Hill Set". How do I know it's lovely, you ask? I made an exception and went there in a fur-lined cab, all right? It was Hallowe'en, and I fit right in what with my glossy satin pjs and all. The makeup artists were cheerfully at work preparing their alluring customers for costume parties, so there were plenty of glammed-up goths and witches to admire. Lost in Beauty has a vintage look, sort of 1920s luxe, a full range of beauty services, and a selection of tempting products (like the inimitable Rose Day Cream from Dr. Hauschka, which I smooth on to comfort my complexion when I'm not bombarding it with tretinoin and alpha-hydroxy acids.)

With the proper decorations festooning your bed, tinsel streamers and the like, perhaps a yuletide scene on the headboard, you can easily stage your Christmas party from the comfort of that happy spot. Order in a team of these festive experts to pamper your nearest and dearest with pedicures, manicures, makeup, massage, threading; all sorts of things! Plus-- champagne. Yes. Just be ready to lay on breakfast; I don't think their packages include that.

I love a good pedicure. Since I'm not really into bedroom slippers, my feet need to look good all year round, really set off those pjs-- considering the circumstances. (You know, sticking to our bed-bound principles and all.) At the moment, nail polish colours are shall we say counterintuitive. For the last few seasons, Chanel has had the last word on nail colour. Last season it was "greige", a strange but strangely attractive (to women, at least) combo of gray and beige. Here in London it's a mob scene at the Chanel counter once the powers that style have discerned the colour of the season. A moment ago it was jade. Or eggplant. This is all very well, but the fact remains that men like red, and I concur. Red on the toes and something pale on the fingers, though for some reason I feel weird if both sets of my nails are done at the same time. At any rate, that's what some of my pals are getting for Christmas:  pedicures in my glorious bed. With their feel sort of dangling off to save the duvet.

If I send the cab for her, Linda-- you remember Linda-- will doubtless come round for the festivities. She may be busy these days, but surely not too busy to pay her respects to someone with high standards like herself. When she does, I'll walk to the bedroom door on tippy-toes with my Barbie feet, champagne glasses in hand, and invite her in for a night of pajama perfection and girly delights. I just hope we can sync up our calendars.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Subculture Afterlife: the Tango

by Mistress Justine Brown
If you, dear Reader, are anything like me, you spent your adolescence in louche nightclubs (or trying to gain entrance to them). You belonged to a thrilling subculture. The world revolved around music, and you collected records and mixed tapes fervently and danced with abandon. Bands and musicians generally occupied the pinnacle of an elaborately coded and mannered social world, the scene, one which was obscure to most people, people whose tastes you and your friends dismissed contemptuously as "mainstream." As you stalked down the street, studiously ignoring one and all, you examined telephone poles for posters which closely resembled kidnap notes: these let you know where you would be spending your Friday and Saturday nights.Your clothes-- mostly black-- hair, makeup and general deportment inspired passing members of the public to roll their eyes and insult you, sometimes yell, wave their fists and even issue threats. And more. Punk, goth, psychobilly, or something along those lines, you had a hell of a lot of fun.

The irresistible Robert Smith

Feeling nostalgic? If so, Mistress Brown has a prescription: take up Argentine tango. Tango has been enjoying an international revival since the early 1990s. A niggling difficulty with youth subculture is this: it's for youth. This doesn't mean you are forbidden to head out occasionally and see the latest local band or are banished from the Cure reunion gig. It doesn't mean you can't pull the blinds and drown yourself in Nick Cave murder ballads now and then. But do you really want to spend the rest of your days in the abject position of trying to recapture the feeling of being seventeen, and looking to teenagers (possibly-- ouch-- your own teenagers) for all the cues? Broaden your stylistic horizons and add some musical culture-- say jazz, blues, opera, or TANGO-- that ages well. As a flamboyant youngster, you may have relished the opportunity to dress like an undertaker, a vampire or a pirate. Once you enter the world of the tango, you can wear the best shoes in the world (the Comme Il Faut brand for instance makes Manolos look like Birkenstocks), sport your most dramatic dark clothing and makeup, flourish a fan, wave it, whisper behind it and generally behave like an eighteenth-century coquette. With impecunity.

What are those tangueras talking about behind their fluttering fans? I might as well tell you the worst up front. They're dissecting everyone else's dancing. If you can handle that, you can handle Argentine tango. The hierarchy-- and every subculture rests on some type of caste system-- is based on dancing. But since everybody was a beginner at some point, and a person never really finishes learning the tango, the playing field is reasonably level. In the world of tango, to say that a person dances like a 70-year-old is to pay a high compliment. Make the term "vintage" really stand for something! Devote your evenings to the melancholy pleasures of Argentine tango.

Once you do so, you will find yourself, oddly enough, frequenting some of the venues of yesteryear. Dance enthusiasts rent the same sorts of places-- the Latvian Friendship Centre, say, or an old dine-and-dance joint that's been languishing since 1974-- as punk rock bands used to do. There you can usually find a class or two, followed by a dance that seems part Weimar Berlin, part cartoon (remember when Bugs Bunny used to dress as a girl and go dancing?). No look, no gesture is too extravagant. Just make sure to wear leather or suede soles, otherwise you'll stick to the floor. Men, when dressing, use black as your basenote and work from there. Women! Raccoon eyes, oiled chignon, sequins, clingy gowns; do what you do best. Just make sure you can stride in it.
Betty Boop prepares to tango

Many of us rue the day that men and women stopped cutting a rug together. Tango affords a welcome respite from the lonely and robotic "individualism" of today's average dancefloor. Nothing is neutral in the tango world. There are leaders (mostly men) and followers (mostly women), but one quickly learns that there is nothing inherently passive in following. The first time I attended a milonga (a formal dance, as opposed to a practica), we were entertained by a pair of men in snazzy gray suits. Their excellent performance somehow fused the Marx Brothers with karate. The average tango couple aims at something more subtle, though-- a wordless conversation. People wax mystical about the tango connection at its best. Suffice to say it is intimate. However, this is not an intimacy that leads automatically to the bedroom. It usually stays on the dancefloor: the tango world is not a meat market.

