"It doesn't matter what you start with, try to get by on nature alone past thirty and you are finished"
Princess Luciana Pignatelli
There are some fascinating pearls of wisdom from Princess Luciana Pignatelli in The Beautiful People's Beauty Book; How to Achieve the Look and Manner of the World's Most Beautiful Women. The book, described by her ex husband as "A straightforward approach to narcissism" was written in 1970, she didn't actually write it herself, it states 'as told to Jeanne Molli', however her hilarious and straight to the point style is brilliant and unintentionally funny. Friends describe her as delightful, fabulously witty and straight talking. I would have loved to have met her, she's so old school. Below are some of sometimes quite bonkers 'tips' for eternal beauty.
Luciana firmly believes that to hold onto one's looks, a woman must rely on the following; private bedrooms, self discipline (a euphemism for starving oneself, facial exercises, repose, the right husbands and lovers, having late babies, physical exercise to include walking and after all that... plastic surgery. That sounds like a serious amount of effort!
Luciana was born in Italy in 1935 to Francesco Malgeri was a high profile journalist and Nelida Lenci who later remarried and became Countess Cespi. At eighteen she ran off to Rome for her first beauty procedure, a nose job. Tall, slim and glamorous she had some success as a model and moved in society circles. In 1954 she married Prince Nicolo Pignatelli Aragon Cortés with whom she had two children. Her jet set life was very sociable and she had many fabulous friends. Some of them were called upon to share their 'secrets' in the book. The Beautiful People's Beauty Book was written when Luciana was thirty five.
In 1968 she divorced the Prince and married legendary photographer Richard Avedon's cousin, Bert Simms Avedon, then the President of cosmetics company Eve of Roma. Luciana produced two further books, also written with Jeanne Molli are The Beautiful People's Diet Book (Bantam, 1973) and Luciana Avedon's Body Book (Henry Holt, 1976). I'm trying to get hold of a copy of them too!
In the Seventies due to her flawless complexion, she became the spokesperson for Camay soap and starred in their National and International television commercials as well as being the Fashion Co-ordinator for cosmetics company Eve of Roma.
Living in London aged seventy three, she found out her investments had become worthless in the Madoff fraud. Believing she had lost the two most important things to her; her looks and her money, she washed down a bottle of sleeping pills with gin and took her own life after telling friends "I can't face being old and poor." The good life would have been too hard to leave behind.
"A few times every century, a great beauty is born. I am not one of them. But what nature skipped, I supplied - so much so that sometimes I cannot remember what is real and what is fake."
An Interview with Princess Luciana Pignatelli
Time Magazine, 15th March 1971
It is not that the princess has a weak memory; even an IBM super multiprocessor system would be hard pushed to keep track of the surgical, spiritual, chemical and cosmetic chicanery credited with transforming her from what she calls "a lump" of a young girl into the "internationally renowned beauty" of today. Her nose has been bobbed, her eyelids lifted, her breasts treated with cell implants. Hypnosis, silicone injections and mysterious processes she calls "diacutaneous fibrolysis" and "aromatherapy" - all have been fitted into a schedule already jam packed with appointments for facials and pedicures, yoga lessons and gym classes. In The Beautiful People's Beauty Book (McCall $5.95), Luciana Pignatelli reveals the secrets and shams, pressures and rewards of a lifetime dedicated to pleasing that most demanding, unrelenting, infinitely precious of friends - the mirror.
Most of the princess's thirty six years have been spent in the pursuit of beauty. But then, as she explains, "glamour can only begin when all the groundwork has been laid." For Luciana, the groundwork came in early adolescence, when "all legs and big feet, thick at the waist and thick in the nose," she was taken in hand by her half brother, Rodolfo Crespi (married to Consuelo Crespi of the best-dressed set). Rudi pushed lipstick, Consuelo set aside some best dresses, and at eighteen Luciana was shuttling from Rome to London to have her nose fixed (the working model was a cross between Vivien Leigh's and Consuelo's). Six months later she married Prince Nicolo Pignatelli Aragona Cortés; the union was "a disaster" from which she emerged fifteen years later with two children, one title and a shattered ego."
