Though less well-known now, French-born Lilly Daché was probably the most famous milliner in the 1930s and 40s. She designed hats for Marlene Dietrich, as well as many other stars, and put Carmen Miranda in her famous fruit turban. Read her autobiography, Talking Through My Hats, and you get a vivid picture of her whirlwind career. The world she described was so enticing that when I learnt she'd written another title in the 1950s devoted the elusive quality of to glamour I knew it had to be part of my Last-Year Girl book shelf.
Lilly Daché's Glamour Book was published in 1956. What's the purpose of this book? Well, Lilly says after years of supplying women with their crowning glory, she moved onto dresses and accessories, trying to perfect the appearance of the woman. And then she had a realisation: "The hat, the dress and the accessories might make a lovely long shot, but as I continued to observe and to study, I realised that the real focus point of glamour is the close-up."
The pursuit of glamour became her new mission, and she travelled the world trying to track down its secrets. She continues, "I am satisfied that at last I can give the recipe for glamour, supply the ingredients and hand out detailed instructions." Are you ready for her to dispense her advice?
Well, if Eileen Ford's beauty tips left me feeling utterly depressed, these left me feel invigorated and determined to perfect a 1950s-style regime. I like Lilly's attitude. Sure, she does all the usual grooming and diet tips (how to avoid the dreaded "secretarial spread", for example) but there's also an emphasis on courage and action. In describing the first steps towards achieving glamour she writes, "Before you start any kind of diet or exercise plan, there is something that I believe in the bottom of my heart is much more important. It is what the Americans call fun, and Frenchmen call joie de vivre ... If anything isn't fun, the heck with it." To her the developments of the 1950s - whether a washing machine or a face cream - are new, wonderful, exciting. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She urges you to say hello to strangers. So I did.
In her nine storey Manhattan building, the House of Daché, two floors were given over to her home, one floor to her hats and one to her general boutique. The rest of the five floors were given over to glamour, the physical version of her advice. It's described as being decorated in pink silks and leopard prints: how I wish more photographs existed of this. The ones that exist offer such a tantalising glimpse into her world, a heady mix of class and kitsch.
Any style guru always has their own personal obsession. In Lilly's case, it's perfume with an entire chapter devoted to it. She writes, "when she walks into a room, the really glamorous woman is not only seen - she is perceived." To her perfume is essential to that perception, along with another personal obsession, cleanliness. Together they are, "part of a personal daintiness, your own aura of fragrance and immaculate cleanliness, the most fundamental element of glamour."
Though she urges her readers to keep up with this "modern, wonderful world", I wonder what she made of the less cleanly rock 'n' roll idea of glamour that took over in the 1960s. She retired in 1968 so I don't know if she ever addressed it. Though obviously now dated, her slice of style history remains utterly delightful. I can only praise Lilly with what she herself describes as the highest compliment that can be paid to any woman:
"She is charming!"