Rossy de Palma and the All-American Girl
Last night I was reading a post by Wendy Brandes on her new blog collaboration with designer Christian Francis Roth (get to know it!). It started out as a show-and-tell of her cute-as-a-Wendy undone bow-tie dress from Francis and finished with a mention of Spanish actress Rossy de Palma - the connection being the title of the post Tie Me Up, Tie Me down is also the name of a Pedro Almodovar film, and the filmmaker happens to be responsible for launching the acting career of de Palma by casting her in his films in the 1980s.
This mention of the extraordinary looking de Palma unlocked a memory from 1992. I was sitting in my bedroom flipping through the latest US Vogue and found myself fascinated by an editorial called Gypsy Soul that featured Claudia Mason, the guys from Extreme (yes, as in More than Words - I apologise if you spend the next two days with that song playing in your head) and this strangely exotic creature, the likes of whom I had never seen before. She had the most unusual nose, and it was played up in profile shots like that above where she's kissing the donkey head. This was my introduction to Rossy de Palma.
I stared. And I stared. I had never seen anyone like this in Vogue before or any other fashion magazine for that matter (not hard to believe as I was also still reading YM and Seventeen) and to be honest, I was confused. How was I supposed to feel about her inclusion alongside Claudia Mason and the other models with perfect profiles - was Vogue playing a trick on me? Before you yell at your monitor 'What the heck was the matter with you?' let me remind or describe what 'diversity' meant back then.
'Diversity' was Cindy Crawford. No, I haven't forgotten Iman or Yasmeen Ghauri or any of the other richly-featured beauties who broke the mould. But they didn't have commercial success back then, and unless you were able - or allowed as it were - to transform your name and image into a brand you were essentially a non-entity at the end of the day.
Cindy Crawford has brown eyes and brown hair. And a mole. She arrived on the scene at the tail end of an era that still considered Christie Brinkley, Kim Alexis and Cheryl Tiegs to be the epitome of American beauty - all blonde, blue-eyed with the kind of Stepford Wife smile any star quarterback would be proud to bring home to mom. I have brown hair and brown eyes. While I never disliked what I was born with, I was aware it was not the popular 'ideal' and had wished I'd gotten my dad's hazel green eyes instead as my brown held no cache. Case in point - who was prettier in Charlie's Angels? Farrah Fawcett or Jacklyn Smith? Jacklyn Smith of course. But who was the nation going mental over? Farrah. Not that she didn't deserve it but she had more competition than was ever acknowledged. And this continued until America was ready to accept a Cindy as their girl (after a few years of airbrushing out the mole).
As with all cultural transitions, there can be bumps. Some people take a while to get up to speed. One day I found myself having lunch with a guy and a girl at my new high school (I left my old high school in the last year to attend a more artsy school - without uniforms - to get the credits I needed for university, and I was tired of getting detention at 18 years old for having a tiny part of my shirt not tucked into my scratchy kilt). They were a couple and although it was a bit awkward to be invited to eat with a couple I didn't know I appreciated the welcoming gesture and put the idea that they might be pervs out of my head. Turns out they weren't pervs but one of them, the girl, was a real jerk. Somehow the topic of Cindy Crawford came up and the girl - a blue-eyed blonde - exclaimed loudly 'How comes she's so popular? She has BROWN EYES AND BROWN HAIR!" And her face was so contorted with disgust it was as if someone had just farted in her face (if only). The boyfriend quietly chastised her for being so insensitive which I appreciated, but I did wonder if he agreed with the sentiment.
Just a note, I'm not forgetting Janice Dickinson, the first model to call herself the first supermodel. (Hee.) Yes, she was a good model and a big model and she shared the spotlight with dark beauty Gia Carrangi. But did she have commercial success? Did the corporations want her face to represent them in big campaigns? No, their money was on the blue-eyed blondes. Like Jerry Hall.
So, coming back to Rossy de Palma - seeing her non-perfectness celebrated in Vogue all those years ago was a real awakening for me. It went against everything I'd been told about what was beautiful (except for my parents who thought I was the greatest. And of course they were right). It may still be an extreme exception to the 'perfection' rule society is now rigidly adhering to (and ironically so in light of the latest phenomenon - the 'pillow face' which is hardly perfection unless you think alcohol bloat is sublime), but just when we think the world is completely ass-backwards, we can look to the rare beauty of Rossy de Palma.
Thanks to Ready Set Fashion for archiving all of these old issues, I can't believe I found that editorial.