FashionDecode introduces the third installment of “The Faces of Modern Beauty” by writer, Johnny Cassanova. “The Faces of Modern Beauty” aims to spotlight individuals who are influencing or transcending the many facets of beauty. In the act of spotlighting these individuals, FashionDecode hopes to showcase and promote the various forms of beauty.
The idiosyncratic fashionistas, Jean & Valerie are two older, eccentric style bloggers for “women of a certain age” who are “setting a bad, bad example for older women everywhere.” Although both women hold a deep love and admiration for fashion, great food, and eccentric personalities, the two are far from being alike. Jean is a playful and outspoken individual who can’t hold a thought in because she might “just forget it.” As a former dancer, her body structure, movements, and zest for life are exquisite yet excitingly fun. Aside from her life as a style blogger, Jean dedicates her time to Social Tees Animal rescue. She was late for our interview because she was rescuing a stray cat that wouldn’t move from underneath a car.
Valerie is a soft-spoken and gentle individual who will let Jean chime in whenever she can’t hold in a thought. She has a witty and eccentric laugh, an exuberant personality, and a strong backbone. She once stood in front of a bus for a series of three traffic light changes because the driver refused to let her on the bus.
- What is your field of work and what kind of work do you tend to produce?
Jean: At night and on weekends, we run a fashion blog. As press, we get to go to museum openings and events. The great thing about events and openings is that you’re allowed to take pictures. At openings, it’s like kids in a candy store; you can take pictures and there’s something absolutely fabulous about it. I love that aspect of the blog. Sometimes we agree on things and sometimes we don’t. It has exposed me to things I never thought about when I started the blog such as designers, other bloggers, and personalities who we’ve become personal friends with. It’s been an amazing, intellectual and social outlet.
Valerie: One thing that interests me about the blog is that it has become such an outlet for us to express ourselves. People can see what we’re wearing worldwide, comment on it, and it boggles my mind that my life has changed so much in five years.
- How would you describe “true beauty”?
Jean: I always think of beauty as a classical beauty. The great beauties: people like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. It’s like the line from Sunset Boulevard when Gloria Swanson says “we had faces.” There was a very specific kind of beauty icon from the 1920s to the 40s. In the 1970s, because everyone re-evaluated politics, style, and personal freedom, the concept of beauty expanded: you didn’t have to be perfect. Someone like Penelope Tree who could be viewed as ugly became a supermodel. Then we divulged into women of color, people like Iman. It made us re-evaluate different cultures and standards of beauty. However, I don’t believe there is a blueprint for beauty but, when you see it all come together, you just know. There is another standard of beauty and it comes from within. Look at Georgie O’Keefe or Mother Theresa who are far from, on any level, beauty icons, but they are the definitions of true beauty. They have a depth and sincerity that can inspire anyone.
Valerie: True beauty is when you take your flaws and arrange them in such a way that everyone believes they are your assets. Famous beauties like Iman and Barbra Streisand were not “classical beauties” by any means but they had qualities that were so unusual that it riveted people. It’s not that they had flaws but they’re not classical beauties. To highlight the things we want to naturally hide is true beauty.
- Are you inspired by beauty? Who or what is your beauty inspiration?
Valerie: I don’t know how someone can’t be inspired by beauty. But it depends on how you define beauty. If you’re looking at Miss America then, no, I don’t find that inspiring but if you’re defining beauty as a general term – the process of looking at something and liking it—then, yes. And as for whom? There is no one person for me. I may be inspired by a group of people, but never a specific person. A general answer is that I’m very inspired by beauty on a daily basis. I love to be surrounded by beauty; my space at home and my office are reflections of inspiration. The beauty in my home helps me through the mundane tasks like washing the dishes.
