Sunday, 20 July 2014

Estée Lauder

Estée Lauder at work...

There was a shoe shop in London’s Edgware Road in the ‘50’s called “Cover Girl”. The shoes sold there were cheap, colourful, and as near the traditional concept of “tart’s” footwear as makes no difference. Strip-sandals in every colour of the rainbow with heels that began at 3 inches and went up.

Most of the shoes were under £2, exceptional extravagance nudged £5. All that was needed to complete the image was an ankle-bracelet and a poodle on a lead. (Thought: do the kids today who favour ankle-bracelets know their significance? Right ankle: open for business. Left ankle: I’m still around, but the ‘cleaners’ are in – it’ll be business as usual next week. Or, like a certain leader of Westminster Council happily sporting an Acid House [smiley face] badge, believing it means ‘Have a Nice Day’. Are they blissfully unaware? Would it be kind to tell them?)

But I loved Cover Girl, I’ve always loved flashy feet.

My strip-sandals went from red to white to blue to pink to green to fluorescent mauve with stiletto heels, and all of them under £2.

Among the shoes, displayed in the window were photographs of “Cover Girl” herself: “friend of the stars”.

Inside the shop itself, similar pictures covered the walls.

There was Cover Girl relaxing with Gregory Peck, smiling with Greer Garson, sharing a drink with Margaret Lockwood or a joke with Phyllis Calvert; in earnest conversation with James Mason or Ronald Reagan.

Half Hollywood and the whole of Pinewood it seemed were Cover Girl’s pals. This dark-haired, well-covered, jolly Jewish matron obviously enjoyed one Hell of a social life. One couldn’t help wondering why such a socialite bothered to run a shoe shop in the Edgware Road.

You had to look closely to see the autograph book clutched in her hand and realise how carefully planned such ‘informal’ moments were. Friend or relative carefully positioned with camera as Mama approaches Star, autograph book at the ready. Star signs, book gets palmed, friend takes photograph. Yet another for the window.

You had to smile. It was so blatant. But it worked.

It worked for Estée Lauder too, waylaying the Windsors at Palm Beach Station. No sooner had the Duchess opened the car door, than Esther from Brooklyn had a hand on her elbow and a chum with a flash-bulb at the ready.

So keen was Estée on cultivating the Windsors that the Duchess was eventually forced to demur at the avalanche of free samples and if the Duke is reported to have said that Youth Dew was the only perfume he liked, he certainly got exposed to plenty of it.

However, one thing is certain: Wallis Simpson did not land a King with Youth Dew, and as only wannabes choose ‘exotics’ where real femmes fatales rely on the track record of florals, the smart money is on Patou’s JOY.

It mattered to Estée Lauder to be considered ‘Society’. It mattered so much that she denied her Jewish background, lied about her childhood, gave neither of her parents obituaries in the newspapers, and fabricated a country-club background with stables and tennis courts. ‘Viennese’ relations were more acceptable than the actual Hungarian, so ‘Viennese’ they became.

There was no way that “Esther from Brooklyn” could break into the Palm Beach set. The most exclusive club did permit Jews admittance, either as members or as guests. According to one leading socialite: “Even Jesus Christ would not have gained entrance.”

And if Our Lord would hardly have eaten his heart out, Esther did. She wanted that milieu badly.

She submerged strangers with gifts and was prepared to clutch, claw and clamber her way into society.

Charlie Revson hated all this. “Who’s she kidding?” He would snarl. “What’s with this ‘Estée’? She’s Esther! Esther from Brooklyn!”

And, to her eternal annoyance, “Esther from Brooklyn” he continued to call her. Actually, it was Queens, not Brooklyn. Queens was even poorer than Brooklyn at the time.

Revson could take competition, thrived on it. Loved a good fight, understood all and any business ploy or manoeuvre, but he hated social climbers, they got up his nose.

“That Man” was how Lauder referred to Revson.

Delighted, he brought out a man’s cologne called That Man, so she had to see it advertised on every hoarding and in every magazine.

It was Esther’s uncle who set her on the road with his home-made face cream (he also produced a cure for chicken lice) and when he died penniless and his widow was left with nothing, the Life Insurance having long since been traded, Estée, now doing quite nicely, was asked to help.

“Look behind the bath,” she said; “you know how Hungarians hide things.”

In the 1980s, Patou brought back 12 of their original fragrances. Designer scents, all subtle, all chic.

Rigaud, one of the most respected houses at the time, were one of the Old Brigade who watched to see how they went, content to let someone else “test the water”.