That said, you may very well meet your heart's desire at the milonga. At the very least, you can star in your own movie. The striking cast of characters, ranging in age from 18 to 80, is laid on. So too is the ravishing soundtrack, featuring everything from Astor Piazzolla to the Gotan Project, and assorted points in between. (Sometimes there is live music as well).You are in charge of wardrobe. Need a few pointers? Here is an Argentine recipe. Put your hair up-- it gets hot in those places-- and powder your face as pale as you like. I favour a choice between dark, smoky eyes (check out Lauren Luke's eye makeup tutorials on YouTube, or go to and crimson lipstick, but you may want both. A lady cannot go wrong with a black wraparound dress and a pair of shoes that look good and stay on. Add a little perfume and a big, sparkly cocktail ring on your left hand, all the better to dangle over your partner's shoulder. A bracelet looks good on the right wrist, near where the hands clasp. Indulge the love of black, white, a dash of red and lots more black; return to those dark little haunts, join the clique and above all get swept away in gorgeous music. You are ready for subculture afterlife--just like heaven.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Free Range Radicals

 article and illustrations by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
Not so many years after Grade Eight Home Ec. class (or as I liked to call it, Skoolers, ‘Home Yech’ class) everything I learned about nutrition and a balanced diet went down the drain. Cooking was never on the front burner at my home-- that’s what drive-ins were for.  My dad schooled me in the efficacy of fast food outlets and we weren’t afraid to use them. We simply rotated the three major food groups: pizza, burgers and fried chicken-- all readily available for pick up.

I transferred these good eating habits into my very young adulthood. However, once out of the family home the frequency with which I patronized fine and fast eating establishments depended on the cash flow. The alternative to this method of sustenance was, of course, reliance on what may have been lingering in the kitchen. The nutritional and economic state of the average punk household was reflected in the contents of its fridge. Upon inspection one might find a crusty bottle of ketchup, a shriveled potato well past retirement and an ancient box of baking soda orphaned by the previous tenants.

This icebox inventory illustrates the factors that produce the punk rock pallor in all its empty nutrient splendor. As a result it was rare to see a rosy-cheeked punk and even harder to find a healthy glow. Sickly pale was the skin color du jour. We would never have darkened the doorway of a tanning salon; if we wanted more pigment in our skin, we opted for jaundice. We reflected the environment we lived in: up all night, sleep all day-- there was no sun-kissed look.

The emaciated and pasty Stiv Bators, antithesis of a Chippendale dancer, was a classic example of the punk prototype. Breakfast for Stiv consisted of a big bowl of steaming hot snarl-- most likely diet snarl. That guy was really skinny. If he were alive today he would probably market “Sonic Reducer” as a secret carb-burning supplement. I’d buy it.
Some of the classic punk rock food staples back in the day were basic items such as toast or beer or, if one was feeling rather flush, toast and beer-- good for any of the three squares. Then there is the legendary Kraft dinner. Only the imagination can limit the multitude of ways to bastardize this dish. I’m just glad tofu hadn’t been invented back then-- I would have hated for any nutritional value to have compromised my standards. Cereals were very popular in my kitchen, given the fact that I hosted breakfast for a boyfriend with the maturity level of a seven-year-old. Naturally, the cereal selections were based on sugar content and the prize inside. Words of wisdom, Skoolers: if you want to get rid of your punk rock boyfriend, stop feeding him Captain Crunch and he will go away. Guaranteed.

For me, Vancouver's legendary Railway Club served as an all-you-can-eat buffet, the bars garnish caddy being the buffet. With such delicacies as lemon and lime wedges, (no scurvy!), maraschino cherries, pearl onions and celery stalks (fruit and veg!) mealtime meant never having to settle for just a bag of chips. A lot of punks really didn’t eat much. If it was a choice between a half-sack of Extra Old Stock brew or food, then snacking on beer labels seemed to suffice. Simply tear and chew. Between the protein in the glue and the fiber content in the paper you are looking at an adequate amount of roughage with the beer rounding out the recommended daily nutrient intake, not to mention a dose of vitamin B6.

The ‘dine and dash’ was a fairly popular pastime and method of replenishment. But be sure not to overeat when undertaking this venture and go easy on the bread basket, as it can hinder the ‘dash’ part of the evening, leaving one rather vulnerable while attempting to exit. Greasy spoons were the typical eating establishments in punk culture and, in particular, Nemoto’s cafe just off Hastings Street was a breakfast favorite. My friend Sally and I would wile away the time waiting for the waiter to bring us our order by singing “You Can’t Hurry Jimmy” sung to the tune by the Supremes “You Can’t Hurry Love”. 

Another restaurant on the punk rock landscape was Mr. Mike’s. It was a low budget steak house franchise established in 1960. I was quite familiar with it, as it had been a family favorite. The only restaurant I remember patronizing as a kid where you could actually get a serrated steak knife! We went there when my parents were on their best behavior. I would amuse myself by studying that paper placemat with the fun and colorful illustrations of the various bar drinks. I learned their names, their contents and scrupulously mapped out what order I would one day try each of them...Harvey Wallbanger, Singapore Sling-- what funny names for cocktails. Come to think of it, ‘cocktail’ is a funny name for a drink. Tom Collins, Rob Roy, hmmm, it kind of makes Shirley Temple sound like a big baby’s drink. Hey, that Manhattan sounds cool... Those place mats were an invaluable education and helped me to appear quite drink savvy when I reached my teens. Never mind a diploma, I’ve got a framed comprehensive cocktail chart on parchment paper hanging in my den.
By the late 1970s, the Mr. Mike’s restaurants started to slowly disappear but there remained one on Granville Street where a large portion of punks managed to gain employment due to one hapless manager who thought putting people like Chuck Biscuits in charge of the salad bar was a good idea. A useless and long expired insider’s tip: if you must eat at that Mr. Mike’s location, stick with the baked potato with its insulated aluminum safety jacket. Unless, of course, you are craving a smorgasbord of human bodily fluids and feel the need to pay for them, then have at it.