Jean: When I think of women I find attractive, I see women who did something with their lives. I find beauty in people like Amelia Earhart: she was a woman in a man’s world and she was willing to take risks and embrace dangers. I believe that’s why I like Georgia O’Keefe so much. She turned everyone upside down and made them look at beauty differently. Also, I find older women absolutely beautiful and inspiring: the summation of their years of experience and their comfort in their own skin, there is something really lovely about that. There’s an older women I know, Loraine who says “you get older or you get dead” and she’s right. Just because you become older doesn’t mean that you can’t be beautiful. If you feel beautiful, you are beautiful.
- How did you begin to develop your visual aesthetic/style?
Jean: After college, in a working environment, I thought, “what do I want to look like?” For myself, I remember the day I was conscious that I had developed my unique style. My hair was shaved upwards on the sides. I was wearing a leather bustier, a maxi skirt from Saks, and a shawl around my shoulders .I was walking down the street with my friends and I was getting the positive feedback I wanted; I knew I looked exactly the way I wanted to look. It evolved and evolved but there were some mistakes (like choosing to wear all black). Although it makes me very comfortable, there’s something about it. My blood pressure drops.[Laughs]
Valerie: My mother had always dressed me as a child. When you don’t have any money, you don’t have any say in what you wear. For as long as I had to rely on my parents for money, there was no sense in developing style. But when I started babysitting and earned my own money, I started to develop my style because my parents couldn’t say anything. I bought the items I wanted such as loud shirts and I wore them. I was making decisions and it helped me understand what worked for me. By college, I had a sense of style. I was identifiable from 100 feet away. But it was when I went and lived in Japan that I began to develop my current style. Now I gravitate towards the Japanese styles and colors.
- Was there ever a time you struggled with self-acceptance and expression? If so, how did you begin to find clarity and comfort in your own skin?
Jean: Yes, my senior year in college. My boyfriend told me to visit for the weekend because it was really important. My roommates said “oh, he’s going to propose” but when I went down there, he broke up with me. I was devastated. I went into a tailspin depression during the six-week intermission between semesters and my mother wasn’t really an emotional backing for me. She’d just tell me to stop moping and that it was puppy love. I’d get over it. It’s not what I needed to hear. I wouldn’t leave the bed for days at a time. I didn’t care what I looked like and I didn’t communicate with anyone. But then I finally went from horrible and useless to knowing that I had to live my life. I knew all the things I needed to do, but it was so hard to get out of it.
Valerie: It happened was when I was started going through menopause. I ballooned and none of my clothes fit me. I had trouble closing buttons, getting the arms over. I spent most of my life doing okay and suddenly nothing was working at all. I got to this point of almost questioning my identity because I didn’t look the way I remembered. It was difficult for my self-image. I was having difficulty with my feet as well and all of it made me feel like someone’s grandmother. I don’t care about aging; it’s more about not feeling healthy. My hormones were running crazy and my feet were impossible to walk on. Anything that caused me to walk an extra few blocks ruined my day. I woke up one day and everything that was normal to my life was gone. Five years was a long time to feel that way and it was just awful.
- If you could say anything to yourself at that time of struggle, what would you say?
Jean: It wasn’t you: it was men, hormones, him, or whatever it was but, it wasn’t your fault. It had nothing to do with my looks or personality; it was inevitable no matter what the circumstances.
Valerie: I couldn’t say anything because nothing would have helped. If I would have told myself it will be better in a couple of years, I wouldn’t have listened – it needed to be better right then and there [laughs]. When someone says that it gets better, it’s so hard to believe any of that.
- What is your beauty regimen to maintain your skin?
Jean: I use the drugstore version of Olay body soap, and under-eye cream. I use cheesy brands for lipstick, eyeliner, and concealer. I travel a lot, so I just use whatever is readily available in the hotels where I stay. I wear nail polish all the time – I’m in a red phase, but recently it was black and dark plums. However, I do all the bad things: I tan in the summer and wear sunscreen with a low SPF.