Leaving aside Charlie Revson’s cardinal rule of marketing [sadly, she doesn’t actually say what this is!] (which Patou imperiously ignored) the sort of woman who bought them is dead – along with luxury liners, cocktails and laughter, tea at Gunter’s and the Savoy Grill.

In the 1980s, the only woman to have in mind when creating a perfume was a brassy, vulgar, tasteless, nouveau riche.

They were the only ones with the money, and money was all that mattered. The pharmaceutical companies had taken over, the artists either dead or dying.

Today, Ernest Beaux or Ernest Daltroff wouldn’t get to first base. François Coty might as well never have been born, and Pierre François Pascal and Jacques Guerlain are churning in their graves.

Houbigant would not recognise his company. Lubin and Piver are names from the past, and D’Orsay? Isn’t D’Orsay a museum?

And all thanks to “Esther from Brooklyn” and the old boyfriend who, thinking she could do with a helping hand, presented her with the formula for Youth Dew...

Sally Blake
Date unknown

Sins for Breakfast

Of course, by the time my mother was negotiating with the Russians, my father was long gone. From the marriage, anyway.

Gerald Blake hadn’t got to where he got by being sentimental. He had a ruthless streak that made him into one of the BBC’s most consistently employed freelance Directors for more than 25 years. If something in his life wasn’t working for him, he deadheaded it, like a rose.

And yet it was never done with malice aforethought. Thanks in part to being evacuated as a child during WW2, at a crucial stage in his emotional development, he was able to discard people with no more thought than one might chuck an empty milk carton in the bin. He was far better with animals than with humans. Out on walks, cats would cross the street and jump off gate posts to chirrup over to him. If one of our felines brought in a bird or a mouse, my father would be the only one of us who could deal with it. He would get it off them and nurse it back to life. Yet he managed to choose my 13th birthday to walk out on us. I watched him go. The goodbyes at the door. The suitcase. The promises to keep in touch. The whole commercial. The thing is, though, he didn’t pick that day on purpose. He wasn’t trying to hurt me, he just wasn’t thinking about me. He wasn’t thinking of any of us. He could only think about how he had to get away from the constant rows at home.

Possibly the greatest of my mother’s failings was a total inability to let anything go. Marlene Dietrich once famously said that the first rule of marriage was that one should “never serve a man his sins for breakfast”. But my mother’s legal brain demanded satisfaction. Over and over again, she would drag up my father’s affair with Anne Ronder, even when he was convalescing after his first heart-attack. He had moved into our spare room in the old servant’s quarters, but again and again she demanded to rake over old details into the night. Dates, times, places, lies. She worked to expose them all. In her mind, she was just trying to get a clear picture: where she was at the time, what we were doing as a family, what plans were being made that he had no intention of following through – such as buying us our own home. Weekend trips to view beautiful houses in the country had been a sham. What money he earned on shows like Doctor Who, Z-Cars, and The Onedin Line had been spent in the BBC Club on round after round for cast and crew. He drank Vodka to try to prevent detection, but my mother knew what drinkers looked like, and she knew what someone coming home and drinking glass after glass of water at the sink meant.
My father, Gerald Blake (with sunglasses on head) directing Peter Gilmore in The Onedin Line

To my father though, it was like living with Torquemada. He made arrangements to bunk down at a friend’s flat, but within two weeks, he was saying that he couldn’t bear to live with the guy a minute longer, and he was moving into Jill Gascoine’s house in Streatham. Jill had worked with him on The Onedin Line, playing the no nonsense House Keeper, Letty Gaunt, who melts widower James (Peter Gilmore) Onedin’s heart. She had a funny, clenched teeth way of speaking, and my brother and I would impersonate her at the kitchen table whilst my father would chuckle and scold and tell us to be kind. When he arrived on her doorstep, the legend went that they began an affair that same evening.

Of course, the suspicion was that this had actually been the plan all along, and that poor old Michael Bartlett had only ever been a smoke-screen to facilitate the getaway. The papers got involved. Jill was riding high. She’d moved on to play Maggie Forbes in The Gentle Touch. Again, directed by my father. Three years after ‘Heidi’, I was still relatively well-known, so Fleet Street took more than a passing interest in our situation. Jill gave interview after interview, talking happily of her new love and how he was a wonderful father to her two sons, whilst photographers hid in the bushes outside Hanover Gate, trying to take pictures of me on my way to school. My mother stopped them. She disarmed them with coffee and biscuits. When one asked her why I was “acting funny” with them, she looked him straight in the eye, and said: “She’s afraid of you.” Her dead-eyed gaze carried the unspoken coda: “...make you feel good?” Clearly it didn’t make the bloke feel too good about himself at all, because even though she had answered the door in housecoat and curlers and they could have annihilated her, they took no pictures at all.