Meanwhile, in terms of at-home gatherings, I don’t remember too many punks hosting dinner parties; most owned little more than a can opener for cooking equipment. That and a fork will get you on your way to Beefaroni bliss. Enjoyed hot or room temperature, it makes for a fine meal. Fruit and vegetables, which would have greatly aided in the appearance of health, were sorely missing from the punk diet. Did I miss the all-ages ‘Rock Against Produce’ concert? The only vegetable on that guest list was the potato. And so many punks subsisted on the spud that people starting speaking with Irish accents. 

Today it’s all about anti-oxidants and eradicating free radicals. I remember when being a free radical was hip; now they are the enemy. But really, back then we had bigger fish to fry, and when you’re young the last thing you are mulling over is if you are getting enough Omega 3-6-9. And screw protein. Muscles were for jocks. But over the years the palate matures and what was once a delectable indulgence, such as the sparkling strawberry Pop Tart, is now just a shell of its former self. That’s why I’ve switched to the irresistible raspberry flavored ones. I’ve come a long way in improving my healthy eating habits. I realize now that donuts aren’t just for breakfast anymore, pizza actually counts as not one but four food groups and chocolate milk tastes pretty good even without the vodka.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Blue Peel Letters

Assorted approaches to aging skin: diversion, concealment... 

In spite of strict Skool rules against passing notes in class, SOMEONE has produced the following mysterious letters. They are signed only "A Lady."

Dear Miss X,

Few ladies, I think you will agree, enjoy the effects of time upon the complexion. I celebrated a milestone birthday recently. It so happened that my husband and I were staying in a fine hotel in the Far East-- Hong Kong, to be precise. The sun blazed through the picture windows, leaving me feeling mercilessly exposed. Catching sight of my reflection in the glass, I gave a start. The mirror in the powder room wasn't much kinder, although the light was soft. Horrors! It seemed that I had aged overnight. My face looked fatigued. I had fine lines, yes, but what troubled me more were the dark patches that seemed to shadow my face.

Over-exposure to the sun, you say? Those of us who follow Beauty Skool know your strict rules on sun exposure, Mistress Brown, and that you champion the white complexion of an eighteenth-century coquette. And yet I had, since a girl, shunned bronzing and had worn a sunscreen every day, no matter what the weather, for the last twenty years. What in heaven's name was going on?

This revelation cast a pall over the birthday celebrations my husband had thoughtfully prepared. I no longer felt at ease, in spite of his gallantries. The only thing solution was to procure a powerful sunscreen and concealer.  Fortunately, Hong Kong is not only a shopper's pleasure garden, it is also a place where ladies are particularly concerned with maintaining a luminous complexion free of dark spots. They make their way through the humid streets of the vertical city carrying parasols or-- less charming but equally practical-- ordinary umbrellas, and they buy "whitening" products (designed to erase the depredations of the sun) in vast quantities.

I took up my parasol and made my way through the steamy streets to market. Shiseido is a particular favourite among Hong Kong womanhood, as are luxury brands in general. Immense glowing billboards and magazine advertisements attest to this fact. After much consideration, I decided to buy Mac Prep + Prime Face Protect SPF 50 and some tried and true Maybelline Super Stay 24H Concealer to sustain me until we returned to London via Saudi Arabia-- another Eastern land where the ladies are mad for luxury goods-- and I could consult a dermatologist. I had resolved to make an investment, let us say, in my skin.

Burka Barbies- Role Models, Temptresses or Blasphemy


 The quest for beauty, Arabian style. Courtesy of Mattel.

Meanwhile, I adorned my face as best I could and enjoyed my birthday. With makeup I can make a tolerably attractive mask. These days, I have resorted to wielding concealer before my husband awakes. Oh! He stirs, and I must leave off my tale for the moment.

Cordially yours,

A Lady

We in the staff room were immediately reminded of a pleasing anecdote from the Beauty Skool Hall of Fame. A Vancouver scenester gal spent the night with a member of a celebrated English band in the early 1980s. After he had played at the Commodore Ballroom, they repaired to his hotel room. Now this gal liked her warpaint. We are not sure we would have recognized her without her white pancake makeup, sooty eyeshadow and liquid liner, and above all her brilliant red lipstick topped off, Helmut Newton style, with reflective gloss. She passed the night with this gentleman, and awoke early with a sense of unease: he was about to see her without her polished mask of pigments. So she quietly repaired to the powder room, reapplied it all to perfection, and slid back into his arms before he woke up. Triumph! Illusion intact.

Bee Keeping Dress
Beekeeping fashion: another strategy for dealing with uncooperative skin  

Dear Miss X,

Upon our return to England, I found that the malady still haunted me. I was terribly self-conscious-- not only before my husband, but other people as well-- about the dark spots and enlarged pores upon my visage, and felt that some kind of rejuvenation was crucial. In the meantime, inspired by our visit to Arabia, I took up beekeeping as a hobby. My boon companion, Mrs. X, kindly suggested a trip to take the waters at Bath. Tempting as this was, I felt that something uniquely designed for skin was in order. I therefore made an appointment to visit the Harley Medical Group, a practice which specializes in plastic surgery, but also offers a host of "non-invasive" procedures.

My fellow sufferers in the doctor's waiting room affected not to notice my new costume, and in fact chatted with me aimiably on the subject of rejuvenation procedures. I met a family of three-- father, mother, and daughter of nineteen. It emerged that the young lady had recently undergone an operation to enlarge her bosom, and had come to have her stitches removed. So the gentleman confided to me when the ladies were closeted away with the surgeon. "A father doesn't notice such things," he stated. I must confess I was a little taken aback when the nurse summoned him to join them in the consulting room! However, I busied myself with pamphlets. I soon had my heart set upon something called the IPL Laser, which is supposed to banish uneven areas and effect an overall tightening.

