With a new series of Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model back on Sky Living, a scrapbook of press cuttings relating to the career of actress and model Stella Pierres in 1920s London and Paris provides a reminder of our enduring fascination with feminine beauty – as well as an indication of the lengths women will go to to achieve often unrealistic and ever changing ideals of face, form and figure. In an era of simplicity and vertical lines, the fashionable woman aspired to a boyish figure in the 1920s. One method of taming a ‘too ample’ chest was to wear a restrictive rubber brassiere; another was to massage in a manufactured reducing cream, apparently dangerous unless applied by a trained professional.
Apart from cuttings pasted in from advice columns in contemporary newspapers and magazines, the scrapbook contains dozens of reports of beauty parades and revues, many with a competitive element which foreshadows the Next Top Model concept. For instance, the ‘Modern Venus’ competition of March 1924 attracted thousands of entries before thirty finalists were selected to travel to London to subject themselves to tape measures and close scrutiny at a West End cinema in order to ascertain how closely their figures approximated the dimensions of the Venus de Milo.
Just as supermodel Elle Mcpherson judges the Next Top Model competition today, the ‘Modern Venus’ competition was judged by a panel of women headed by then-famous model ‘Madame Dolores’ a frequent sitter for the American sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). Madame Dolores selected Stella Pierres as the winner, telling the press afterwards: ‘She is cheerful and full of vivacity. Her carriage is superb….’
Winning this competition catapulted Stella Pierres into the spotlight and led to headline appearances at prestigious fashion parades (see flyers above and below) and high-profile events such as the Palace of Beauty, which took place at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in north London in 1924. In 2013, Next Top Model is sponsored by the hair products company TRESemmé; the fact that the Palace of Beauty was sponsored by Pears soap reminds us that commerce, cosmetics advertising and beauty ideals have long been closely inter-linked.
You can find out more about Madame Dolores here: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/allen-gallery/dolores.htm
You can read more about the career of Stella Pierres and the Palace of Beauty here: http://thefishthatblogged.com/2012/04/29/my-impressions-of-the-palace-of-beauty/