Sunday, February 19, 2012


This Week:  40 Degrees Below Zero, But a Good, Clean Shave;  Fundamental Errors of Personal Finance; and I Never Thought I'd Say 'Thank Goodness For Pernell Roberts.'

Immaculately clean, completely feminine armpits, brought to you by Schick, the inventor of the original dry shaver, born in a filthy dirty, completely masculine Alaskan  hut.

Jacob Schick, career army officer and inventor, had his a-ha! moment while camping in Alaska.  Quoting from the 1937 obituary:  "With the weather hovering at 40 degrees below zero, Mr. Schick found it difficult to shave.  One day he sprained his ankle, and had to remain alone in camp for several months.  He killed a moose and lived on its meat during his forced imprisonment.  For weeks, he worked on his problem, and finally evolved a razor that could do the job without lather or the other traditional concomitants of shaving."

Several months and one moose?  And his problem was shaving?    Here's the patent.  No moose bones.

Jacob Schick

Last week, we started here with a cashmere sweater made by the Bernhard Altmann company, which produced mid-range cashmere from factories around the country, including San Antonio, of all places.

We ended up here

because Mr. Altmann's sister-in-law's aunt was the lady in the picture.  In 2000, Maria Altmann sued the Austrian government in the U.S. Supreme Court.  She won, got back the painting (and others), and sold them at auction.  The Klimt sold for $135,000,000.00.

And I pushed the Post Button.  But I knew I had just seen that Klimt. . . on a bookshelf.  I had saved the first section of the New York Times from November 27, 2011.    "But Nobody Pays That" was one of those articles I was really going to sit down and understand for once and for all.  I would learn a tax tip from Mr. Lauder.

Ronald Lauder and His $135,000,000.00 Purchase (AP Photo)
Mr. Lauder and I have something in common.  We like to go to auctions.  In fact, this very Vogue was bought at auction, one of several lots I bought in Oakland.  They had belonged to a lady who lived in Martinez and who worked at an insurance company.  That's all I know.  She had saved every issue from the late 1930's to 1970.  Boxes and boxes.   And, like the Klimt, the magazines went for way more than the estimates.  

I came away with 25 or so issues from the 1950s, and 35 or so from the 1960s.  I bought them to sell, and I sold all of the really good ones, all of the issues with the William Klein spreads . . . and when I broke even I stopped.   I think they should be seen, and I go to some trouble to show them to the public.  Just like Mr. Lauder and his German and Austrian paintings.  

William Klein, Vogue, 1957

 But unlike Mr. Lauder,  I was an idiot.  What I should have done was to create a private foundation:  The Voguerie.  I should have donated the Vogues to The Voguerie.  Then I could have taken a charitable donation.  That would have been a far larger charitable donation than I have ever made before.  That way I could have given myself a good discount on the Vogues.  

And The Voguerie could be quite close by.  Probably even in my living room.  Then I would still have them.   I could charge money for people to see them. But I don't.   This is an ad-free blog.  The Klimt is at the Neu Galerie, Mr. Lauder's private foundation.  Admission is not free.  

Not only can Mr. Lauder have his cake and eat it, too; the cake keeps on making  its own frosting.  

Don't you wish you could donate your eBay finds to yourself and get a tax break?

Let's Go to the Movies!

*  Another in the series of full-employment for aging male stars.  A comatose Randolph Scott leads a ragtag group to a hanging tree.

*  Thank goodness for Pernell Roberts!  James Coburn in his first role; also Lee Van Cleef and a very good James Best, who just completed Return of the Killer Shrews; a quite remarkable coincidence since The Killer Shrews is from 1959 - unavailable!

* Why does Karen Steele have 1950's hair and bodices?  Who wrote the original Indians-Appear-in-Distance music? How much more would I have liked this movie if I had seen it in the theater in Cinemascope, and not on a Mac?   A lot.  The horses are so small.

Next:  Chanel No. 5 vs. Shalimar - for real.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Goats, Justice and Polymers

A remarkable story lurks behind one of these pages.  And - Richard Burton behaves very badly.

At last, humanity has reached The Dawn of the Important Sweater and we have before us our first cashmere sweater.  My mother still mentions a rich girl in her dorm at the University of Iowa in 1953:  "She had a drawer full of cashmere sweaters, but she was so nice you'd never know it."  And in Fifteen, the nice girl has one cashmere cardigan and the snooty girl has many.

I have often wondered about the explosion of cashmere in recent years.  And how disappointing it often is.  In 1956, (here for an explanation of the economics of cashmere in the 1950s) a cashmere sweater cost about $200.00 in today's dollars.  And it is probably in better shape than the one I got online last year.

Bernhard Altmann - not B. Altman, which confused me at first - was an importer and manufacturer of cashmere clothes who died a year after this sweater appeared.  He founded the company in 1914 in Vienna, and expanded to New York in 1938.  (Or, given the date, perhaps fled Vienna in 1938.)

A good, but easy guess, that date.  I'm barely getting to this post this week; too much work, and the pages seemed of slight interest.   But then I find this:

This is 1) the Klimt that Ronald Lauder paid $135 million dollars for; and 2) one of the paintings returned to Bernhard Altmann's sister-in-law, Maria, after she sued Austria in a U.S. Supreme Court case.   Here is Mrs. Altmann's obituary from last year.  The brother-in-law who bought Maria's husband out of Dachau was Bernhard Altmann.  

And what was Mrs. Altmann's claim to the paintings?  She inherited them from her aunt, the lady in the painting. 