"Don't change your nose, learn how to make up your eyes"
To help rebuild her confidence, she had silicone injections to fill out her cheeks and plastic surgery that lifted her upper eyelids but did nothing for her spirit. Hypnosis, yoga, cell implants and love affairs helped her morale, but by the end of one liaison Luciana realised, "I had really become very plain looking - almost nothing on my face, nothing on my nails, the most casual clothes." After another year during which she was "so bored I used to remove the hairs from my legs, one by one, with tweezers," Luciana went back to Rome to face facts and her mirror: beauty, after all, was her business.
She became a fashion co-ordinator and beauty consultant to Eve of Roma, a cosmetic house, and that led directly to another husband: Eve's President, Burt Avedon.
The book, described by her husband last week as "a straightforward approach to narcissism" - is saturated with beauty tips and titbits, both from the author and her friends. Model Mirella Haggiag, for example, recommends going back to sleep after the breakfast tray arrives.
Princess Ira von Furstenburg
Prefers dinners alone (a man is sure to order pasta or curry with rice and how can one resist?).
Imports vegetarian paté from Holland to London, uses no eyeliner but the pure kohl she collects from Marrakech.
Is high on massage "I swim and ski and I have a very strong nervous system, but when I'm tired there's nothing like a half-hour massage. It is my drug. In Rome I have two Filipino girls who come to the house. I would never be massaged by a man - I find it distasteful."
Luciana also quotes her mother's beauty plan: "I don't smoke, I don't drink and I go to bed early. I exercise and I walk twenty one miles every day!" Adds her daughter proudly. "After she turned sixty she also had a facelift."
Luciana herself has her hair streaked white-blonde once a month, reserves a fast day (mashed potatoes and camomile tea) every two weeks, and takes liver injections every two months to smooth her skin. Her personal recommendations include washing hair in jhassoul ("Ask friends going to Morocco to bring back a few bars"), smoking Filipino cigars instead of skin-sallowing cigarettes, constant visits to the hairdresser and gymnast, separate bedrooms ("much more conducive to sex") and homosexuals as friends ("a brief, loud hurrah for their incredible eye for line, proportion, detail and style").
Also quoted in the book, supports the Princess all the way. "Beauty is exterior: it is not interior," he says. "Not only does it not matter if there's nothing inside, it probably helps. Character has a tendency to ruin looks."
Meanwhile, Luciana, in the midst of a whirlwind US tour promoting her book is eager to get back to Europe. "I understand," she writes wistfully, "there is a doctor in Paris who does eyelash implants..."
Valentino and Veruschka
"Veruschka the cover girl, with the couturier Valentino both feel that a woman is more attractive when she acts her age."
Princess Ira von Furstenburg
"is the picture of luscious self indulgence. Yet her regimen is austere; early to bed, early to rise, no smoking, no drinking and two hours at the gym a day when she's not making a movie"
THE PRINCESS'S BEAUTY TIPS
The Homosexual Facial
"An excellent astringent mask, all the rage a few years ago with chic Parisian homosexuals is this: take the white of one egg, a teaspoon of the best olive oil, beat, and apply to the face for twenty minutes. Remove with a hot face towel, lace trim optional."
On the danger of not keeping up beauty routines
"You take away this, take away that, and in six months you look like a cook."
Hot and cold baths
"Hot baths should never contain water higher than pelvic level. Above all, the bosom must never soak in the tub. Hot water only drags it down, and no woman wants that. After a warm bath, aim a good blast of cold water at the bosom and the thighs, they need it."
"The one rule with hairstyles is that when one is over a certain age, hair should be worn short. Short hair seems to lift the lines of a face better than longer hair. Chignons and twists are an alternative for older women, but if all that can be achieved is a dreary bun, you might as well cut it off."
"You may tint your hair, wear it in a snood, pile it high on top of your head, baby-curl it or decorate it with jewels. But if you aim to please a man, he would prefer your hair long - "bedroom style. It's always been that way. Men think long hair is divine. But who wants to look as if she is in a bedroom when she is at a dinner party?"
"In my ex-husband's house, everyone was unhappy, even the parrot. It was my fault too. With two strong personalities either you pull together or you destroy each other. What does that have to do with beauty? Lots!"
My Yogi, Grant Muradoff, Russia's loss and Rome's gain, was pleased that I was yawning. He believes that far from a sign of boredom, yawning charges the batteries and gives you strength. It's one of the greatest rejuventators anyone can find.
On lifestyle and beauty
"If your lifestyle is casual, add a few eyelashes and maybe a hairpiece and forget exotic endeavours."