"Madame X?" a young and fresh-faced nurse stood before me. "Would you care to follow me?" At the Harley Medical Group, the initial diagnosis is performed by a senior nurse. This nurse did not appear senior, but her manner was professional. She did not attempt to further erode my self-confidence, as some of these practitioners are reputed to do, by suggesting that I  might need a new nose, chin, or set of cheekbones. However, she did persuade me that the IPL Laser was unsuitable. Apparently, it sometimes has the effect, albeit rarely, of intensifying dark spots, and is best used for freshening the complexion. She suggested that I undergo what is known as an Obagi Blue Peel, declaring upon her honour that she had never known a patient to regret the procedure.

And now I must leave off for the moment. Duty calls: the bees are in need of my attention.

Cordially yours etc.,

A Lady

My dear Miss X,

Pour etre belle, il faut souffrir, as our wise French sisters are wont to declare. Beauty demands suffering. My bees seem seem intent upon teaching me this hard lesson. More to the point, my charming gentleman surgeon does also. Happily, he relies upon words for instruction. During my most recent visit to his offices, he explained the Obagi philosophy in detail and equipped me with a large box of ointments and unguents, together with directions printed upon a card. The products are designed to acclimatise the skin, to prepare it for a certain... harshness. He exacted a promise: that I would use no other products upon my skin until  the Blue Peel itself is performed in eight weeks' time-- an occasion known mysteriously as "Smurf Day." I gave him my word. Also, I vowed to use only mineral makeup-- insofar as I use cosmetics at all, as I told him (haha!), I now use only Laura Mercier's powdered primer and foundation. It appears that other cosmetics act as a barrier between the skin and Dr. Obagi's creams. 

Let it be known that many types of mineral makeup are available, but Miss Mercier's offerings are particularly pleasing-- they include crushed pearls among their ingredients!-- if a little expensive. Maybelline has a line of mineral cosmetics, and I myself own a pot of their Pure Mineral Blush in Pink Topaz along with the concealer I mentioned earlier (and which I am now forbidden to use). In fact, London ladies are quite smitten with Maybelline, which boasts a kind of exoticism in this city.

I was told to expect a certain amount of redness and spontaneous exfoliation, as though I had-- perish the thought!-- spent some hours in the sun without my parasol. And indeed, after a week or so, I did begin to experience some strange phenomena which caused me to reach for my fan and wave it energetically.

Distract onlookers and obtain relief from a certain burning sensation with this indispensable item

But I am ecstatic to report that after this same week the dark shadows which had caused me so much distress had vanished! Soon afterward, the unpleasant symptoms began to abate (however, the nurse tells me that week four is typically the least comfortable). My complexion is wonderfully even-toned for the first time in a year. I look forward to what the coming days will bring, and to further describing my experiences to you.

Your faithfully,

A Lady

Stay tuned, class! Skool rules notwithstanding, we await the next missive from our veiled correspondent.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A Hair's Breadth from Kate Moss

by Mistress Justine Brown
James Brown with his friend, Kate

About a year ago, I read about how Kate Moss' old pal and hairstylist, James Brown, who she's known since her Croydon days, was opening a salon in a quiet spot off London's Oxford Street, the hugest and most frenetic shopping promenade in Europe. A big fabulous party was held, and Kate Moss did her best to help her friend promote his new business and line of hair products. Strolling along Wigmore Street (yes, Wigmore Street), I spied the salon and darted in on a whim. Why not get two big silver streaks at my temples? I said to myself-- in spite of what I wrote on this very subject not so long ago (see "London Hair Trends Redux").
The picture that started it all

The sensible Irish colourist talked me out of my silly idea and into a better one. Why not get two big creamy blond streaks to complement my already bleached hair? The salon was relatively quiet when I went there, so I had no chance to goggle at the clientele. But I had my ideas about them. I made a lunchtime appointment for the following Tuesday.

I reasoned that half their customers must be made up of streaky blond Kate Moss fans and wannabees, all hoping, like myself, to hear the words "Hey, you look a bit like Kate." I was ready to settle for "Hey, you look a bit like Kate's fat older sister." Or even... no, Mistress Brown has her (now radically depleted) dignity to maintain. Anyway, it turns out that I was by far the most deluded person in the salon. It was peopled by serious style folk of all ages and walks of life. Each one of them had a clear idea of the look they were going for, from the tailored young man with the shiny black 80s-esque short-back-and-sides to the gallery-going seventy-year-old lady with the severe gray bob. Not a blonde in sight. (By the way, if you want to see the women who share my affliction, go down to Top Shop, where Kate has a line of clothing inspired by the contents of her own closet.)

I made my usual mistake with hairdressers. When, before touching my hair, Antony kindly complimented me on my overall colour, I blithely replied "Thanks. I do it myself." I even mentioned Clairol's brilliant newish product, Perfect 10, which really does give a great result without wrecking the hair, all in ten minutes. Might as well have slapped him in the face with a wet fish. Why do I do that? Not only is it churlish, it's dangerous. I mean, this is the guy who is about to apply toxic chemicals to my hair.

