This writing originally appeared on the Haute Macabre blog on September 24, 2015.
The mysterious image above is one you are no doubt familiar with, thanks to countless Pinterest pins and Tumblr reblogs, and image-favoriting sites. I, myself, originally saw it on LiveJournal, approximately a million years ago when someone was using it as their user icon.
Are you aware of the identity of this glamorous enigma? I was not, for the longest time. Thanks to the sorcery of reverse image search functionality, however, the answer is easily found:
Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, better known as “La Castiglione”, was a 19-century Italian aristocrat dedicated to a cult of personal beauty, and just as narcissistic and self-absorbed as a Kardashian or a Kayne. The Countess was known for her vanity, her eccentricism, and her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court, and among the aesthetes of fin-de-siècle Paris, her life was the subject of admiring and almost obsessive curiosity. She was described as having long, wavy blonde hair, a delicate oval face, and eyes that changed color from green to an extraordinary blue-violet. Her own third personal assessment reads thusly: “The Eternal Father did not know what he was creating the day he sent her into the world.”
A humble woman, indeed!
Egomaniacal celebutante jokes and comparisons aside, however, it is undeniable that she was a woman with a singular vision (Ok, so it was of herself) and who was well ahead of her time in terms of owning it and executing it.
In 1856, The Countess began sitting for Mayer and Pierson, photographers favored by the imperial court. Over the next four decades, she directed Pierre-Louis Pierson to help her produce 700 different photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. “These days it is not considered pathological for people to acquire hundreds of photographs of themselves in a lifetime. But in the middle of the 19th century you really, really had to try.” notes Sara Boxer in a New York Times article from 2000.
This “goddess of self-love” fluctuated between two states of mind – queen and melancholy recluse; she had herself photographed as a frowning nun, as Medea with a knife, the tragic heroine Beatrix, Judith entering the tent of Holofernes, a drowned virgin, Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, a courtesan flaunting her legs, Anne Boleyn, Goya’s “Maja”, a nurse to her dying dog and as a corpse in a coffin.
The 50 photographs that make up “La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione”, an exhibition in the Howard Gilman Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized by Pierre Apraxine in 2000, are, as one reviewer notes, “… not lovely. They are bizarre.” And to watch the countess evolve from self-obsessed coquette to morbid mourner, to follow “her restless preening from youth to the brink of the grave”, is mesmerizing.
Virginia spent her remaining years in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, where she had the rooms fitted out in funeral black, blinds drawn, mirrors banished – presumably so as not to be confronted with her advancing age and loss of beauty. In the 1890s she began a brief collaboration with Pierson again, though her later photographs clearly show her “loss of any critical judgment”, possibly due to her growing mental instability. She wished to set up an exhibit of her photographs at the Exposition Universelle (1900), though this was never to happen. On November 28, 1899, she died at age sixty-two, and was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
And because I am nutty and can’t write about someone without wanting to dress them up myself (or even play dress up AS them), here are two interpretations of some somewhat modern-day Countess of Castiglione ensembles!
I was not super consistent in creating videos for my little channel in 2021 so I thought I’d squeak in a quick one before the year ended. This one I call: “look at all my sparkly shit!”
I have such a hard time sitting in front of a camera and thinking up things to talk about, thoughts to share, observations to make. Writing comes much more easily to me than speaking, and so I typically would record a bunch of footage, script out what I’d like to say, and then record some voiceover. But that’s all A LOT of work. And also, typically, a massive amount of overthinking. And while it will naturally end up being more organized and thoughtful and articulate, well…that’s not how I actually sound in conversation, now is it? And I did actually want some of these videos to be chatty and casual like you’re just having a little visit with your friend. So I hope that’s how this one turned out, and I would like very much to just get over myself and my self-consciousness and do more of these in the new year!
In the meantime, I hope you’ll have a watch and like and subscribe and comment and all that other stuff that you’re supposed to say when you make a YouTube video!