Whenever I come to a page on unnatural fibers, I am reminded of how little progress I have made in understanding what this actually means.  I have to wikicheat every time.  Here we have American Cyanamid again, and its Creslan division, which is the brand name for Cyanamid's acrylic, which boils down to a cloth made from petroleum, or perhaps coal.  Creslan contains nylon, which is made of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.  But, aren't we all?  

Cashmere comes from cute little goats.  

Let's go to the movies!

*  The invisible charms of an Angry Young Man.  Or, a bully runs amok.  

*  To be fair, the movie isn't quite as bad as the American trailer makes it seem.  (Couldn't find a British version.)  I had no desire to tear apart Claire Bloom.  But I did find myself rooting for Richard Burton to get run over.   Oddly, a revival of Look Back in Anger opened in New York the day I saw this.  Room at the Top, similar in many ways, was much, much better.  

*  Happier days in that marriage were the worst:  cover your eyes when Squirrel-y and Bear-y disport themselves.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chanel vs. Shalimar - Preliminary Bout

This week: House of fur, ghost scents, and Ben Gazzara, who died this week.

But first -- Chanel No. 5 vs. Shalimar, Round Two.

Nothing can beat the Chanel No. 5 ad.  But what does my Resident Perfume Expert say, now that he's finished with his chemistry mid-term and can get around to what's really important?   (Honestly - his mother and I certainly didn't study that hard.  Kids today!)

Christopher Bickel:

In response to your concern that you have "mediocre taste" in perfume-- once you have actively smelled and investigated around 50 perfumes you might begin to see a change in your tastes.

The best way to truly appreciate a perfume is if you treat it like a book. You can't ignore it for even a few minutes, or else you lose the story (or lack thereof).

While I appreciate Chanel No. 5 (parfum) I don't particularly like it. You're not alone. Personally, It's more important as an artistic landmark than an enjoyable fragrance. The eau de toilette version (a 1950's take on No. 5 with more violet and peach), is the only incarnation i genuinely like.

Shalimar > No. 5, in my opinion. Artistically Shalimar and No. 5 are masterpieces, but the complexity of Shalimar makes me like it more. The same woman could wear both, definitely. I am all for people wearing whatever they like whenever they like on principle.

But I also instinctively feel that the kind of woman who wears No. 5 is simple but chic, whereas the woman who wears Shalimar is over the top and glamorous. No. 5 would wear a silk blazer while Shalimar would wear a mink coat. As a final thought, I don't really think that anyone should wear No. 5 or Shalimar whenever they feel like it. Perfumes like those are like fancy jewelry-- you don't wear an opal pendant when you're gardening (at least I'd hope not). You need to be able to play the part, because those kinds of perfumes can end up wearing you instead.

If you're smelling the parfum version of Shalimar you are smelling what Guerlain claims to be the original formula. That is a dirty lie.

Any perfume made before the 50's in its current incarnation does not smell exactly like it should because it is missing synthetic musks that were found to cause brain cancer. Luckily, musks don't have much of a smell of themselves, they act more like a filter on a perfume to make whatever you're smelling seem richer, smoother, or like something else, so replacing the musks changed the actual structure of the fragrance very little. 

Additionally, as of 2010, everything smells wrong because the IFRA decided that they were going to restrict the use of oakmoss, jasmine, vanilla, rose, etc.

I have never smelled the original No. 5 or Shalimar and do not intend to because I would end up spending all my money on vintage perfume. If you're interested, the "The Perfumed Court" (a sample selling website) for samples of vintage ones.

Given that I've never smelled the originals, I cannot say exactly how the incarnations across the years have differed from one another. All I know is that many people have noticed an undesirable change in Shalimar and No. 5, along with the other older classics.

(Next question:  why restrict the use of natural products?  Scarcity?  Do roses also cause brain cancer?  How much perfume would you have to drench yourself in anyway to develop brain cancer?  For some reason, the only person I could picture this happening to is the Duchess of Windsor. )

Thank you, Chris.  That was excellent.  I didn't know that you could buy perfume samples.  Certainly more dignified than trying to talk the Sephora salesladies into giving me what I want and not what's new this week!  I bought minute amounts of vintage Chanel No. 5 and the Shalimar.   I have a feeling that they'll both end up wearing me instead.

Would a fur coat help?

We've seen Revillon's perfume, Carnet de Bal, in this issue.  Here are the furs.  Above, more Southwest African (Namibian) Persian Lamb, this time "Paris-propelled young design sorcery in the modern Persian Lamb .   . . blacker, brighter, lighter!"  It looks like a bathrobe.

Below, "Fouke-Dyed 'Matara' (Trademark) Alaska Fur Seal.    It's too plush.

The House of Revillon was (is?  was until last year?  Can't really tell, from the scant research I had time for this week - sorry.) an interesting company.  Founded in the 1700's, it had a network in Canada and a fabulous cold storage building in New York, in addition to its showrooms.  But most intriguing, Revillon  underwrote the first ever documentary, Nanook of the North, chronicling a year in the life of the "lovable, happy-go-lucky" people of northern Canada.  

Let's go to the movies! 

And see Anatomy of a Murder again, in honor of Ben Gazzara.

*  Small-town lawyer with a refrigerator full of fish lands case of a lifetime.

*  James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, Lee Remick, George C. Scott all terrific.

*  Also:  Duke Ellington, the attorney who asked McCarthy 'Have you no shame?,' cute dog, lurid story, great titles. . . well worth it.  

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