I told the cheerful, friendly shampoo girl about the Skool, and she said she'd quite like to attend. I told her about how a Skoolgirl who shall remain nameless was documenting her Obagi Blue Peel (watch this space!). And although the colourist stayed mum, the shampoo girl did mention Kate. Yes. I didn't even have to raise the topic. We looked at the current copy of ID magazine featuring our heroine on the cover. Her hair was short and dark, and she looked about fifteen. I couldn't believe it was a new photo, but it was. Apparently James Brown, who styled the shoot, had to encourage her a little to wear that wig, but in the end they were both thrilled with the results. "I had my hair like that when I was a teenager," I hinted embarrassingly. Nuthin'. Not a sausage.
And here's Mistress Brown just last week.I mean, throw me a bone here, people!
I came out of the salon all freshened and styled and feeling glamorous. I had big golden hair. "Look! Doesn't she look like Kate Moss?" I heard someone whisper, and I turned to see the slender teenager who had caught everyone's attention. Oh well. I reckon I'll go back to the James Brown Salon though. Antony steered me out of hazardous waters hair-wise, and he deserves some courtoisie. Plus, the fantasy is worth the price of admission alone.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Needles and Pins

article and illustrations by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

Anarchy in the uk
Soo Catwoman graces the cover of the NME



God Save The Queen: Promotional Sticker, 1977
The Queen has always been a style icon
1977 was a bumper year for new music. It was also the year that I flipped through NME magazine and saw the safety pin being used for something other than a diaper or a kilt. The pin's status had been elevated from the unassuming utilitarian item found in the depths of a drawer or bottom of a pencil holder to the latest must-have (punk) defining accessory. The prolific use of that household item made such an impact that I had to run to my mom's sewing kit and see what was available for my own purposes. What a goldmine! She kept a well-stocked old cookie tin full various-sized pins that never saw the light of day. I selected one that I thought to be the perfect size. Yes, I said to myself, this needs to go in my ear.

Never having had my ears pierced, I spent a moment contemplating how I was going to execute the task. I tested the waters, poking at the skin. Ouch. I quickly realized I would need a much sharper needle (back to the sewing kit, and to the freezer for some ice). I even went so far as to grab a Bic lighter to sterilize my surgical implement. Not bad, I thought, as I surveyed my medical supplies.

Face front class here are the necessary implements!

With the aid of Johnny Rotten screaming ‘fuck this and fuck that’ from the turntable and a hard day of pent-up teen angst, I hit the ground running. I sat at my vanity mirror in my pink-coated bedroom (to match the pink and red shag carpeting I had picked out for my 15th birthday) and tried to freeze my lobe with the ice cube. My fingers got too cold. I moved onto Step Two. With a shaky but determined hand I tried pushing the sewing needle in to my wiggly soft right ear lobe. It only wanted to accommodate the intrusive needle and stretched along with it as my ear wondered why it was being punished. Argh. It’s nothing personal, lobe, trust me, this is going to look cool. I had to stop and breathe. Okay-- let’s try this again. Finally, after a lot of snarling through gritted teeth on my part, it was pierced! A little blood, but I was smart enough to have some cotton balls at the ready – however, not so smart to know that hydrogen peroxide would have been beneficial.

Hastily I grabbed my new piece of ‘jewelry’ and inserted it into my freshly pierced ear. Closing the safety pin was a little tricky (read painful) but eventually I got it. Pride doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Try ‘warrior.’ Move over Sheena, the Ramones will be singing about me next! Ya, sure my ear lobe was red and throbbing and felt violated and betrayed but I was going to show off my new adornment at school tomorrow and nothing was going to stop me. Not even the fact that when I woke the next day, the victimized lobe was blazing hot and a tad puffy. I assured myself that my ear was simply adapting to the foreign piece of metal and eventually it would calm down.

Miss Thirlwell rocks the halls

I swaggered through the halls of my high school in a way that suggested, “I have just reached a new height of cool – ask me how.” Unfortunately, nobody did, so I had to go the extra mile and flick my hair back nonchalantly to unveil my handiwork. This was met with exclamations like “what the hell is that?” “does that hurt?” and “freak.” “Anarchy, baby,” I replied, “ nah” (yep), and “thank you.” It was obvious that my high school was not very progressive. The outlook was chronic Jock Nifty Journey with a sprinkling of Jethro Tull Stoner. By the time I got home from a long day of ‘show and tell’ and more teen angst, my ear lobe was the size of a golf ball. There was nothing safe about that safety pin. The next few days were pus-filled.

The second time I attempted to become pierced was in the doorway of a market on a small Greek island. It cost about five dollars to get the job done. My lobes became infected within 24 hours.

The third and last stab at giving pierced ears a go was at a community college. I was nervous about the lump of scar tissue that had formed in the lobe from the first two procedures but I hoped for the best. Surely the cosmetology program would be supervised with sterilized tools. I lasted about a week before my ears fully rejected the generic hoops. That’s it. Like a lady whose only choice is to adopt, I would spend my life wearing clip-ons. Although they fulfill the same desire they still aren’t really your own.

So maybe when multiple piercings came on the scene it only reminded me of my failed attempts. I wasn’t bitter. And when people explored new territories of punctuation I knew I would only be a spectator. And a listener: nothing says sophisticated like the impishly sweet lisp one acquires after having had their tongue pierced. Aw, you sound just like little Cindy Brady with that big fat dumbbell sticking through your tongue, how cute are you?
I mean edgy. Plus there’s the added bonus of the quasi-sexually suggestive distraction of said tongue-pierced talker spicing up the delivery of their words while playing tongue tag with their new slab of mouth metal. I know that for me, as an audience member, this is a mesmerizing way to spend an afternoon.

Are some of the other pierced areas of the body meant to be a type of code for things one would rather leave unspoken? For example, the barbell through the eyebrow, the dangling bellybutton chains, the hoops through nipples and places where no jeweler should have to venture.

Piercing for decoration can be a little confusing. I nearly made the faux paus of letting my local video store clerk know that she had a Tic Tac stuck to her chin. On closer inspection it was, in fact, ‘jewelry.’ I’ve always marveled at how people manage to get some of their piercings in what seem like tricky places. Did that dead bolt enter through your eye cavity in order to come out of your eyebrow? How does that work? How about those kids with shower curtain hoops in their earlobes stretched to the size of radial tires? And why am I so tempted to hang my dry cleaning from their ears while standing on the bus?

