Having finished a rough draft of my time-travel story, I've decided to press on with another idea in a genre new to me, set in a dystopian near future. At this stage, while I'm trying to bring my main characters into focus. Suddenly, in a blog post on a Gold necklace found in Roman baths in Bulgaria, up comes this face, a Faiyum portrait in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland.
Picturing a World
There's no real point to this post except to crow over the incredibly fancy costumes depicted in a mid-16th C book of coats of arms. No mere abstract designs, Jakob Koebel's pictures bring Renaissance élan to heraldry. As with Matthäus Schwarz's compilation of his own clothing (published as The First book of Fashion), it's a reminder that men's dress have at times been the object of as much display as any woman's clothing. I'm not sure how to use these images for either historical or fantasy fiction, but it sure was fun flipping through them. (The site is in German, and I haven't mastered it, but you can see thumbnails five at a time as here).
Website alert: I happen to be rereading Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones at bedtime. Its heroine, Sophie Hatter, works in her stepmother's millinery shop. Okay, so today something prompted me to check to see whether Jim Kay is working on illustrations for another Harry Potter book. He is, The Order of the Phoenix, as I discovered at the website he shares with his wife Louise Clark. Who, yes! is a hatter. Go take a look her Millinery page if you love hats; they're all as delicious as this one (which is perfect for a Sophie Hatter creation). And if you are curious about Diana Wynne Jones, a Tor essay on where to start reading her books is a good overview.
Horrors! Steampunk facial recognition? Mannequin mind control? Bizarre external sensory systems? Pursuing Rachel powder a little further, I came across this Max Factor Beauty Calibrator at Cosmetics and skin: "Developed in 1932 it was supposed to measure how far a person's features differed from the 'ideal face.'" Surely, the time has come for it to inspire a sci-fi tale, preferably feminist revenge. Or, oh no, wait, historical fiction?????
After reading my post on Rachel powder, a friend told me about playing with her mother's and aunts' cosmetics when she was a little girl. She had a hazy memory of seeing something labeled Rachel. That sent me back to the internet, and voilà, more information about Elizabeth Arden products and the company's history here and here. What useful details for fiction set in the 20th C! My old editor at Berkley thought I should set Anonymity in a more glamorous industry than publishing. I sarcastically queried, such as interior decorating? Good idea! she said.
Blog post alert: Tuesday's word of the day at the OED was rachel (or Rachel), defined as a "light tan colour (originally and chiefly as a shade of face powder)," with a first citation in 1880. Whoa! wait! what? A quick search landed me at Colour Cards. Bingo. The post has pictures of various 20th C color charts, including several for cosmetics, and a link to the website's own account of actress Rachel Félix, whose complexion reportedly gave the face powder its name. I suspect writers of historical romances have used Rachel poudre a-plenty, but it's new to me—and comes with a story. Yea.
I thought of posting this yesterday for New Year's Day 2021 because it suggests mysterious possibilities and because I like to give readers a valuable takeaway—in this case, a link to the Vogue magazine archives. Yesterday's insouciant skaters seemed more fun, but, now imagine them on their way back, where? What to make of those shoes in the snow? Graphically, I love the cocker spaniel at the bottom. Does he fit into the story?
Happy New Year! May we all soon be as insouciant (if not quite so elegant or athletically accomplished) as these two ladies!
Blog post alert: A History Blog post on the reunion of two 16th C portraits in a diptych is interesting in its entirety, but what is specially useful to historians of fashion (and thus historical fiction writers) is the accompanying high-rez image, which allows you to examine the clothes closely. I'm quite taken, for instance, with this jeweled button and looped clasp at the sitter's neck.