In this video, the following jewelers and shops are mentioned…
3. Pyrrha Andromeda 14K Gold Goddess Talisman I’ve been enamored of Pyrrha’s wax seal jewelry, full of myth and meaning, for the longest time. I recently peeped at their Goddess collection and it was tough to choose between the empowering energies of all of these beautiful talismans, but how could I not go with the dreamy, heart-following light of Andromeda?
4. Aesop Hwyl Eau de Parfum In looking for smoky, campfire scents for a friend recently, I stumbled across a review for Hwyl, which, according to the perfumer, was inspired by the calming nature of Japanese forests and “walking among the remarkable 300-year-old Hiba trees in an ancient Japanese forest and experiencing the country’s lush temple moss gardens.” The reviewer’s succinct summation describes the fragrance as “the one that smells like Totoro’s home.” Enough said. Gimme!
WOW! It’s been a long dang time since I have compiled a list of wished-for Hexmas gifts. WAIT, no it hasn’t! I made one just last year. How could I have forgotten that? Oh yeah, I know why: because last year, as we who can still joke about such things like to say, was approx. one thousand weeks ago.
I’m into the mustardy yellows now, which is a bit of a new thing to those who are used to my monochromatic palette, and overall I think in these lists you’ll see a bit more color than I’ve had a preference for in recent years. Interesting! What does it all mean? (Is a thing that I am sure no one is asking.) All in all, these lists today are a bit of a mishmash, none of it really connected or thematic… although I suppose the slippers and teas and bath related items would certainly point to a longing for calm and comfort and soothing experiences? And maybe a few sparks of magic for the kitchen and the home? Well, I guess let’s not try to overthink it.
It’s really just an opportunity to say, here’s some stuff I like! I don’t actually expect anyone to buy and gift these things for me; as I have noted before, there’s no one who can shop for you as well as you can. So I like to make these lists for myself every December, and then slowly treat myself to the things on them over the course of the winter and throughout the next year. And don’t get me wrong – I love it when people think of me enough to buy me a gift, and I am grateful…I just don’t ever expect that someone is going to read my mind and get me that thing that I really, really, want. And god forbid I actually tell them!
So here it is, then. The luxuries and fripperies I’ve got on my personal 2020, utterly selfish Hexmas wishlist. I’m not sure that these things will be of any interest to anyone but me, but perhaps you will find some last-minute gift ideas here, for either friends or family…or yourself. Happy Hexmas to us!
I can’t even remember the last time I put together a list of fripperies! I say, it’s been much, much too long.
The theme for this year’s Hexmas holiday wishlist is “Hexmas Sleepies”, I guess! These are a few things I have either been lusting over, or, I have purchased and highly recommend, and they all seem to fall into that category of “soothing balms for frizzled folks” and for wrapping up the day on a lovely, luxurious note, before bed.
1. Silk Ines pyjamas from Morpho and Luna. This moody floral pajama set is from Morpho and Luna’s 2017 collection and the design is apparently a modern interpretation of the mythology of Persephone and Demeter. For two whole years now I keep peeping at them but I haven’t been able to pull the trigger yet.
2. Unwind Your Mind. This is the book that ASMRtist Emma WhispersRed of YouTube just released and if you haven’t fallen asleep to the sounds of her brushing someone’s hair or perhaps her guided meditation with Tibetan singing bowls, you’re really missing out. My copy is sitting atop a stack of books as tall as I am, but I’ll get to it soon, I promise!
5. LUSH Sleepy Lotion At first sniff, you almost think this wonderfully purple lotion is going to be too sugary, but somehow it’s not. Sleepy is a lovely lavender whose sharp herbal edges have been tamed by rich and subtly sweet tonka, and trust me, you need the matching shower gel to go with this as well.
6. Parachute Turkish Cotton Waffle Robe. This robe is an INVESTMENT. It is the most incredible thing you will ever put on your body and I cannot sing its praises enough. If you have never ever before paid attention to anything I was trying to convince you of, hear me now: this robe is as luxurious as it is practical and you need it in your life.
