Friday, 15 January 2010

Beauty Skool Visit: Pia Shandel

Interview by Miss Justine Brown

All right Skoolkids, this week we have a special guest beauty, one of the great blondes-- Pia Shandel. In the interests of journalistic transparency and bragging rights, Miss Brown reveals that Pia is a close family friend. All her life Miss Brown has had the great good luck to know the smart, funny, vibrant and gorgeous blonde. Pia has appeared in films and for a number of years co-hosted an evening talk show on CKVU television in Vancouver. She then hosted her own phone-in show on CFUN radio. Read on to learn more. Hear how Pia went undercover with a shiny black bob. Notepads at the ready!
Q: You were hired at CFUN because you're much more than a lovely face. Was it exciting to develop a persona and work in a medium with no focus on your looks? Was it strange at first?

A: Moving into talk radio was obviously a big change from television, where there was daily pressure and much time consumed trying to look good for the camera. Hair, clothes and makeup had to be perfect (which was, of course, impossible)... then "How do I sit, from what angle are they shooting me?" was always in my mind. Stand up straight, be graceful, try not to make faces, etc.

For radio I could work in comfortable clothes, dressed up just enough to be presentable in a casual work environment. I used to sit in my office at the radio station, working on pre-production, and watch all the sales girls sashay past my floor-to-ceiling... they all looked like they had spent most of the  morning working on hair and outfit etc... getting gorgeous in order to sell, sell, sell. I was in the enviable position of having to use my wits to succeed, rather than looking provocative or delicious. I was amused to hear from listeners who, according to the sound of my voice, pictured me as a sophisticated brunette. I guess if you sound smart, or original, folks assume you could not possibly be a blonde... because everyone knows that blondes are more fun, but not so bright!

It took me much longer to establish credentials when I worked in t.v., perhaps partly because I could be seen as blonde, so there was a kind of built-in bias that I had to work very hard to overcome. Radio was much more stimulating in terms of the content I was free to create, in part because I was invisible!


Pia-- doing justice to blondeness

Q: What has been your favourite job to date?

A: I did most enjoy live television. It was exciting, and glamorous, and tough, and I loved getting famous and I loved the challenge of keeping up with research and content. The daily ritual of hair and makeup and wardrobe, though time consuming, was a lot of fun, because what girl doesn't love to get gorgeous? Professional hair and makeup is like the ultimate luxury...and when I look back at pictures, I probably looked better than I realized at the time. Also, meeting so many fascinating people, from Sting to Pierre Trudeau, and having to meet them on a level playing field in an interview situation without coming off as an ignorant ass, was incredibly stimulating. The five years I did that two-hour live magazine show in prime time each night, was like a dream come true. It was harshly competitive, but it made a man out of me!

Q: Tell us about your recent adventures with a Chinese-style black bob.

A: A couple of years ago I walked away from my media career. I was disillusioned with the radio station because they kept changing their format, dumbing it down according to the trend toward entertainment at the expense of information. I was exhausted, as I had spent three years getting up at four in the morning in order to be on air by six, when the radio audience is largest. I felt like my whole life was shrinking, and I was constantly tired. I am definitely not an early morning girl. But then I kind of fell into a slump, not knowing what to do with myself.

It has been my experience that women do drastic things with their hair when they are depressed or confused. First I tried extensions, which gave me thicker, more glamourous blonde hair, but it never looked quite right, and it certainly felt pretty weird over time.  Since I have fine, blonde hair, those weaves would peek out and I felt the crushing humiliation of inauthenticity. So I had them removed. The next weird thing I did was have my hairdresser take my colour all the way to black and cut it into a cute Chinese style bob. I have to say, I think it looked fantastic. 

Mr and Mrs Brown out for a fabulous dinner with Pia in good ol' London town

There's a back story to this, which I hereby reveal for the first and only time. I had a boyfriend who moved to Shanghai to start a business. I would visit him there, and we travelled to Beijing, as well as Tibet and other Asian places.

I got the definite impression that he was liking the Asian girls, so in my competitive Viking way, I decided that just because there were millions of them with glossy black hair, they did not have a monopoly on the look! So, I decided that if he liked the raven-haired Asian girls, I would do my best to look like one! It worked for a little while, but eventually I decided that he was not worth that kind of desperation. How humiliating for a real blonde to join the herd and go dark just to interest a man.

The black hair in one of its phases

That's as peculiar as Rihanna posing blonde and golden and naked on the December cover of GQ magazine. The things we do...

