MY BEAUTY ICON: VIVIEN LEIGH

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The Telegraph’s Beauty Editor Kate Shapland explains why Gone With The Wind star Vivien Leigh is the ultimate Hollywood goddess

 

There’s an image of the actress Vivien Leigh I never tire of. Taken early on in her career it shows her as a young (early twenties, perhaps less?) freckly woman – already utterly beguiling, but with a softness and innocence rarely seen in other Leigh portraits. It wasn’t that she became hard with the years. Leigh, to me, is a woman who was perceived as tough (and it’s true – she didn’t suffer fools), but was like marshmallow inside – and that’s part of her appeal.

 

I always imagine she had very firm ideas about her makeup and hair. Both would have to have been very studied. She knew which lipstick/nail polish nuance it had to be (light), she had the foundation nailed, she didn’t wear powder (she told her daughter, Suzanne, it was ageing), she only wore eyeshadow in the evening, and her naturally curly hair – attempting a break from an otherwise forced look – was straightened every week. Her skincare regime would have been Elizabeth Arden – I can see a pot of Eight Hour Cream on her dressing table; the visits to Arden’s salon in Bond Street, with its crinoline staircase and chinoiserie wallpaper, regular. She never got fat.

 

What’s compelling to me about Vivien Leigh is the way an inner turmoil was hidden by the facade. Hers was proper, conventional glamour: contrived and controlled. Her makeup and grooming was armour; it protected a fragile person bedevilled with bipolar depression, an illness that gripped her tighter and tighter with the years.  When you look at pictures of her in later life (she died at 53), although completely beautiful, there is an inner angst behind that face that you can almost smell, and you get the impression that if the front cracked she would have gone into meltdown. David Niven said she was “quite, quite mad”.  At times she is said to have given Sir Laurence Olivier, her second husband, wildcat hell. He said, gallantly, that she hid her depression from all but him, but that “she could hardly be expected to take the trouble”.

 

She wore Joy by Patou. She hated her hands. She loved chocolate. She drank martinis and gin and tonic, never tea. She slept no more than six hours a night. She smoked packets of fags. She was good at cards. I know all this, but still I want to know more. How long did it take her to get ready to go out? What was her relaxed look – was it twinset, pearls, slacks and headscarf? And did she carry a rose-filled trug around her Sussex garden? Course she did, she loved roses.

 

But that arched brow, such control! The rosebud mouth, perfectly set in a heart-shaped face. And the talent: Leigh may have been difficult to work with but she was no empty vessel that needed to make lots of noise. Director George Cukor said she was a “consummate actress, hampered by beauty”. Perhaps, but she was the genuine article – old school glamour with an exquisite face and serious acting chops, delectably cool, the mistress of every situation, and trouble with a capital T.

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