The Callas Makeover Guide: Keep It Simple, Act Like a Cat

The old muumuu-clad you–the jolly gal with more chins than the Peking phone book–she’s gone forever. You just lost a ton of weight (congrats!), and you are now a tabula rasa–a free woman ready to reinvent herself.

Your exaltation is, however, tinged with Schadenfreude . Despite the weight loss, you still think of yourself as fat, and you are justifiably terrified of backsliding. You need a new look–and, more importantly, a role model with whom to identify: a prominent kick-ass sister who emerged from a cocoon of cellulite and took the world by storm.

Fergie’s too hearty, Monica has hardly made a splash ( did she ever shed the pounds?), and Ricki and Oprah were more fun when they were heavy. How about Carnie? Since her August 1999 intestinal bypass– which was, as you doubtless recall, broadcast live on the Internet–Carnie Wilson has lost 150 pounds. She has a good sense of humor; in the Nov. 6 issue of Us Weekly , she confessed to attending church only so that she could munch the wafer. But maybe her personal style is just a little too Brentwood for you. Wait! I’ve got it! The very person–and she, or rather what’s left of her, is coming to New York. I’m talking about Maria Callas!

Maria, like you and Carnie, went through a dramatic weight loss. In 1953, the stout and gifted Greek song stylist lost 60 pounds–and bingo! Her subsequent image and style metamorphosis into La Divina was possibly the greatest makeover of all time. Carnie, whose aspirations, according to Us Weekly , extend to posing nude for Playboy , would do well to check out the 200 items from the upcoming Calmels-Chambre-Cohen auction of Callas’ estate in Paris (Dec. 2 and 3), which will be on view in New York from Nov. 11-13 at the Ukrainian Institute at 2 East 79th Street. As should you–or at least study the catalog ($70).

The catalog is a blow-by-blow account–a veritable training manual–of how the grooviest-looking opera singer in history got her shit together. Lingerie, gloves, court shoes, brown suede Bruno Magli boots (knee and ankle), a gabardine trench from Yves Saint Laurent, white kid gloves from Hermès, plus the ultra-chic clothes created for Maria by beturbaned Milanese couturier Elvira Biki. The 417 lots in the catalog (including a Pyrex measuring cup) are interspersed with spellbinding and useful pics of Maria. Yes, she had the cash to buy some good stuff–but shekels were not the key to her look.

The Maria Callas guide to self-reinvention:

1. Keep it simple–with the exception of a few embroidered djellabas, Maria’s wardrobe and accessories had country-club restraint (unlike her makeup).

2. Figure out a bold signature maquillage and never deviate. In Maria’s case, it was the two jet-black tadpoles of eye-liner. (F.Y.I., this season the culty makeup line Poole introduces a makeup kit called Icon–inspired by Callas. It’s $55 at Bergdorf’s.) This exaggerated look was cleverly juxtaposed with conservative clothing.

3. Haughtiness. Walk around looking like you just smelled something foul. You’re a one-woman show–Maria never sang supporting roles. As a chubster, you may have mistakenly felt the need to be nice to everyone. Act like a cat: Allow others to win your affections.

P.S. Develop a skill. You may not ascend to the artistic heights of La Divina, but you must be able to do something .

Stop smoking–just stop it! And it’s not that hard. People have made it harder for you by trying to be “supportive”: friends and well-wishers now offer “encouragement,” instead of telling you how revolting you are. I think it was so much easier to give up smoking when non-smokers were allowed to be vociferously judgmental.

I gave up in 1977, thanks to a group of braying friends who, every time I lit up, would subject me to a tsunami of negative feedback. If you are having trouble quitting, surround yourself with anti-smoking fanatics (whose opinions you value and whose personal style you admire–i.e., not your family) and commission them to berate you.

You might also want to refer to Christy Turlington’s oddly compelling account of her nicotine odyssey in the new fall 2000 Teen Vogue ($3). Christy’s effectively written piece made me want to give up all over again. It’s nice to know a model can string two words together. By the time you get to the moving tale of her groovy Corvette-driving Dad, a PanAm pilot, and his battle with lung cancer, I guarantee you will have hurled your Salems down the john.

While we’re on the subject of Teen Vogue : Where, may I ask, are fashion-conscious teens supposed to get the money to buy all this designer drag? I thought teenagers stitched their own clothes or bought stuff in thrift shops. Teen Vogue should be careful–in Japan (as reported in The Guardian ), label-crazed middle-class teenagers are now funding their fashion purchases by turning tricks.

Are you experiencing grotesque and irrational cravings for a life in suburbia? Are you having secret fantasies of trading in your over-stimulating urban existence for a happy little world of barbecues, patio hot-tubs and rec rooms? If you’ve started to imagine yourself snuggled up in an A-frame ski-lodge tucking into a cheese fondue, or making a gorgeous little Noguchi-esque rock garden, you may well need to start a collection of Sunset books.

These magazine-sized booklets originally retailed for $1.95 and can now often be found at yard sales, thrift shops and eBay, sometimes for less. Building a Sunset library will allow you to give full reign to your proclivities, safely and vicariously. My favorites: Walks, Walls & Patio Floors , Carports and Garages , and How to Build Decks for Outdoor Living .

You’ve got a pokey little bedroom and you’ve made the hideous mistake of setting it up like a formal chambre à coucher , i.e., classic bed placement–shoved up against the wall–with adjacent bedside table and lamp. That little dressing table. Ugh! Throw it all out–buy a good-looking bed and stick it in the middle of the room . The room is now empty–and your bed is in the middle.

You need a sculptural mod-looking bed with a sturdy and erect headboard so that you can read or strike seductive attitudes should the need arise. Where to buy it? You’re never going to find a mid-century bed at the flea market. They don’t exist. Christine Miele, co-owner of ReGeneration (38 Renwick Street, 741-2102), has designed the bed that you need. This angle-steel construction comes in a choice of finishes (prices start at $2,800).

Sticking it in the middle of the room will render the room, the bed itself and possibly even you more important.