Valerie: I stay out of the sun all the time! When I lived in Texas I had a lovely lounge space with a pool and I thought it was fab. So I went out with my book to lie out to read and after a few minutes, I started sweating and realized: “maybe this isn’t for me?” [Laughs] In terms of my skin care, my dermatologist recently diagnosed me with rosacea that I have to put on a cream every night for, which is okay. I don’t really like the idea of wearing stuff on my face, at all. However, I do wear foundation during the day to cover the rosacea and red lipstick, of course. For many years, I used a Chanel lipstick but they stopped making the color. Now I go out and buy any standard red – fire truck red, fire red, Ferrari red, or maybe little old lady red [Laughs]. Periodically, I’ll wear nail polish but it makes my fingers feel like they’re not breathing.
Jean: [Mockingly chokes and gasps for air]
Valerie: Hey! If you feel that way![Both Laugh]
- In a time of major beauty movements including the natural look, androgyny, and the embracement of all figures, what do you think will be the next major direction for beauty?
Jean: I hope that popular beauty will evolve towards older women. As we age, the skin changes and not all of us want to look like we’re forty again. We just want to look the way we look, but better. The fashion and beauty industry need to embrace us rather than belittling us. They sell products as a “problem solver” rather than telling us to embrace ourselves. You need plastic surgery, you need to lift something, or fix something. It’s never telling us we’re beautiful as we are. Maybe the industry gravitating towards older women is just more wishful thinking on my part.
Valerie: I am not generally good at predicting what will happen .Actually the opposite will probably happen of what I predict. What I see happening is not necessarily androgyny but more highlights of transgender models and men who are modeling women’s clothes. It’s not quite the same as androgyny but more of a political statement. It’s opening up the sexual spectrum for everyone. It should be a trend that everyone embraces.
- Do you have any boundaries in your style or work?
Jean: We refuse to say anything negative; there are too many blogs like that already. In addition, we still work professionally, so we don’t get into our personal lives such as sexual preferences or politics. Those are taboo for us.
Valerie: I think everyone has boundaries. We wouldn’t appear naked, but who would want to see us naked, anyway?[Both laugh]
- What projects are you currently working on?
Jean: There’s a certain time of the year where we get a critical mass of things we’re interested in. The Metropolitan Manhattan vintage show, other varying vintage shows, visits from friends, and the Philadelphia Craft Show are all events that keep us busy from September to February. We’ll attend the ones we can and write about them on the blog
Valerie: The thing about projects is that we have so many ideas but they can’t always be executed because neither of us can pull it off by ourselves. There’s stuff we have planned out but not many people have the free time that we do.
- If you could describe today’s fashion in one word, what would it be and why?
Valerie: Self-censored. I think it’s very bottom-line oriented. I believe designers must be frustrated because their great ideas can only be done if they create their own line or work for a great fashion house. If they work for any schmuck in a fashion house, they’re told to change the materials or every other thing that makes it unique. They’re censored. Companies want to market every single item so they create general, narrowed styles to ensure selling.
Jean: Market-Driven. There used to be this theory of buying classic clothes that would wear for seasons and seasons: you’d build a wardrobe. But now you buy for the season because it’ll be out of style soon. It doesn’t matter if it falls apart by the end of the season. It’s mass-produced and it’s disposable.
- Do you believe it’s hard to be an original in a time where we are overexposed to media?
Jean: I think so. What we view as original translates into weird and freaky costumes; you’ve got to be so out there like Lady Gaga to be noticed. It’s either outrageous clothing or outrageous behavior. It’s difficult to be an original when you have to be so extreme to be considered one.
Valerie: I think originals will always be originals. They might not realize it but, for myself, I don’t like to look at social media anymore because I like to feel like I’m following my own whims and desires. If I see someone else doing that on social media, I feel this sense of “UGH! I thought I was doing something creative,” but I wasn’t. When I stay away from social media, I know I’m doing my own thing. I do believe, essentially, that it will be harder to be an original when you’re exposed to media but, in the long run, I think we’ll know who the copycats are and who really is an original. It comes from a different place. Anyone can copy.
By Johnny Cassanova