At school, I started getting into trouble. I was angry with my politically obsessed teachers who seemed to care more for indoctrinating a generation into Marxism than actually making sure that generation stood a chance of rising above their poor backgrounds and making something of themselves, and I was angry with the constant jeering and bullying from other kids about my situation. Kids who felt that a posh middle class tv star like me who went riding at weekends had no business at a school like Quintin Kynaston. The teachers joined in. “You shouldn’t be here” said one. “You should be at Benenden or Heathfield.” When I said we couldn’t afford such places, I was jeered at even more, so I smashed up a few classrooms. Started daubing Orwellian graffiti on the walls, and stuck a sign on the Headmaster’s door that read simply “Room 101”.

When I was finally caught methodically attempting to flood out the basement having opened the taps and stuffed up the plugs and drains, I was referred to the Tavistock Clinic. My mother came with me as I attended my appointment. Calmly, I explained my situation to the psychologist assigned to me. I was signed out as a perfectly rational and angry young adult. No further treatment was recommended. The school was left to seethe. When I was sent to summer camp in Surrey, I left after two days. My period had arrived, and what with the bullying from my form tutor, and drama teacher, Mr Cleland, who roared at me in front of the entire class that I was “not special”, prompting some of my old bullies to actually take my side against him, I had had enough. I packed, and walked out at 5am. I found a bus to the nearest town, asked my way to the station, and got a train back to London. As soon as I got home, I went straight to the loo to sort myself out. Mummy was outside the door.

“Is that you darling? Are you alright?” I will never forget the terror in her poor dear voice. I unlocked the door, expecting a lamming. Instead she cuddled me and asked me to tell her exactly what had being going down there.

The school called. I was suspended. We were to wait to hear when I was to present myself. Eventually, we were called up to school. If they were expecting chagrin or remorse, they were sorely disappointed. In the presence of the Head and his Deputy, and my form tutor, Mr Cleland, my mother tore them all to absolute pieces.

Mrs Pressman, the Deputy Head, had wanted to know how I had the funds to get myself home when were all only supposed to have £2 spending money (I had been given £5 “just in case”). My mother rounded on her and asked why that was her only concern, and not that a 13 year old girl was made so miserable she ran away? Then she turned to Cleland.

“And you...” She began. I saw his eyes widen in fear, as this tiny raven-haired tigress literally started to sharpen her claws on his soul. “You tell my daughter she’s not special in front of a full class? How many of your other charges have to deal with their father and his mistress in the papers every day of their lives? How many of your other kids have to deal with that? Have you tried and failed to be an actor, Cleland, is that what this is about..?” Using psychology, and legal insinuations as to how we would actually be in a position to sue the school for negligence, she literally tore them all ‘new ones’. I have never been so proud.

By the end of the meeting, I was allowed back to school. Not that I wanted to be there, but at least I became a rebel hero among my classmates for a while. The posh kid who kicked ass. Nobody messed with me after that.

My father was less impressed. Something about having left us made him try harder to be the Papa. It didn’t work. I told him to get lost. I told him that if he didn’t tell his girlfriend to stop blabbing to the press, he could forget he had a daughter. I was 13 years old and acting like Michael Corleone.

After about 5 years, the divorce papers came through. My father wanted to be free to marry Jill. I remember them arriving in the post. My mother opened the envelope and began to shake and sweat. Although she hadn’t set foot in a church for years, the shame of divorce ran deep. “WE don’t” she had always been told. Divorce was not something families like ours “did”. The solicitors my father had engaged were one of Jill’s recommendations. Harbottle & Lewis. Society and Showbiz a speciality. They charged a fortune. My mother was on Legal Aid. She was assigned “a lovely man in The Temple”. He helped my mother to succeed in getting Jill Gascoine named on the petition as co-respondent. Jill fought tooth and nail against it, but my mother won.

Eventually, my parents’ 27 year marriage was dissolved at The Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand. My mother attended, dressed to kill. She said the weary Judge pulled his mothy gown into place and sat up straight when she entered on a cloud of Guerlain. My father did not attend.

Then Jill went into the West End to play Frenchie in a theatre adaptation of Destry Rides Again. Playing Destry was the 29 year old Alfred Molina. He and the 44 year old Jill fell madly in love, and my father found himself out on his ear.