On losing weight
"...and there's Tramp on a Friday night; jeans and easy shoes. You dance solidly for three hours and lose four or five pounds."
"For heightened perception without drugs plus rapid weight loss, nothing beats the oldest known treatment for obesity: total starvation."
Have a lift.
Taken in February 1995 for The Times, India
Princess Luciana Pignatelli's last interview
by Mary Tannen for New York Times, 23rd February 2003
A slim volume falls into my hands, an artifact from a lost civilisation: "The Beautiful People's Beauty Book," by Princess Luciana Pignatelli, copyright 1970. Though an as-told book, it retains the Italian author's idiosyncratic syntax and let-them-eat-cake attitude. (On the danger of not keeping up beauty routines: "You take away this, take away that, and in six months you look like a cook.") Inscrutable recipes for face masks ("one tablespoon of lanolin and one teaspoon of Balsam of Peru, mixed until smooth") jostle with enigmatic glimpses of la dolce vita ("Last year in Sardinia, where we all ended up nude on a deserted beach, I put a bikini on my face").
Want to know about eye make up? The princess quotes from Talitha Getty, the wife of J. Paul Jr., who uses kohl obtained in Marrakech, kept in an ivory bottle and applied with an ivory stick. Talitha, one of the princesses friends whose photos adorn the book, affects a blasé attitude toward beauty: "With a good man, a woman doesn't need treatments, health foods, vitamins, or anything... not at first. A bit of black make up for the eyes and a splash of Joy for the pleasure. Although "on camera Sophia Loren might resort to surgical tape to lift the skin up and back between eye and ear," at home she wears almost no cosmetics."
Buxy Garcia, a rare society portrait by Andy Warhol
Thank God Pignatelli is not like Buxy Gancia, a former Chanel model, who breezily advises, "Have a cold shower at 8am and breakfast with the children." The princess understands most of us have to work at it. "I underwent hypnosis,", she writes "had cell implants, diacutaneous fibrolysis, silicone injections, my nose bobbed and my eyelids lifted."
"I have tried aromatherapy, approached yoga and still go to the best gymnast in Rome," she continues. "Facials and pedicures are normal routine, as are frequent hair and make up changes. I will try anything new in beauty."
Thirty five years old when the book was written, she is a beauty warrior, already manning the battlements against the onslaught of aging. "Like most women, I have always been afraid of wrinkles and lines. My approach is to get at them before they really dig in. People less critical at the eye, and already I have visions of a face that hangs down to my ankles."
Indeed, the face of the dust jacket is headed fearlessly into the winds of time, blonde hair flying, full lips set (but not so firmly as to cause pucker creases). At one time, this face was everywhere: one the covers of Life, Ladies Home Journal and Town and Country and in television commercials for Camay soap. The princess was one of those beauty icons whose looks instruct the hopeful strivers: "You too could be a beautiful person, if you would only get some bigger sunglasses and try this coral lipstick."
I do the arithmetic. by now the Princess should be sixty eight years old. What becomes of a woman whose face has been her fortune? Did she retire like Garbo, into dimly lit seclusion? Search engines turn up intriguing dead ends (for instance a website for Bhutan).
There's a rumour she's in Katmandu. The Manhattan telephone directory lists her sister-in-law Consuelo Crespi, who says that there is a son living in London who might know. Eventually I get a European mobile number. The princess is in Rome. "I feel like a mummy you are digging out of a tomb," she says, sounding like anything but. We arrange to meet in London.
Even on a gloomy day the light in her London flat is good. It reveals a tall, slender woman with impeccable posture, wearing an unforgiving Missoni knit dress. But there is nothing to forgive. "I still feel strongly about exercise," she says "Every day of my life I do half an hour. It's a conditioned reflex."
The light plays on a ten sided dining table paved in a mosaic of abalone and mother of pearl (Italian) and on a large chest of drawers covered in ivory and mother of pearl (Syrian). There are carved chairs from Thailand, two sofas draped in white-on-white shawls from Kashmir. There is one bedroom, with low Indian mother of pearl bed frame. The apartment is compact, the lair of a gypsy. All around, in frames elaborate or simple are photos of the face.
