By Royal Command

25th May 2012

When it comes to the monarchy as fashion trendsetters it’s the Princesses Grace and Diana that spring to mind, but the idea of royal princesses and monarchs as fashion leaders is almost as old as the institution itself – and our gracious queen is no different, says Mary Linehan

Images dating back to her accession tell a story of Queen Elizabeth II as something of a clothes-horse. Dressed by Norman Hartnell who designed her coronation robes and much of her eveningwear, or in the sophisticated tailoring of Hardy Amies, she was the standard bearer for the look of the English aristocracy at the time.
Her choice of beauty products is less well-documented, and to this day, Buckingham Palace is tight lipped when it comes to Her Majesty’s lipstick of choice. “It is the Queen’s private business”. In other words, what goes into the handbag, stays in the handbag!

By 1952, Elizabeth – newly crowned monarch, young wife and working mother – was pretty on-trend in terms of make-up. Emphasis was definitely on the lips – and red they were – with her eyes shaped and defined with liner and mascara. Blessed with great skin, her look is more complexion powder and dab of rouge, with, I’m guessing, some panstick on occasions. It’s a look she has maintained until this day – toned down, of course, and much more becoming to a hardworking octogenarian reigning monarch.

A look through 1950s Vogue is an illuminating journey through beauty products and skincare claims. The pages and pages of copy we have to flick through today were unheard of: much of the advice came via advertising claims, albeit with some celebrity endorsement in the form of Lady so-and-so, or an actress of the day such as film star Hazel Court wearing The Lady Jayne Slumber Helmet to keep one’s perm permanent! Vogue ran ‘Beauty Bulletin’ – a column of ‘shorts’, product news pretty similar to our own beauty news pages. Experts and beauticians advertised their facials and beauty treatments – back then, as now, everything from face and neck rejuvenation, improved facial contouring, waxing and lash dying, and even action on ‘difficult cuticles’. Many offered them at their beauty clinics mostly based in Knightsbridge and Mayfair. More amusingly, most of the beauty ads were found either in the classifieds, or buried in with ads for jodhpurs, boots, furs and foundation garments.

But what were the beauty concerns and products that might have excited the interest of a new queen – or her subjects and how were they ‘sold’? Early 1950s Vogue cited tiredness as an enemy of a fresh-faced beauty. Optrex Eye Compressess (3s 8d) were butterfly-shaped masks impregnated with lotion that cleansed and rested the eyes. All you had to do was to apply to make-up-free eyes and relax for ten minutes in a darkened room (!), after which eyes were ‘clear, sparkling and alive’. Or you could try ‘Scowlies’ – plasters to iron out the frown lines between the eyes. For crowning glories, hair care marketed by top crimpers was not dreamed up in the 1990s either. In fact, there were products and tools aplenty endorsed by ‘celebrity’ hairdressers of the time – Raymond’s R77 Clinical Shampoo was apparently used in this hair maestro’s Mayfair salons. The big selling point, however, was its packaging – presented in a tube that ‘stands on its wide head and, therefore, cannot be knocked over’. Suitable for all hair types, it cost 6s with enough product for four weekly shampoos.

The beauty promises were a lesson in loveliness. There were products that maintained youthful suppleness for ‘loveliness that lasts a lifetime’, such as Pomeroy Skin Food, Ponds Cold Cream, and Astral Cream soap – moisturiser in a bar a little like today’s Dove. And then there were the complexion powders such as Wild At Heart by Yardley of London, or dermatologist brand Innoxa. Known today as a skincare range, Innoxa’s 5/10 (including tax) box of powder was scientifically created and had ‘three particles that could rest in just one pore’ – that was the science.

As for the red lips… Again, there was Yardley of London, or No 7 by Boots whose reds then were Firefly, Persian Red, and Cherry Ripe. A little like today, there were also flashy US brands that included Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden and Revlon. The hot new shade for 1952 was Revlon’s Fire & Ice coral red for lips; Revlon celebrated the event with an iconic ad campaign shot by Richard Avedon and featuring the supermodel of the day, Dorian Leigh. The cost of a lipstick in 1952 would be around the 7/6d mark. The young pretender is still here on the market: Fire & Ice Lip Color retails at £7.49 in Boots.

And, on the trail of a product fit for a Queen today…

Buckingham Palace might be staying silent on the subject, but Clarins skincare has a Royal Warrant and we suspect HRH ‘can’t live without’ Crème Jeunesse des Mains: Hand & Nail Treatment. (Let’s hope this is a claim that won’t land us in the Tower…). Made with shea butter, sesame seed oil, Japanese Mulberry extract and myrrh, it helps nourish those difficult cuticles and age spots. To celebrate the Jubilee, Clarins has launched a special 200 ml size tube for £26 and is donating £1 from sales to QEST, the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust established to support traditional crafts and trades.

Bronnley Soaps has enjoyed royal patronage since the 1940s when the Queen’s father was on the throne and to this day supplies the Royal Household with both soap and toiletries. Famous for its richly lathering triple-milled soaps made with avocado and almond oil, herbs and flower extracts, the Bronnley range also includes shower gels, talcum powders, body lotions and eau de colognes, all in delightful gift packaging – just as you would expect from a traditional brand. Now, in Jubilee year, Bronnley has launched two new fragrances, Freesia and Orchid, for a good old-fashioned blast of the 1950s…

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