|Sarah Moon for the Pirelli calendar|
In case you haven't read it, there's a wonderful meditation over on Perfume Shrine about Anais Anais, the iconic perfume by Cacharel. Writing about Anais Anais several years ago, I appreciated its ad campaigns (old and new) but commented that the fragrance was pretty free of childhood associations for me. Reading the Shrine article, which features information on Sarah Moon, the photographer of the fragrance's original look, all sorts of impressions came surging back, and I realized Anais Anais made more of an impression than I'd allowed for. In concert with other social trends and currents of the time, it practically art-directed the era.
I was about ten years old when Anais Anais came out, and this very specific soft focus look was everywhere. It was a sort of 1970s re-imagining of erotica popular in the twenties, the kind of images you'd see on forbidden postcards. Women at their vanities, gauzy daylight filtering through lace curtains, eyelet-ridden blouses, crocheted shawls, long hair gathered in loose buns, off the shoulder lingerie, water basins and pitchers on antique wooden washstands, cascading ferns, heavy rouge and big doe eyes, canopy beds. Reading the article on Shrine synchronized all these images from my childhood in Texas, and I was reminded how pervasively a Trifecta like fashion, film and fragrance could take over culture back then, before the internet, the cell phone, and the Twitter account shifted and dispersed the information landscape.
|Photo: Sarah Moon|
|Photo: Sarah Moon|
The tinted look of old erotica continued on for a while, most notably for me in the film Cannery Row, a Debra Winger, Nick Nolte romance based on a John Steinbeck story, also a period piece, also set in a brothel, but it took on slightly different shadings: Winger, though adult, had the guilelessness of a young girl, making her a rather inept hooker and totally irresistible to men. You can see a shift in this strain of cultural preoccupation with girlhood sexuality in Cacharel's fragrance LouLou, as well, which was also inspired in part by twenties iconography and premature adolescence and came out about a decade later, in 1987. "Inspired by Louise Brooks in the movie Lulu, Loulou has the troubling, seductive character of a naive girl who is half woman, half child," said the marketing copy. "Compared to Anais Anais's innocence, Loulou is aware of its powers of seduction, and many a young woman relates to the feeling." The bottle for Loulou wouldn't look out of place in the rooms photographed by Sarah Moon for the Anais Anais ads. Anais Nin's posthumous work was just making it into the public sphere, in "unexpurgated" form, starting in 1985. It's clear that Anais Anais and Loulou are speaking different dialects of the same language, and Anais Nin wrote the book on it.
|Sarah Moon image for the Pirelli calendar|
The look of this moment permeated everything in my suburban upbringing, from clothing stores at the mall to the macrame plant hangers in our den, but it took root nowhere more insidiously and exhaustively than my sister's bedroom, with its calico bedspread and matching canopy, the acrylic sheers over the windows, the clothes in her closet, and all the little knick-knacks on her dresser and nightstand. The feel of this moment was everywhere too, and it was an uneasy one. You couldn't go anywhere in my neighborhood without being faced with those weird undercurrents of sexualized adolescence. You couldn't just be a kid. Girls were tarted up in a way that commanded the attention, and your scrutinizing gaze was then in turn scrutinized; you were encouraged to look and to feel titillated, then you were promptly shamed for it, whether the shame was self-induced or culturally imposed.
Fascination with young sexuality has been a given of every era, but this 70s version felt specific to its moment in time. I wonder what that says about the 70s. We were a fantastically paranoid culture then: Watergate, assassinations, energy crisis, et al. This increasing sense of disillusion collided with a new permissiveness, carried over from the sixties, which had taken a while to shake the inhibitions of the decade prior. It's as if we wanted our freedoms but with the innocence of children. I wonder what that meant for those of us who, at the time, were in fact real kids. I'm interested in hearing from people around my age who grew up in the seventies. Remember any of this stuff?
Here's a video I found in which Sarah Moon talks about her work and her perspective. It's a wonderful glimpse into her creative process and thinking. Pirelli started publishing its high end "girly" calendars in 1964 and stopped, for a ten year period, in 1974, several years prior to the release on Anais Anais. The calendars were highly influential and each featured the photography of one artist exclusively each year. The 1972 calendar was devoted to the work of Sarah Moon.