Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka remained fabulously moneyed despite the Great Depression and two World Wars, cultivating that golden elixir of 20th century:  glamour – a successful, shameless cherry-picking of only faultless style, beauty, and opulence. Could her work still be inspirational, worth emulating – and if so, how? Alex X writes.

As others who moved in wealthy circles during the hey day of the Twenties and Thirties, may, for merit and reasons of taste, have been induced to tone down their flashiness as threats to fortune came from every which way, the grand dame of Art deco relentlessly continued to paint her own exclusive world.

It’s populated with haute couture ladies trademarked with charcoal stares, libidinous red lips, tumbling curls, girls kissing girls, bohemians, barons, and movie stars. Even the few peasants to receive the de Lempicka treatment appear pleasingly airbrushed. An appreciator of art may be fond of Tamara the maverick, but as an appreciator of vintage pretties, you just want to buy into that world of icy perfection.

Born into an aristocratic circle in Poland, 1898, de Lempicka had the typically well-travelled upbringing you might expect, life of prestige naturally following: boarding school – the most elite in Switzerland. Summer vacations with millionaire relatives in pre-revolution St. Petersburg. Marriage – arranged at 16 to the most eligible local bachelor. Artist’s debut – in fashionable Jazz Age Paris. Being the creative mastermind behind her own public image gave the woman a favorable degree of what is known about her personal life, and perhaps unsurprisingly we are provided with only scandalous stories about the celebrities she socialized with and painted, the many men and women she seduced, her love of couture and the strained relationship with her only child, a daughter, Kizette (neglected in favor of her hedonistic lifestyle, the girl features prominently in her work).

But the clincher is, for a catalogue of work that deals necessarily with only the surface and superficial from the vantage point of privilege, this gossip is essentially all that is needed to be known – anything more would surely deduct from the illusion.

To the vintage-loving girl, de Lempicka’s is an aesthetic bound to the image of the Twenties fully a-roar, flappers and Jazz Babies immortalized. However, the de Lempicka girl is not so much a ‘decade’ look, as an era defined by one woman’s perspective, capturing the decadence of the privileged few who made it through the impending doom of the coming years apparently unscathed and unchanged. Certainly the fashions change, hair fluctuates from short to long, and by the end of her career in the Seventies the typical de Lempicka girl and her generation, the zenith of her creation, really ceases to exist as the muses dried up one by one.

The standard de Lempicka face – expressionless, nameless, vacuous and exaggerated –  makes for a great template to be transferred to any face. To achieve this strictly evening look, you literally want a painted face, best achieved with contour make-up. What sets it apart from the usual Twenties or early Thirties look is that you’re not trying to recreate a period-specific look with the best matched textures and tools, but a colourful, hyper-real, artificial face, complete with shadow and light contours.

•    The standard pencil-thin arched brow and kohl-rimmed eye should be completed with a sweep of shimmery black or brown shadow across the lid, in both inner and outer corners, to accentuate to shape of the lid from a distance. Highlight the centre of the lid with a pale golden shade where the light would naturally fall. The darker the shadow, the icier the stare.

•    The face retains its natural clean complexion with matte foundation, but bronzer swept over the cheeks and temples gives the look a unique, golden glow

•    A standard pin-curl set is used, or alternatively make ringlets with a medium-sized barrel but try to use fingers only to volumize; or only lightly comb out with a wide-toothed comb.  To retain the de Lempicka shiny surreal finish, add a sheen spray or tease pomade through. It’s all about drag, drama, and rule-breaking!

2 Responses

  1. Anushka

    I enjoyed reading this article as I recently worked with my friend to style a photography series based on some of de Lempicka’s portraits.They are currently up on the ‘recent works’ section of her website – http://nellynguyen.com/

  2. Margaret Perry

    I love the cool, easy sense of class that really comes across in this style. It’s a very slow, slouchy, sort of “don’t need to care” attitude that was unique to that class and era. Thanks for posting!