7. Kindred Black Immortelle I have a few other offerings from Kindred Black and I am so impressed with the quality of the oils and the beauty of their packaging, and I feel like their immortelle oil belongs on my shelf (along with the jojoba, argan, and zdravetz, which I own –and love!–already.)
The Maison Francesco Scognamiglio Fall 2019 Couture collection, with its contrasting play between excess and restraint-the undulating satin, that see-through tulle, those rivulets of crystals and embellishments!–call to mind languid lady vampires swanning around an abandoned moonlit chateau, or perhaps flickering amongst the bleached bones scattered throughout the sandy stones of a coastal cliff-side ruin at twilight.
If there is a sigh between salacious and celestial, I think it is in that whispered instant that this collection leaves you gasping.
I’ve never really understood the great love for bobby pins. I knew that many people thought them to be an important, even crucial, tool for styling their hair, but I just didn’t get it. Whenever I tried to use a bobby pin, I’d end up using all 50 of them from the package, and no matter how many I used or how tightly or viciously I jammed them into my coils or rolls or twists or buns or braids, they’d all eventually slip out, and my one hundred pounds of hair would be left hanging lopsidedly on my head.
Well, as it turns out, I was using them the wrong way. Not just the wrong technique, mind you, but they were literally oriented the wrong way. On a bobby pin, there is a straight side, and there is a bumpy/rippled/wavy side. (However you might call it. One side is straight and flat, and the other is not.) I don’t know why it does not say so on the packaging, but, the general consensus is* that the wavy side is to face down, against your scalp when you pin your your hair; the ribbing is designed to grip hair and lock it into place.
How am I only just now learning this??
I feel like there’s things in life that people never tell you, and that somehow you’re just expected to know (but how??) and this is definitely one of those things.
Am I the only one? Have you all been using them wrong, too? Or are there other, basic things that you learned late in life, which you could have been doing better or more correctly, if only someone had told you about it? Let’s pool our knowledge! It’s never to late to learn something new.
* I hesitate to say there is one right way to do something. I’m sure that some very professional, deft-fingered stylists can use it the other way, and it’s just fine.
I gotta tell you, I supported the hell out of some small businesses last night, after vowing earlier in the day that I wasn’t actually going to do any shopping at all. Funny how that works after a glass or two of wine.
I usually do a little bit of Hexmas shopping for myself, it’s true. Receiving gifts is nice, but as I’ve said before, it’s pretty unlikely that (unless you’ve given someone a detailed list, which I think is kind of lame and I refuse to do it) no one is going to get you EXACTLY what you want, so you’d better just take care of it yourself!
We are traveling to DC for the winter holiday this year, which means that whatever shopping I am doing for anyone–including myself!–had better be done way ahead of time, and for me, a month ahead of time actually is pretty early. Now that I’ve got myself covered, I can start thinking about everyone else. Isn’t that what RuPaul says? Close enough.
See below for a list of some vendors that I love and who are running some really lovely sales and discounts right now*. As always, I would never promote anything that I would not spend my own money on, so all of these items are things that I have indeed purchased for myself. Just last night, actually.
I’ve never really been one for being out and about on Black Friday, as I don’t love the crowds (and I’m not certain I can think of anything I’d actually want badly enough to leave the house for!) but I get that sometimes people make a whole day of it, and that it can be a lot of fun. And blah blah, consumerist culture whatever–I get why some people have a problem with the day and all it represents, too, but as I get older I try to be much more mindful of not shitting all over the things that people like to do, so I’m not making judgments one way or the other. For myself, I feel pretty good about supporting trustworthy, talented small businesses and artisans, and that’s never a bad thing to do, right?
Did you go out yesterday? Stay in? Shop all the things? Did you actually by gifts for people other than yourself? Feel free to share in the comments!
I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind.
*In between the time I started putting these fripperies together this morning and when I actually posted the whole list, this beautiful “fashion vulture” hat sold out! I had to keep it on here though, because seriously, have you ever seen anything so amazing? In the meantime, check out all of their other gorgeous hats, they are awfully magnificent. (I bet I knew who bought this, hee hee! Was it you? Let me know!)