Beaton, Bacon & The Early Selfie

He was the celebrated photographer taking “selfies” almost a century before the word was invented. Thanks to the impact of these early 20th-century portraits, Aoife O’Brien conquers her fears of self-depiction

Not that way, you silly bitch – this way!” exclaimed Cecil Beaton on bursting into Julie Andrews’ dressing room after the 1956 New Haven premiére of the musical My Fair Lady. He had designed the costumes and poor Julie had worn the yellow hat the wrong way round. As for the fresh and beguiling portrait he took of her in her twenties – well, she was, in Beaton’s words “the most hopelessly unphotogenic person I have ever met”. In that case, he worked a miracle. Even if Cocteau called him Malice in Wonderland.
One of the most celebrated portrait photographers of the 20th century, renowned for his images of elegance, glamour and style, from Princess Grace of Monaco to Francis Bacon, it is the drily incisive and witty diary commentaries accompanying the 120 portraits of great and good in Hugo Vickers’ new book Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles that make this a very delicious read about a man who just loved capturing people’s genuine talent, whether he liked them or not, through both picture and pen.

Who couldn’t fail to enjoy being told that Stephen Tennant had been “brought up in girl’s clothes for the first years of his life” or that Dublin-born Bacon appeared, while painting, “extraordinarily healthy and cherubic, apple shiny cheeks” and that “the protruding lips were lubricated with an unusual amount of saliva”. Nowadays that might be seen at best as too much information and at worst defamatory – even libellous, but at least there’s something infinitely more palatable about that.

Sitting in a country garden surrounded by friends and kids with heads buried in devices, I’m lolloping delightedly through this beautiful book, which covers Beaton’s world from the Bright Young Things of the 1920s to the Peacock Revolution of the 1960s and wondering what he would have made of the noughties. Who, I wonder, of our current “celebrity” firmament would have resonated with him. A friend next to me exclaims, “Did you know Kanye and Kim went to see X Men in Tullamore!? She looks great – fab boots”. I am not going to sneak a peek at the boots, I am reading a book. “They went on a bike ride in the Ballyhoura Mountains!” I do, nevertheless, find myself wanting to stroll over and see why the beauteous and amply-bottomed Kim Kardashian’s honeymoon cycling activities are the focus today of her 21 million Twitter followers – including some of my friends. Having successfully managed to avoid signing up to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I’m regarded as a cyber dinosaur by my children, but secretly I know I must now acquiesce or fade from this planet.

This story appears in the September issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday October 2

My Style At Home

Penny Mc Cormick catches up with make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury before her Indian summer break in Ibiza

Ibiza is my home. Because my life is so hectic in London, I love being surrounded by my close friends and family when I go there. Ibiza is so relaxing – it’s got a certain magic to it,” says make-up expert Charlotte Tilbury of the island; her home is nestled in the north near Santa Eulàlia and surrounded by lush foliage and bougainvillea. Indeed, the artistic, bohemian surroundings that Tilbury’s parents provided for her as a child were the beginnings of a glamorous lifestyle that shows no signs of abeyance. “You name it, I’ve done it and have the dodgy skin to prove it,” says Tilbury with total honesty.

Chances are if you’re invited to her house she’ll ply you with cocktails – either a raspberry rascal (champagne, crushed raspberries and vodka) or what she and Kate Moss refer to as the Skinny Bitch (vodka, soda and lemon). And she’ll give all her guests a tube of her WonderGlow to help hungover skin – she’s known for her all-nighters as well as her love of dancing. “I’m not a domestic goddess. I’m a 24-hour girl. I work hard and play hard. I drink. I smoke. I do all the things you’re not supposed to.” It’s one of the reasons she became a skincare obsessive, with her now iconic Magic Cream being the go-to SOS miracle cream of A-listers and party people. It’s the natural alternative to retinol from a family recipe that was passed down to Charlotte by her grandmother.

Ibiza was her education – she was dancing with Grace Jones at the legendary Ku club at the age of ten; at eleven she met her mentor and friend Mary Greenwell on the island of Formentera, who introduced her to make-up. She was also babysitter for beauty editor Penny Rich; cue more products to play with. Tilbury’s mother, Patsy, was a location scout while her father Lance was an artist. “My father had an incredible eye for colours and portraying emotion in his paintings and this inspired me.” So did the idyllic surroundings. “The light, colours and energy of Ibiza are constant sources of inspiration for my work. I always leave recharged and full of ideas for new shades, looks and products.” In fact the mood boards she shows me in her hip Lonsdale Road studio in London all feature her favourite places on the island, and of her burgeoning make-up range, which has just arrived in Ireland, she says, “I want to bring the beach to the office in January.”