It seems the safety pin, like a collection of K-Tel hit-makers, had its fifteen minutes of fame and adoration and has been relegated back to its humble origins. No longer a statement of rebellion, now it mostly represents a lack of motivation for getting out the needle and thread to replace a button. But if, down the road, I’m feeling sentimental for that old punk rock feeling, I can take solace in knowing that when it comes time to wheel out the Depends, I can go the old school route and use a safety pin to secure them.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Skool Visit: Christie Mellor

Welcome, Skoolkids. We have a big treat today: Miss Alexandra Oliver has invited Ms. Christie Mellor, author extraordinaire, to talk to us about her writing work in the realms of beauty and beyond. Notebooks at the ready!

interview by Miss Alexandra Oliver
bonus: book review by Miss Justine Brown

our esteemed guest

AO: Ms. Mellor, first of all I would like to welcome you to Beauty Skool. We're all tremendous fans of yours.

CM: Thank you, I am so honored and happy that Beauty Skool has invited me to gab about my new book. And just generally shoot my mouth off. Fire away.

get the book!

AO: Well, that book really is a humdinger. I have to hand it to you. Finally, a manual for the over-20 set that respects our uniqueness and inner quirkitude! I find a lot of beauty books for gals of our level of elegance and experience to be either of the "throw in the towel and wear neutrals" variety or of the "you go, girl!" fierce post-Sex and the City variety. This was a like a drink of cool water, I have to tell you. What first tipped you off that the world was in need of a book like this?

CM: Because I was in need of a book like this! Maybe it was one too many "I'm forty and FABULOUS!" magazine covers sporting those ferociously  toned, done-up women who all look like they're staring down middle age. They rarely look truly glamorous, and they often look like a caricature of "glamour," like they were dressed by a five-year old who dreams of being Miss America. When I wrote The Three-Martini Playdate, I had the same feeling about those mad parents... "If my child gets into the right preschool and is enrolled in nineteen enrichment classes, he'll end up at Harvard! Quickly! You must learn Mandarin!" I'm seeing the same kind of "I can FIX this" attitude with a lot of women, regarding their own aging selves. Also, I'm going through a number of changes myself, but I never seemed to see myself represented anywhere. And I knew that if I felt that way, then there had to be others. I think there are a lot of women out there who are edging toward that certain age, and they're not really sure exactly how to present themselves anymore... so they either recede into the background or they take a staunch stand against the inevitable with a barrage of injections and denial. But there's a lot of middle ground in there, don't you think?

AO: I definitely think so. The media is so youth-driven, and that creates a climate of uneasiness that's hard to ignore. And I think those extremes you speak of reek of that uneasiness, both the beige-and-elastic-waisted pants attitude and the hot, supercougar attitude. I think a lot of ladies are free and adventurous spirits and what makes them so, stylistically speaking, can be maintained in their lives as they press on into the more elegant years. My philosophy is this: one gets more confident about life, about love, about work and ideals and being a parent and all that. One gets a thicker skin and (hopefully) develops a sense of humor. Shouldn't that translate into maintaining one's personal style? Anyhow! I waffle! What has the response been to this book thus far, both amongst your friends and in the wider world?

CM: So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. (Other than the fact that there seem to be two camps when it comes to the "waxing" question.) But overall, I'd say the response could safely be called "enthusiastic." I especially love hearing things like "coffee came out of my nose," and "hilarious" from people who are not close friends or relatives. (The coffee in question was not scalding, by the way, and it apparently came out by way of an abrupt guffaw, in case you were worried.) So, yes, to all of the above. I hope my book will encourage more of the free and adventurous spirits to feel more free and adventurous. And to find and embrace our elegant maturity. But you're right... with a sense of humor. We mustn't lose that. And if we never had much of a sense of humor about ourselves, it's a perfect time to develop one.

By the way, did I mention how much I love "inner quirkitude?" Delightful. I wish that had been on the back cover.

AO: Why thank you! Neologisms are very handy! And coffee did, in fact, come out of my nose, too. Tell me, how did the research process for this book differ from, say, your research for the other books?

CM: I'm pretty sure the research for this book has been unconsciously going on for at least a few decades. The impetus to write it came more recently, but it may have started festering when I first noticed that various cosmetic procedures were no longer the purview of aging actresses-- it was trickling down to younger and younger actresses, then the female population in general. Until now it seems many women think nothing of rebuilding themselves from the ground up at the first sign of a laugh line. People's idea of "beauty" has gotten narrower and narrower, and I'm sad about that. Although there seems to be a little bit of a backlash. I love some of these big-girl models who are starting to show up on the pages of high-fashion magazines. Even if they are considered "plus size" at size 10 and 12! What a world. But back to your research question... the research for this book was the MOST fun kind of research. When I wasn't reaching back into my brain for stories, I was looking up bad plastic surgery on the Internet, ogling lipsticks and experimenting with homemade scrubs and face-masks. Whee! I've always envied those women whose jobs require them to endure countless facials and beauty treatments and massages, and then report their findings. How does one get a job like that?? I ask you. Sheer heaven.
AO: One thing that blew me out of the water about your book was the sheer volume of marvelous tips. I have personally been rejoicing in the olive oil and sugar face scrub recipe. Have you culled any fabulous beauty tips since the book's appearance that you wish you'd managed to shoehorn in?

CM: Strawberries! If you have any smooshed ones you won't be eating, mash them up with a little salt or sugar, maybe a drop or two of olive oil. There are a lot of good fruit exfoliants -- oranges, papaya. Maybe I could have stressed how easily you can incorporate some of these tips into your life. For instance, you're mashing avocados for a lovely party guacamole? Just scrape off a few teaspoons' worth of avocado and rub it all over your face. (In your hair, too, if you're planning on a pre-party shower.) Continue your party preparations with a green face, and simply remove with a warm washcloth before getting dressed for the evening. Oh! And for a great mask after cleansing, smash some banana in with a little honey and olive oil. It's messy, but so good for your skin. This one is best done while you're soaking in your bath of asses milk, or lying down in a bed of lavender flowers. It gets drippy. Yogurt and honey is a nice combination, too. I don't think I mentioned that one in the book. Did I? Maybe I did. Oh! Rub an orange slice on your face and neck, it's a fruit acid exfoliant. You know, I just had a thought--my sons like to eat seaweed, so we always have sheets of that toasted nori in the kitchen. I'm thinking that a sheet of seaweed, dampened and placed over the face might make a nice mask. Perhaps not the toasted kind. Hm, I'll get back to you on that.

