Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

History Lesson on Nail Polish


Curiosity is a compelling thing. Einstein claimed he was not a genius, just exceptionally curious. I like to think I'm exceptionally curious. I wonder about the mundane, the elegant, the downright bizarre. How did the delightfully petite macarons come about? Where did the word 'serendipity' come from? However, I am certainly no genius.

Yet, here I am, another curiosity, another question: Who decided that it was aesthetically pleasing to paint a glossy coat of varnish on one's nails?

Thus, here we are: nail polish, a brief history. 

Babylonia, 3200 B.C.: a treasure trove for historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and now beauty enthusiasts. Manicures made from kohl were first spotted in ancient royal tombs, worn by males in colors with accordance to social class. 

Around the same time, the Chinese also used nail color as a sense of self-expression and class definition. Their methods of coloring the nails were quite different than ours of today; they used egg whites, beeswax, Arabic gum and flower petals to soak their nails for hours to get the desired hue. 


The ancient Egyptians, too, were advocates of nail color, staining them with henna. Lore has it that Nefertiti and Cleopatra wore shades of red, which is only fitting. 

Jump forward to 1920, France. Michelle Menard adapted the enamel used to paint cars to a less high-tech and permanent version for nails, which was popular among flappers. Menard came to America, where she perfected her formula, which became part of a company later called Revlon. 


Thanks to Technicolor television and the immense popularity of glamorous actresses like Bette Davis (left), nail polish became an essential in the realm of high fashion. To no surprise, red was the most in vogue, as popularized by Rita Hayworth (right). 

In 1976, the French manicure debuted on the runways in Paris and was an immediate hit. The market begged for a more versatile style, and the natural look fit the bill. 

In the '70s, '80s and '90s, black nail polish was popular among the rock and punk band set, evoking their gritty style and music. 


Today, it seems anything goes. Ombre, color blocking, glitter, caviar. Nail art mimics the trends of the runway. There are dozens of blogs and websites dedicated to decking out nails. You've no doubt seen the "signature" nail art pose: a freshly painted manicure energetically gripping the new color's bottle. You can go high or low, O.P.I or Deborah Lippman, China Glaze or Dior. 

As a female, getting or giving oneself a manicure is a rite of passage. Painted nails can be seen on a three year old or an 80 year old, the effect is the same. Think about it: how many times have your nails been painted in your life?

Sources: Illustrated polish, Chinese, Egyptian, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Dior

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

History Lesson // Barbies


For me, a childhood without Barbies would have been endlessly monotonous. I spent hours each day carefully crafting my ballerina-pink room into its own seemingly self-sufficient plastic paradise. There was the mall, the pet shop, a few cars and a grocery store. Plenty of glitter, too. I would line my dolls up in a neat line, brush their hair, change their clothes and begin my own childlike narrative. But what was Barbie's story?

As wife of Mattel co-founder and mother to Barbara and Kenneth (that's not a joke), Ruth Handler was one of the few who had insight to both sides of the toy business- production and consumption. As she watched her daughter play with flimsy paper dolls, she noticed a gap in the market-- dolls that looked like adults as opposed to the ever-so-common baby doll. 

Ruth's husband Elliot initially rejected the idea, not willing to make such a bold maneuver into unknown toy territory. Upon visiting Germany shortly after her proposal, Ruth saw exactly what she was looking for: a successful doll for young girls modeled after an adult called Bild Lilli. She purchased a few and worked with a Mattel product developer to tweak the doll to appropriate American standards, and Barbie was born.

On March 9, 1959, Barbie made her debut at the American International Toy Fair. The date is also the official birthday of Barbie, whose full yet fictional name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. Her biography states that she hails from Willows, Wisconsin and has younger sisters Skipper, Kelly and Krissy. It appears that Barbie has lived a well-experienced life, with over 40 different pets including dogs, horses and a zebra, and that she has dabbled in more than 100 occupations. She has a rocky romantic relationship with cutie Ken Carson with their last big break up released as a press report by Mattel in 2004. 