On another of Jill’s recommendations, he got himself a little flat at The White House Hotel. In time, as the bitterness subsided and life fell into a groove again, it was nice to have him so close by. He discovered the gadget shops on Tottenham Court Road, and bought himself a little car. He started dropping ‘round on Saturday mornings for coffee. By this time, Mummy had managed to get a job at Buckingham Palace, showing people around the Queen’s Gallery, explaining the pictures to visitors, and selling them catalogues. She sometimes worked Saturdays, sometimes Sundays. My father would come over on Saturdays anyway. If she was there, great, if she wasn’t, he would settle for me.

It was on one such Saturday, when my mother was at the Palace, that Dad showed up as usual, but I was on my way out to Church Street Market to buy some smart trousers to go job-hunting. I explained that I needed to get to the market, so how about he come with me, and we could grab a coffee at Alfie’s Antiques Market when I had got the pants?

He looked unconvinced, but eventually agreed. We trudged up Rossmore Hill to Church Street, chatting on the way. We had become great friends, and I loved spending time with him. When we reached the market, I made a bee-line for the stall I knew had the trousers I wanted, picked out a pair in black and another in navy, paid for them, and returned to his side.
“Ok, then, let’s get that coffee.” I said.
He looked confused.
“Don’t you want to look around some more?”
“Nope.” I shook my head.
“Don’t you want to wander about looking at all the other stalls, and stuff?”
I shook my head again.
“Nope. Come on, let’s get a table in there before everyone else gets the same idea.”
My father shook his head and smiled.
“Wow...” He said, putting his arm around me. “You know, if your mother had ever been able to shop like that.... we might still be married!”

Emma Blake
July 2014 

At Alfie’s Antiques Market that day, my father picked out a beautiful little ruby and diamond ring, and put it on his Amex card.
“I never bought your mother an engagement ring,” he said. “We were so poor..."
He turned it over in his hands, gazing as it sparkled under the light.
“Do you think it will fit?”
I was very thin at the time, but I tried it on my biggest finger.
“Should be ok. She can always have it resized. It’s lovely, Daddy.” I said.
My mother never wore it. Not even on her right hand.
“Too little, too late” she said.
I felt she was being churlish, and my heart ached for my father’s disappointment that his lovely gift was so poorly received, but I had to accept there were things about human relationships I had yet to learn: – such as how sometimes, when trust is gone, and the hurt is too much, no amount of time, or distance, or pretty things, will make it better.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ernest Beaux

Mr No 5 (among many others...) Ernest Beaux - 1920 - 1961

Asked to name the most famous perfumers of all time, it would be pretty safe to assume that Ernest Beaux would not appear on the list, and yet Marilyn Monroe slept with him every night.

She called it Chanel No5, but it was Beaux’s creation. He made a great many for Chanel, the most notable being Gardenia [the version Chanel sells under this name today smells nothing like Beaux’s original - EWB], Bois des Îsles, Cuir de Russie, and No22.

Having served his apprenticeship with the great French house, Rallet, in Moscow before the 1917 Revolution during which time he produced a toilet water in 1912, [Bouquet de Napoleon] to mark Napoleon’s centenary. He returned to France when revolution broke, and gave Chanel No5 in 1921.

Just how many amazing scents are down to Ernest Beaux is uncertain, but definite include the divine evocation of the incense at Notre Dame, Toujours Moi, for Corday, Kobako and Soir de Paris for Bourjois.

To be responsible for both the “classiest” scent in the world, and the “cheapest” is quite a distinction. Like a session-musician, he made other people look good, earned a decent amount, and went home.

Unknown, unsung, to live an ordinary anonymous life. Smiling a secret smile no doubt, each time he passed a woman wearing that scent on his way to the Mètro.

And if he was born to bloom unseen, no way did he waste his sweetness on the desert air.

Of course, to this day, very few perfumers create their own perfume. A brief is sent to one of several companies, all of which have their own house “Nose”. A selection is drawn up and submitted and one is chosen. Rather like certain Presidents who are submitted “multiple choice” solutions to world crises, and asked to tick which solution seems best by the Aides who, having done all the work, researched the issue, drawn up the possibilities, and reached certain conclusions; remain anonymous. The President takes either the glory or the blame. Minions everywhere decide the fate of the world.

Aides, however, do not get assassinated, session-musicians do not get slated in music papers, and “noses” do not risk $millions launching a new scent. So if they lose on the glory, they win on security.