Two points: as a black magic woman, I generated a completely different vibe. I was striking, but almost scary. People took me very seriously, and certainly noticed me, but I have to admit, I missed the blonde thing. You know, that automatic response a blonde generates walking down the street? The way men automatically check you out when they are attracted by your light hair. A woman with dark hair does not get that magical blonde reaction. You are somehow more powerful, maybe just as attractive, but you are...not...blonde!

Secondly--and I certainly did not think of this ahead of time-- when you are blonde with black hair, as it grows, the light roots make you look bald! Yes, bald. What could be worse? So I had to grow it out. Now what this entails is, first, you have to keep cutting it short as it grows out, and you have to slowly change the colour back, bit by bit.

So I spent eight months going from black, to brown, to blonde and having gamine short hair. This whole going black thing has been my strangest hair experiment ever...even worse than those eighties perms! But when I look back at the pix taken when it was new, and good...I have to admit it was a fabulous look.

Q: What is the strangest piece of beauty advice you've ever received? (For example, I read about one Hollywood actress who never smiled lest she develop wrinkles.)

A: The strangest beauty advice I have ever received is when a renowned dermatologist, recently consulted in relation to the encroaching lines and sags inevitable to the aging process, told me it would be a great idea to undergo something called a 'fraxel', which is a kind of laser burn inflicted on your face, that theoretically improves your appearance by re-surfacing your skin. Odd. The "after" pictures showed men and women whose faces looked like they had been dragged face down behind a speeding truck for several miles...all bloody and oozing. I was assured that this was a temporary result, which would eventually be replaced by a smoother more youthful skin. Sort of like what happens to burn victims....smooth, shiny skin. I couldn't get out of that office fast enough!

Q: Name your three desert island beauty products. (I guess I'm assuming there's a handsome man marooned there too.)

A: Sisley Ecologique Compound (the best light moisturizer ever)...a pink/mauve lip gloss, and black black mascara.

Q: Can you give us Skool girls one or two beauty secrets?

A: Sex is good for your looks.

Q: You radiate fun and optimism. Talk a bit about this in relation to personal glamour.
A: There is no doubt about it...depression, even just a bad mood, makes you look awful.  Beauty really does come from within. When you feel up, your body moves with grace, your posture improves, and your face relaxes. Good thoughts radiate beauty and excitement.  Perhaps those Vogue models can look beautiful no matter how they are feeling, but after the age of 25, what you feel is how you look.

But here's the can't just sit around and expect a good mood to drop down from earn your happiness. Exercise, meditate, eat well, and think good thoughts.  It's such a cliche, but it can be done, and it works. You have to make the effort to be in the moment. To me, that is the real secret. Can you organize your thoughts and perceptions to totally take in your reality, the other people around you, the light, sound and air? To be in the moment is to be beautiful. Dark inner thoughts cloud the beauty of being alive.

Q: Who are your all-time favourite screen sirens? What draws you to them?

A: I love Marilyn Monroe, because she had a luminosity that was probably mental illness, but nevertheless was noteworthy. Her body, her awareness of sex, her need to be desired , all made her  special. Plus the way the light reflected off her skin. She was the ultimate sacrificial lamb. Why is that so sexy? I own two Andy Warhol 'Marilyn' silk screens and worship her daily.

Going completely in the opposite direction...I adored the 'Klute' era Jane Fonda. Her lanky body, unusual features, and fabulous hair, coupled with a ferocious acting talent, made her one of my all-time favourites. I still love the way she looks.

Q: In your opinion, do good looks have a down side?

A: Good looks never have a down side. Extreme beauty definitely does have a down side. To be breathtakingly beautiful, as I have observed in a few people I have known (it is rare), seems to give rise to instability. There is a constant war between narcissism and insecurity in the great beauties, plus a kind of arrested development intellectually and emotionally.

But 'looking good' in the more ordinary sense is always a good thing, and can be acheived by anyone, as the Diana Vreelands and Andree Putnams and Annie Leibovitzes of the world have shown. The key is to know your strengths and your weaknesses, and present yourself at your best, with control and good spirit (and lighting!). To know yourself is to love yourself, and that's good looking.

Q: What is on the horizon for you, Pia?

A: I am currently working on an independent television pilot...hope to finish the shoot in early March. Also, I have been writing a memoir for two years now. I hope to finish the first draft in February, while staying in a jungle villa in Bali. Also, I am returning to  live theatre in a production this spring at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver. It seems I have been discovered again!

I can't say that I particularly like getting older, as far as it pertains to matters of the flesh, but I seem to be having a particularly exciting renaissance in my creative life, such as I have not experienced in years.  Now, if I could just fall in love again, life would be perfect!


  1. Miss Shandel, you're my new idol! What a great interview, Missus Bee! xAEAO

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