Barbie has become a cultural icon over the years, needless to say. She represents so much more than a childhood plaything and has served as a muse to a number of professionals across industries. Pop Art prince Andy Warhol added Barbie to his list of clients in 1985, creating yet another version of his signature multicolored portraits. Interior and graphic designer Jonathan Adler debuted his 3,500 square foot Barbie Malibu Dream House in 2009 complete with plenty of pink, velvet and "B" monograms. Project Runway mentor and author Tim Gunn created a small collection for Barbie earlier this summer with stylish separates and smart accessories (but who could expect less?). 



Oh, to walk in Barbie's shoes. She certainly gets the elite treatments. 

I'll admit- I still enjoy walking down the pastel pink Barbie aisle at stores, always amazed and slightly envious at what Mattel keeps coming up with. It undoubtedly brings back a multitude of memories. 

Sources: Original Barbie imageBarbie by Andy WarholJonathan Adler Malibu Barbie Dream House, Barbie Styled by Tim Gunn

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

History Lesson // French Macarons

The macaron, a confectioner's sweet and airy delight is a merengue-based cookie that hails from the fashionable streets of Paris, slowly and surely charming its way into parties and baking books all across the world. 

If you've ever tasted one, you surely understand the macaron's trending popularity. A dainty sandwich that melts in the mouth with seemingly endless flavor profiles, and possibly the fact that they are French (we just can't help it) all contribute to the welcome spread of these tasty treats. 

They are the perfect companion for just about any activity. Waking up with coffee and the paper (a more accepted version of "cake-for-breakfast"), accompanying an afternoon tea (or nap), or a post-dinner dessert all suffice for consumption of this marvelous little cookie. 

So, as I commonly ask in the History Lesson, where did they come from?

As usual, there's a little confusion and debate on exactly where and when macarons first appeared. Fortunately for us, the most reported version is also the most glamorous version (as in, it involves royalty). 

According to many-a-source, the macaron first appeared in Italy at the hands of Catherine de Medici's (yes, of the banking and art-collecting Florence Medici family) personal chef around the time of her marriage to the Duc d'Orleans in 1533. Not long after he became the king of France as Henry II, thus moving the macaron to the country it's currently so commonly associated with.

It's important to know that the macaron did not start out as a sandwich, but simply as a single light cookie with no filling, topping, or what-have-you. Another fun fact: 'macaron' and 'macaroni' are unsurprisingly from the same origin, a word meaning "fine dough."

Their popularity spread during the French Revolution when two sisters baked and sold them to support themselves during the troubling time. Thus, a staple was born.

The sandwich version was created in the 20th century by the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree of the Laduree pastry salon in Paris, still one of the most celebrated macaron bakeries today. He had the idea to fill two shells with a chocolate panache, and it stuck.

You may recall my two attempts at making macarons- delicious yet ugly here, and still delicious but slightly less ugly here. They take a skillful and steady hand- something I've not quite acquired. I've been known to eat multiples (and multiples) of macarons in one sitting, so perhaps it's good and well I'm not procuring the perfect little pastries right and left.

I'm going to go ahead and apologize for any cravings this little dabble has spurred on.


Image Source: Gilt Taste

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

History Lesson // Playing Cards


We've all done our fair share of card playing. We grew up with them- playing Go Fish as a child, watching them in action in Alice and Wonderland, and maybe even passing them around the table in college during a game of heightened debauchery. They're the quintessential time-passer, a gambling accessory, and a social icon. So... where did they come from?

Historians debate on the exact origins of the deck of cards. Most, though, believe that they originated some time during the 9th century in China, as they were the first to invent paper back in the 2nd century (can you imagine- no paper?). Within about 200 years playing cards had migrated all over the Asian continent and featured characters of popular lore as the first face cards.

It is widely believed that playing cards made their way to Europe via Middle Eastern countries in the 1400's. Their popularity quickly spread and each region developed their own style- different face cards, different amounts of suits, and so on. In Germany, common suits of the time were acorns, bells, leaves, and hearts. The French created the card suits on which we base our modern-day decks, basing the club off of the acorn and the spade off of the leaf.

Europeans additionally altered face cards to represent their respective royalty. The first face cards were king, chevalier (knight), and knave (male child or prince). In the 17th century England it was conjectured that the "k" of king and the "kn" of knave on the corners of cards were too similar, causing confusion in the heat of the game, so the knave became a jack.

Initially the king was always considered the highest card, although in France during the French Revolution especially, a special value was placed on the then lowest card, the ace. Games with a high ace were used as symbolism by the expanding lower class to illustrate their rise to power at the time.