AO:  Summer is almost upon us; we at the Beauty Skool are filling out report cards, cleaning off the desks, rolling up the maps of our glamour empire and generally preparing for the summer holidays. How does your beauty regime change in the summer? How can we all look resplendent at all those barbecues and garden parties and beach sing-a-longs?

CM: I don't think we want to be laden down with too too much makeup during the hotter months. And it's kind of nice going bare-faced. Within reason. You want your skin to look beautiful and glowing, so use whatever it is you like to even out your skin tone, but just use it in spots. Find a comfortable, cool summer shift. Wear a straw hat. Put your hair in braids, or slick it back into a bun. Try out some orange lipstick. It may look awful, but try it. And if it looks awful, just try a red that's brighter than what you're used to. Or fuchsia, it really looks better on than it does in the tube. Just for fun. Or a bronzing powder on your face paired with dark red lips. Or bare lips and lots of eyeliner. If it's muggy and hot where you live, you'll find you want less of everything on your face, but think gels and stains rather than heavy foundations and powders. I need a little powder on my shiny parts, but I don't want so much that a little shine can't show through. You want to see skin and a few freckles in the summer, I think.Big gold earrings, a straw hat and flip flops, a cotton shift. And a big, sunny, lazy smile. Now, go find a hammock and a good book. Maybe have a little nap before that big party. I hope I got an A in Beauty Skool! (goes out singing "Teacher's Pet... I wanna be teacher's pet...")

AO: Tan or no tan?

CM: Well, too much sun really does do terrible things to your skin. And there's something to be said for being the pale lily-skinned lovely with the wide-brimmed hat, parasol and gloves. I really try to avoid the sun -- although a little romping around in it should really be done more often by everyone. And (gasp!) without sunscreen. We're not getting enough vitamin D! Just don't lie down in it for hours on end. If you are going to be out in it for hours, wear a hat and protect your skin. I have a bathing suit with fabulous three-quarter sleeves and a zip down the front. It's from Australia, where they make fantastic sun-protection clothing, because they have a big hole in their ozone. I feel very Bond Girl in it, and it keeps my shoulders from getting sunburned. But I do like the look of a tan sometimes, so I like to find a nice bronzing powder. A little dusting of bronze with some nice dark red lips, there's a good look. You don't need to go for the whole orange-y faux-tan, please. There's a reason why faux tans usually look so faux. When a person actually gets "tan," it's a very painterly combination of colors (depending on what your skin type is, of course) -- but pinks, Indian reds, and various golds and bronzes are often involved. And the color is never distributed evenly. So the best plan for making your color look as natural as possible is to dust a little bronzing powder on the bridge of your nose, your cheeks, your forehead and chin, your collarbones. Maybe your shoulders. Don't go overboard, and let your skin show through. If you're an overly shiny person, as I am, I usually need to tamp down the excessive shine on my forehead, for fear of blinding passersby. But leave a little shine on your cheeks and a bit on your forehead, so you don't look too powdered. Mix a little blush with the bronzer dusted on your cheeks, and maybe a swipe on the bridge of your nose. You want to look as if you just ran down the beach. And then quickly went back under your big umbrella.

AO: All right, you have your tan (or not), your hat, your red lipstick, your amazing sundress. What sort of shindig do you like to throw at this time of the year? And what's the de rigeur drink of the season? I long, personally, for my father's Pimm's cup.

CM: I love to have small groups of friends over, rather than giant parties. Spontaneous get-togethers and last-minute gatherings are fun in the summer. Well, anytime, really, but in the summer the days are especially long and the working stiff might be more prone to extending the weekend, or having little cocktail parties, even on school nights. You can keep it really simple, food-wise, because generally people don't want big heavy meals on warm nights. I planted something like nine or ten different heirloom tomato plants this year, so theoretically I should be able to throw together a tomato salad in a pinch. And that would be dinner, with a crusty bread, olives, cheese. Just scour your local farmer's markets and get what's really fresh. I make a salad that everyone always oohs and aahs over, it's simply chunks of fresh orange and red onion tossed up with a little red wine vinegar, nice olive oil, some of those dry-cured Moroccan olives, salt & pepper... it's deeeelicious, and everyone always asks for the recipe. So easy. Ooh, I really need to try a Pimm's Cup, I've never had one. I will try it this summer, I promise. A gin & tonic screams "summer" to me. Okay, maybe it doesn't scream "summer," it sort of calls out lazily from the reclining lawn chair. I love a crisp gin & tonic when the weather changes and a martini just won't stay chilled on a warm evening. Garnished with lemon or lime, I'm not a stickler. And if you want to get fancy, there are some interesting tonics out there that are worth trying, ones that use actual sugar instead of corn syrup. They can be pricey, but fun for a splurge and very tasty. Mmm, what else... Campari & soda with a good squeeze of fresh orange, very refreshing on a summer night. There's this old Italian red vermouth I'm in love with, Carpano Antica. Yum. Pour it over ice, garnish with a slice of orange. Adjust the brim of your stylish hat. Sip. It's one of those bitter-ish, off-sweet tastes. So good. I sometimes make a martini with gin and Antica, with a twist. You'll really have to come over and try one. OH, by the way, I DID get an orangey lipstick the other day, never thought I would in a million years. But I took my own advice. Plus, being very budget-minded I took in six empty MAC lipstick tubes, which--if you don't know this, you should--MAC recycles, and they give you a free lipstick for every six empties. SO, since it was free, I went out on a limb and got this very bright orange-y color, "So Chaud." Paired with their "Redd" lip liner, it's really smashing. It also looks great topping off other reds and browns, to brighten them up for the summer. The other day I wore it to an afternoon party and felt just like Grace Kelly in my pale aqua cocktail dress and sandals, if not quite as svelte.