Very often companies do not wait to be asked for a fragrance, they tout one about, unfortunately, very often several houses come up with the same one, which is why, despite minor adjustments, most scents we today seem to smell the same.

Noses are almost always men. There have been a couple of women, though. Notably Germaine Cellier who has given us Jolie Madame, Bandit, and Vent Vert; and Jacqueline Fraysse, who gave us Cassandra and Noir. Jeanne Lanvin’s daughter [the opera singer Marguerite di Pietro, later the Countess de Polignac] suggested a perfume for her mother’s fashion house, and chose Arpège, but that isn’t quite the same.

All five generations of Guerlains have created their own fragrances, but the Guerlains are the Guerlains, and one would expect nothing less.

Still the world's most popular scent: Chanel No5

If anyone was asked to name the most famous perfume in the world the odds-on favourite would have to be Chanel Number 5.

By 1971, 50 years after its creation in 1921, Chanel’s No5 had notched up $15,000,000 in profits alone, and continues to hold its lead as the number one choice of husbands and lovers at Christmas time, and at Duty Free shops world-wide.

Whatever the choice and no matter how limited the range, the average airline or ferry would not dare leave themselves with insufficient stock of the scent which Marilyn Monroe claimed to be the only thing she wore to bed.

Opinions vary as to how this classic scent came into being; some have ‘Coco’ Chanel to ill to choose a scent from the selection brought by her perfumer, asking a friend to wave the samples under her nose, and finally saying: “ça y va!” on the 5th.

It’s a nice story, but how does that explain numbers 1 and 2 which were on sale until at least 1929?

Another has François Coty as one of her lovers presenting it to her[i]. Coty certainly made a few adjustments and put it out as L’Aimant a few years later (but that may have been pure cheek rather than spite) and L’Aimant has been known as the “poor man’s Number 5” ever since.

Another story told by perfumers - who should know – has the great perfumer Ernest Beaux going off to lunch, leaving an assistant to make up the formula, returning to find that the assistant had misplaced a decimal point and added 10 times too much of one ingredient. On such decimal point, lives have been lost and fortunes made.

What is indisputable is that Chanel No5 is Ernest Beaux’s creation.

The idea of having a perfume at all instead of the usual colognes and toilet waters was Chanel’s friend, Misia Sert’s, who also found the classic [square-cut] bottle in which to put it.

If Chanel No5 is the top of the tree, then Soir de Paris (or Evening in Paris) by Bourjois has always been considered to be the bottom.

One of the cheapest scents available, solder over chain-store counters for pennies, first choice for children, pocket money clutched in hot little hands, to buy their mothers for birthdays and Christmas. The unmistakeable deep blue and silver bottle presented in every sort of container from owls to clocks, turtles to lamps, fans to shoes to doors to stars to street-lamps to cigarette boxes; even some in ordinary satin-lined boxes!

It was the scent for the poor, regarded as cheap and vulgar, and “not quite nice”.

It was the scent given by Jean Gabin to Michèle Morgan in “Quai des Brumes”, representing not just their love, but also their poverty.

And yet there is nothing more evocative than that distinctive blue bottle with the silver trim designed after the racing colours of the Wertheimer brothers[ii], and nothing more guaranteed to turn otherwise sophisticated ladies misty-eyed, than that reunion with the uniquely timeless carnation of their youth: for if they are honest, most of them have to confess that “Evening in Paris” was their first ‘grown-up’ scent.

So what can Chanel’s No5 and Bourjois’ Evening in Paris possibly have in common? Like twins separated at birth, one destine to live at the manor house, surrounded by servants, the other sent to the workhouse, they share a common parentage: Ernest Beaux created them both.

Chanel No5 and Bourjois’ Soir de Paris, two opposite sides of the market, one symbolising luxury, the other poverty, share a common father.

And if No5 had been sold at Woolworth’s and Evening in Paris in salons, what then? Is champagne no longer champagne if sold in lemonade bottles? Does a rose no longer smell like a rose if it is called a dandelion? Like the ‘Colonel’s Lady and Kitty O’Grady’, Chanel No5 and Soir de Paris are sisters under the skin.

If a final irony were needed [at the time of writing], Bourjois have now owned Parfums Chanel for over a quarter of a century.

Sally Blake
Date unknown

[i] It’s a pleasant story, but Coco’s preferences were not for men – even François Coty. The simple truth is that Ernest Beaux who created No5, went on to work for Coty.
[ii] “The Wertheimer brothers backed Chanel from the beginning.” Guy Robert in conversation with Sally Blake – 22 November 1990.