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.