AO: Enough said! I hereby declare this summer open! (Cuts ribbon, smashes champagne bottle.) And thank you, Ms. Mellor! You're welcome at Beauty Skool any old time!

book review by Miss Justine Brown
As I was reading Christie Mellor's delightful new book, You Look Fine, Really (HarperCollins), I stumbled across a sympathetic reference to Birkenstocks. Uh-oh. Now, Birkenstocks are the subject of one of my trademarked rants. I'll try to control myself here. To those of you who say "but they're so comfortable!" I have four words : they had better be. Matters between me and Those Sandals grew worse when my college boyfriend effected what you might call a Breakup Through Birkenstock. This boyfriend was familiar, doubtless too familiar, with Miss Brown's Birkenstock rant. So I knew it was no accident when one spring day he came home resplendent in shorts and a brand new pair of 'stocks. This was not a man who liked to buy shoes, especially $100 pairs of German sandals. It was okay though, he assured me. The shoes were so well built that he could wear them for the rest of his life. He fixed me with a meaningful glare and walked away, footgear flapping. For all I know, he is wearing them today. In the 'stocks. With socks.

Christie Mellor and I may never see eye to eye on this explosive subject. But that's all right, because we're in full agreement upon pretty much everything else. You Look Fine, Really offers big laughs and beauty advice-- not something we often get paired in women's magazines, for example. Actually, it offers big laughs as beauty advice. And, reminding us that beauty is just one part of the picture, Ms. Mellor turns to other crucial topics as well, such as cooking, parties, and play. I knew I had found a kindred spirit for sure when I came upon, reproduced in the book, the classic pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey set (mask included) that still hangs upon my wall.
"I say it's high time we do less, but with more style, " Mellor declares. She encourages us to abandon the dead-serious, frantic fight against time and pursuit of perfection so typical of our era. Instead we should find our essential style recipes and have fun doing it, never forgetting to consult our friends.
Many Skoolkids will know that I like to play Desert Island Essentials. What five beauty products would you want in your kit on Gilligan's Island? Number One on Mellor's list has got to be red lipstick. Now these red lipstick ladies are lucky, because to wear it well is to look totally pulled together. A slash of red lipstick makes a woman look properly made up. It even makes her look coiffed and dressed. Red lipstick is like an entire outfit-- it creates that much impact. Though I'm not sure it could compensate for total nudity on a supermarket run, say.

We get the lowdown on the author's wide collection of red lipsticks and a list of the best ones-- Mac always please the crimson lipstick crowd, but Mellor gives us some rarer examples too. Her collection makes me feel better about my own drawer full of nude lipsticks. For although I heartily endorse the red in principle-- if you're one of the lucky ladies who can wear red lipstick, you will look like a star from the golden age of Hollywood-- unfortunately, I've never found one that didn't make me look like a Russian doll, and thus my makeup and fashion routine is horribly complex. I think my red lipstick syndrome is a rare one, however. Be like Ms. Mellor-- try lots of different shades.They say there's a red for everyone.
Miss Brown at left, directly after applying red lipstick. Cute in principle, yes...

Another strong point is the way this book takes on the exercise riddle. If you're like me, going to the gym makes you feel like a hamster on its wheel or the subject-- horrors-- of an anatomy class, all reduced to bits. Work out this cut of meat, work out that cut of meat. It's unseemly. And then there are the strange outfits one encounters (if you are stuck with the gym, however, look on it as a chance to develop your superhero persona. Choose a name, such as Workout Woman. Develop a logo and affix it to you chest. Wear a mask and cape!). Mellor for her part urges us to find some reward in exercise by choosing something truly fun. And by, as she puts it, what our forebears would call "living"-- climbing stairs, going for walks instead of driving, and so on; incorporating exercise into our lives instead of sectioning off a part of the day for something we hate. 

Several Beauty Skoolers have found an answer to the exercise riddle has come in the  divine form of Argentine tango. No, you don't have to march around with a rose in your teeth. Unless you insist. The more authentic form of tango is sinuous and smooth. Men are men and women can star in their own romantic movie. No dress, no gesture is too extravagant. Where else is it normal to wave fans between dances and whisper behind them on the sidelines like characters out of Dangerous Liaisons? Tango is something you can practice occasionally, taking the odd class and attending the occasional ball (yes, ball)-- or you can become an obsessive, spend outrageous amounts on the world's best-looking shoes, move to Buenos Aires, and open a hotel for fellow dance pilgrims. Intriguingly, Argentine tango has experienced a resurgence in the last fifteen years, and every city in the world seems to boast an active tango scene. (But I digress. This topic deserves a post of its own, clearly.)

Mellor's writing has that quality that for Martin Amis defines good style: it joins in the war against cliche. She likes to take a familiar expression and then turn it on its head. For example, discussing wrinkles, Ms. Mellor writes: "Of course I adore those little crinkles in the corners of my eyes. I've earned those delightful little laugh lines. I did not, however, earn those lines that seem to be forming around the sides of my mouth, no idea where they came from." The book itself is a useful reference guide, teeming as it is with handy hints and techniques, such as facial massage and homemade cosmetics. There is some very sound advice on organizing parties and generally creating a festive atmosphere on the fly. There are survival tips-- real survival tips, such as how to make a compass by floating a needle on a leaf. This book is much more than just a pretty face: it's a pretty face with Girl Guide skills, recipes and charm galore. Class, Miss Brown has added "You Look Fine, Really" to the Skool curriculum. And yes, this will be on the final exam.