In the book the princess is generous with details from her life. Now I am eager to catch up on the next installment. Indulgently, she pulls out photo albums. There's the wedding picture from when she was nineteen and married the handsome Prince Nicolo Pignatelli Aragona Cortés. It was considered a "brilliant match" for this daughter of a prominent Italian journalist. But marriage "stuffs you so close together you can see love dying all over the walls," the book said of this union, which lasted eight years and produced two children. Now she is on the best of terms with the prince, who lives in London. "He's mellowed more than me. I'm a little bit of a terrorist. He is like a cardinal." The children also live in London with families of their own. "My children are the most conservative. They look at me like this little nutcase."
There's a photo of her with her second husband, Burt Avedon, a cousin of the famous photographer. She waves the picture away with the back of her hand: "My ill-fated marriage." Since then there have been no more husbands, only "temporary relations."
She was living in New York: "I had a flat in 555 Park Avenue, which I sold to Barbara Walters, and then I went around the world with my Filipino maid. I was going to travel for a year, and I never went back. That started the Oriental part of my life."
Keeping in mind what a French friend one told me, that aging coquettes turn to religion, I expect the Princess to reveal that she achieved enlightenment with a guru she met on her travels. She laughs "My spirituality - I find it an antidepressant." In her journeys, she says, she has come upon "exceptional human beings, but around them is a clique that is commercial."
"I have found always found this," she continues. "Human nature is at fault." Instead, what she discovered in Thailand, Nepal and lately, India, is craftsmanship. She was able to develop relationships to which she could contribute her instinct for what the elite likes. In Thailand, she designed jewellery; in Nepal, pashmina shawls. Her latest venture is designing and overseeing the production of jewellery using semi-precious gems, to be sold in India's palace luxury hotels. "It's crazy that at the end of my life I get something that I feel very much. Maybe all my life I was learning."
A pair of antique kissing fish, carved from crystal and adorned with small ruby bubbles, nestles at her throat, suspended from a chain of gem-studded rings from Thailand. "I had an awful theft of jewellery," she says. "Everything was stolen." Then she took the fish ornament on her table and fashioned it into a necklace. "I invent all the time. From something that goes wrong, I make it right."
We duck around the corner to a modest Thai noodle bar for lunch. The proprietor greets the princess like an old friend. She'll have her usual, seafood on fried noodles, and a glass of white wine. Now that we have caught up on her life, I'm eager to hear about the other characters in the book, her friends who shared their beauty secrets.
Photography by Patrick Lichfield
But as I have gleaned by now the Princess does not cling to the past. She saw Sophia Loren in an airport once, but the film star didn't seem to recognise her. "Buxy Gancia came over to me someplace but I didn't recognise her." Talitha? She gives me a quizzical look. "Ah, Talitha," she says. "She died of a drug overdose. Her husband fled the country." So much for the love of a good man. The proprietor gives us more wine, on the house.
Her days of being a famous face may be long gone, but the princess is still on the cutting edge, so to speak, of beauty. Besides exercising, she fasts periodically. She visits Julia Jus, a Swiss-American living in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, who puts clients on a juice fast. The princess stays a few days or a week. "You detoxify completely," she says. "It's not a chic place. It's basic and reasonable." To keep her skin supple she exfoliates with a scrubbing mitten from Morocco, and then applies Nivea cream mixed with Retin-A. Three times a day she takes cod-liver oil and evening primrose oil pills, to lubricate from within. For her face, she's finished with operations, but relies on Dr. Jean-Louis Sebagh, a French plastic surgeon, to keep it firm and wrinkle free. There are injections: Botox, vitamins and fat harvested from other parts of her body. There are acid peels and a strong hormone cream. "Natural is really for the birds," she says.
And natural is not the look she has achieved. The plump lips and wide eyes remind me of a de Kooning woman. The mobile mouth seems disconnected from the frozen brow. "Let's face it, miracles don't happen," she says as if reading my mind. "What counts is the spirit. To have young friends, to have a good time, not to be outdated. This is what counts."
I look at her plate. She has eaten every last bit. In a few days she'll leave for Katmandu to attend a royal wedding. By Christmas she'll be ensconced in a palatial hotel in India and won't be back before April or May.
I understand now that rather than being a slave to beauty, the Princess has made it work for her. I revise the rank. This is not a beauty warrior. This is a general.
"Every woman over thirty needs a homosexual in her life...
for their proportion, detail and style."
Princess Luciana Pignatelli