Her own office is a light, airy space filled with her multiple Vogue, V and Vanity Fair covers as shot by Mert & Marcus and Mario Testino, among others. The faces of Lara Stone, Daria Werbowy and Gisele Bündchen surround us and the ambiance is enhanced by the mix of funky, white and glass furniture as well as the scents of several Baies candles by Diptyque. Perfume is of prime importance to Tilbury, the roses and frangipani of Ibiza are her favourite scents.

This story appears in the September issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday October 2

Paralysed By Fear

Bella White is tired, tormented. For 40 years she has suffered in the grip of a nightmarish condition, one that shows no mercy and never wavers in its attempts to strangle any chance of normality. Bella has OCD …

I wake, and for the most fleeting of moments all appears well. Then the slumbering monster in my brain awakes and unleashes its fury. I am paralysed by fear, fear about the harm I might inflict on unsuspecting individuals. I am bathed in cold sweat, pinned to my bed with dread, as a relentless stream of unutterable, offensive, violent thoughts ricochet around in my brain. I recoil in horror, shame and guilt, convinced I am an evil, deviant person. And it’s not even 7.30am. The day has barely begun, but my OCD is in full flight, making each individual moment a living nightmare.

The most typical form of OCD involves obsessive thoughts, feelings or urges, combined with compulsive rituals such as hand-washing or checking. But I have a particular form of OCD, called Pure O, which involves intrusive, horrific thoughts and images of causing danger or harm to others. The shame and guilt that follow cannot be put to rest through physical rituals like hand-washing or counting. Instead, I am left obsessing, silently and almost continuously, incapable of finding conclusive proof that these hideous scenarios won’t occur. And they don’t. But, like other sufferers, I live in fear they might.
I try so hard to think positive thoughts, to act “normal”, but my OCD always wins out. The monster voice is always there – above me, behind me, inside me, always taunting, telling me what a disgusting person I am, planting repellent thoughts in my head. While caring for my dying mother, the thought of smothering her popped into my mind, images of me putting my hands over her chest, her face, her mouth. I was almost sick. What kind of person could have such a thought? What kind of a monster? And if my sister had not been right by my side, I would believe to this day that I had put my hands on my mother’s chest and pushed. Pushed hard, killing her. Even now my sister must keep telling me that I did nothing, keep reassuring me. Over and over. But the relief is only temporary. The doubts and the fears never go away. Never ever.

It’s hard to say when it all started. I was always a little worrier, always wanted to please. And yes I kept my room tidy but nothing out of the ordinary. I had very normal, loving parents, and bar the sudden death of a sibling when I was six months old, there was nothing there that might provoke such high levels of anxiety. Nothing to engender this OCD monster.

This story appears in the September issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday October 2

The Thrill of a new Term

Maggie Armstrong’s school days may be far behind her, but she still cherishes the feeling of a new beginning …

“September has come, it is hers/Whose vitality leaps in the autumn/Whose nature prefers trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place”. Louis MacNeice wrote these words about an undisclosed woman in his Autumn Journal. It’s a melancholy poem that was written between the Spanish Civil War and World War II, with September cast as the beginning of the end. It is mostly about this mysterious, autumnal woman, who has a decadent interest in fashion, “Taking enormous notice/Of hats and back chat”.

Are you feeling it too? The novelty, the potential, the schooldays thrill of it all? The season of patent black shoes, popsocks and crisp white shirts; of new pencil cases, gel pens and copy books. September has come, and with it stationery, timetables and falling leaves. Term. Are you in? Are you too, by order of the calendar, going to turn over a Fresh Page?

On the first week of First Year in school I wasn’t feeling it. If you’ll allow some introspection, we’ll use my school days as a “jumping off point” for talking about yours. Because what we forget is that, at one time, September was terrifying. The following incident should remind you of the blustering confusion that September’s flurry of Fresh Pages can create. And the importance of attending to them in good time.

In French class on that first week, in our dimly-lit box classroom adjoining the convent we weren’t allowed to enter – nor run down the corridors of – stooped Sisters carried trays of dinner. Madame McCarthy told every girl to buy a Varsity ruled A4 pad. “The first thing you need is a Varsity ruled A4 Pad, girls,” she trilled, a Napoleonic shape in an unspooling purple cardigan that reached her knees. “Then we’ll start our conjugations.” She shook her Anna Wintour bob, which was infrequently dyed plum. We all looked on dismally. Our teacher’s Joie de Septembre failed to stir the doom-laden little classroom.

This story appears in the September issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday October 2