I hope you all enjoyed this little historical blurb. I'm trying to make the history lesson posts very relevant and not dry- so let me know how I'm doing and if there's any subjects you'd like to hear about. Happy Tuesday!

Image source: Kate Spade Instagram

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

History Lesson: Marilyn Monroe


I was watching the movie My Week With Marilyn a few weeks back and realized how little I actually know about the bombshell leading lady. She is, in fact, from an era long before our time (unless you were born before 1962).

Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926 to an absent father and a mentally and financially unstable mother, Marilyn spent her childhood in various foster homes in the Los Angeles area. In order to prevent her from going back into the foster care system, in 1942 Marilyn married her then current boyfriend, James Dougherty, as her first of three marriages.

She began modeling while her husband was off at war, and dyed her natural brunette locks to her signature golden blonde. She caught the attention of a Twentieth Century Fox executive, who suggested changing her name to a more "sexy" and alliterative Marilyn Monroe. She and her husband divorced and shortly after in 1947, she landed her first small film role.

Marilyn quickly gained popularity among both producers and the public and continued her upward rise to fame in Hollywood. She starred in a number of big hit films that portrayed her as a "dumb blonde," catapulting her success as a comedienne and sex symbol. Her most notable films included How to Marry a Millionaire, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (in which she sang "Diamond's are a Girl's Best Friend"), The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, and The Prince and the Showgirl. She was briefly married to Joe DeMaggio in 1954, and then married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956.

While Marilyn's life seemed to be teeming with success and grandiose parties, there was an underlying negativity that pervaded her personal life and eventually lead to her death. She proved to be a rather difficult actress to work with, often having fits of stage fright and showing up late or not at all. In The Prince and the Showgirl, costar and director Laurence Olivier remarked that although Marilyn was quite the stunning actress, she was rather difficult to work with.

Despite winning an Academy Award for Some Like It Hot, Marilyn's health deteriorated and she began consuming large amounts of alcohol and seeing many different doctors to have access to a number of drugs. She and Arthur Miller divorced in 1961, and shortly after she spent some time in rehab facilities. On August 5, 1962, Marilyn was pronounced dead at her home in Los Angeles, with an autopsy confirming the death was due to acute drug poisoning and a probable suicide. She was 36 years old.

I put together a look based off the famous photo of her wearing a white plunge v-neck dress with the street vents blowing up the dress- yes, you know the one. Modern and classic at the same time, and with plenty of pretty baubles. It's perfect for a night of club hopping in Hollywood dodging paparazzi-  or just drinks with the girls. Don't forget the red lipstick!



//Image source//

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Baubles and Baubles

I know that I just did a roundup of jewelry, but I was browsing Bauble Bar I couldn't help but spend a good little bit of time pouring over all of the pretty art deco-like pieces they have right now and mentally pairing them with my own outfits for a fun night out on the town (if only!).


Most of you are probably like me in that you know somewhat what the term "art deco" means, and can peg a few buildings (The Chrysler Building in NYC), pieces of jewelry, and runway collections to the style. I decided to do a little bit of research to help understand the concept more. Here's the gist of the art deco movement.

The term art deco was coined in the 1920's in, of course, Paris. It encompassed architecture, art, industrial and interior design, fashion, jewelry, and more, and focused on glamour, elegance, and modernity. Art deco ideas drew ideas from earlier twentieth century concepts such as cubism and modernism and influenced many other well-known movements such as pop art and film noir (look for more on these two later!). While a lot of artistic movements are based from philosophical beliefs and ideas, art deco is solely, well, decorative, and draws from the geometric shapes of the classical Greco-Romans, Aztecs and ancient Egyptians. Faceted, crystalline, and repeated features are a common characteristic of an art deco piece, as well as the use of materials such as chrome, lacquer, and wood.

Old-fashioned yet modern, bold yet streamline, austere yet ornate. I'm really loving this trend Bauble Bar has going on right now. And the best part? It's all so wonderfully affordable. So please, indulge yourself in a little bit of old Hollywood glamour. It's a revival that can only be considered necessary.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Friday Fancies: Copy Cat

There's something about Audrey Hepburn's persona that is so winningly endearing, especially as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. So why not emulate the gorgeous gal in the classic film?