Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Renee Perle - fashion icon

I feel like I start every post with "I can't believe I've not posted in so long" and "I will definitely post more often from now on" and I never do.  I really am a terrible flake.  

The truth is that I've been falling out of love with my vintage wardrobe for a while. I've been struggling to find a style I feel "myself" in.  I adore 1930s fashion but I don't think it is particularly flattering for someone of my size and a lot of it is more girlish than the woman I am now, at this grand old age of 36.  

I'm also decidedly lazy, try as I might I just can't do the girdle and stockings thing every day.  I like to sleep until 8am and have to leave the house at 8:30, so elaborate clothing, hair and make up rituals just don't work on week days, no matter how well intentioned I might be. However, I do still love vintage looks and I can't dress without at least a little theatricality thrown in.  I need something over the top yet casual.  Dramatic yet easy to pull on and go.  What to do, what to do?

I've been trying out different things.  Bringing a little goth back into my look, trying our different looks with trousers, even adding the odd splash of 50s back in; but as usual I've been flitting from passion to passion like a butterfly on buddleia. And with about the same concentration span.  

Actually, that might be rude to the butterfly, for all I know each and every butterfly might have an intellect far outweighing mine, they live, the mate, they die, it seems like they have life pretty well worked out.  Short, sunny, beautiful.  So it is probably somewhat ironic that my new fashion muse was known for a short, sunny and beautiful two Summers in the early 30s.  

When you look at Lartigue's photos of Renee Perle it is somewhat hard to date them.  Yes, the hair is distinctly fingerwaved and definitely 1930s, but the clothing could be modern, the make up, with the smoky eye could be too.  Renee had an avant garde fashion sense for her day - few were the women who would walk down the street in trousers and a t-shirt in 1930. Ah, the confidence great beauty bestows!

Renee met Lartigue in March 1930 and she made quite the immediate impression, as we know from his diary entry:

"Along the sidewalk of the Rue de la Pompe, I see two women standing in the shadow of a street lamp. Are they waiting for someone or... something? One of the women is tall and slender, the other is tiny. An umbrella next to a pot of flowers. Later, in the Bois, the umbrella is in my car between the flowers and me. I look at her profile. A long neck; a very straight, very small nose. A shiny, stray hair lock caresses her mouth. She has gloves on... I wish I could see her hands. Hands are so important!"

He arranged to meet her the next day:

“Half past five at the Embassy. I wait for my “parasol” from last night. I need a whiskey. I’m very shy deep down, and ready to be furious if she doesn’t show up. It’s my curiosity that would be most disappointed…Five thirty-five. There she is! Can it really be her? Ravishing, tall, slim, with a small mouth and full lips, and dark porcelain eyes. She casts aside her fur coat in a gust of warm perfume. We’re going to dance. Mexican? Cuban? 

Her very small head sits on a very long neck. She is tall; her mouth is at the level of my chin. When we dance my mouth is not far from her mouth. Her hair brushes against both.Romanian. My name is RenĂ©e P… I was a model at Doeuillet…” Delicious. She takes off her gloves. Long, little girl’s hands. Something in my mind starts dancing at the thought that one day perhaps she would agree to paint the nails of those hands…”

The recently divorced Lartigue quickly made Renee his live in lover and muse, until they separated in 1932.  Their two years together were spent in the South of France, mainly at Biarritz and Juan-les Pins, and Lartigue spent much of his time photographing the object of his desire in pictures which are, frankly, redolent with lust.

“Tall, slim, a long neck, a shining lock of hair caressing her mouth. I see the reflection of Renee’s beauty in women’s eyes and men’s glances…Beside her, other women look like farm girls.” 

"She is always making scenes," he wrote. "Is it jealousy, or is it madness? Maybe it is the need to be assaulted, to be made unhappy and to cry - all for the sake of a reconciliation? I am far too down-to-earth, too much of a spectator and too bad an actor to fall into the trap of playing the kind of game Renee wishes me to play."

"Certain insects die after having made love, but they make love anyway. Every second of the present counts. I will think about the future later... But there is one haunting thought: with whom can I expect to talk about love after Renee has gone?"

No-one really knows what happened to Renee herself after their break up.  She must have married as there is mention of a stepchild, but no other information exists regarding her later life.  All we have is this butterfly moment, captured under the glass of Lartigue's lense.

For me, her style is perfection - dramatic make up, comfortable clothing, big chunky jewellery.   I'm shamelessly stealing her style, or at least being influenced by it, mixed in with a few other icons I plan to post about over the next few months.

Key to the look are wide leg trousers / palazzo pants.  These are slightly different to the 40s wide leg trousers I am used to, being much wide, less baggy in the crotch and a little lower on the waist.  I have the perfect pair in Navy by Nudeedudee on Etsy.

Paired with these you need your nautical stripes.  Nudeedudee again make some great striped tees, of which I have three, and they wash and wear really well, but you can pick up striped tops anywhere over the Summer.

Add a beret or a veil, a slick of red lipstick and all your bangles and you are done.  French casual chic.  Vintage without fuss. What could be better?

Now just to practise those damn fingerwaves!


  1. Enjoyed your post! Miss hearing from you.

  2. So glad you are back have so missed your posts.