Hang on to your pillbox hats! Here comes yet another onslaught of Jackie O.-bilia. From May 1 to July 29, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will laud the early-60′s, Oleg Cassini-ish Jackie with a major exhibit entitled Jacqueline Kennedy–the White House Years: Selections From the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum . Don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge Mrs. O. (especially 70′s Jackie) her well-earned style iconship. But when all is said and done, Camelot Jackie is no match for Christine Keeler.
Yes, in the early 1960′s, while you Yanks were cooing over Jackie’s hauntingly mute White House persona, we Brits were focused on a certain brazen 19-year-old brunette with a Vidal Sasson sculptural bouffant, killer cheekbones and an elastic sense of right and wrong. Her name was Christine Keeler, and she had the starring role in what is generally agreed to be the scandale of the century, the “Profumo Affair.”
Like many lucky lads and lasses of my age, I learned the facts of life during, and largely because of, this shockingly fab public debacle. It was a totally delicious, unbelievably naughty tabloid-fest involving pompous politicians, a manipulative (no pun intended) chiropractor, oodles of kinky aristocrats, Cold War espionage and, most importantly, a battalion of high-class pert young tarts. These permissive hotties had names like Mandy Rice-Davies, Suzy Chang-Diamond, Mariella Novotny (real name: Stella Capes) and Valeria, an ex-circus girl whose strong thighs came from years of riding on elephants. Even at age 11, I knew these were kindred spirits.
During the summer of 1963, lurid details of improprieties in high places flew out of every orifice of communication and into my impressionable ears–pimping, spanking, marijuana-smoking, dining naked at parties. My parents devoured the tabloid newspapers during this period and foolishly encouraged an open dialogue on the whole affair. My Dad explained the concept of prostitution to me, highlighting Christine and the adorable Mandy Rice-Davies (Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda, respectively, in the 1989 movie Scandal ) as top-shelf examples of women who were prepared to have sex with men in exchange for money.
This concept gripped my imagination and got me all excited about growing up: To a child who would do anything for additional pocket money–i.e., me–high-class whoring made perfect sense. Only a real nitwit would give it away if he or she could get paid for it. Once I found out that Christine was only 19 and Mandy was, shockingly, only 17, my delusional identification with these garter-twanging good-time girls increased–why not? In five years, I could be charging men for bunk-ups, too! It was not long after this that I told my Dad, “When I grow up, I want to sell my body on the Rive Gauche.”
Once my Keeler obsession took hold, I dragged it into the schoolyard and recruited an accomplice. Our favorite game was to taunt our more circumspect classmates simply by chanting “Christine Keeler! Christine Keeler!” over and over again until they started weeping. I was eventually given detention for doing this.
But it wasn’t just the possibility of immoral earnings that appealed–it was Christine’s impeccable grooming and fantastically discreet personal style. (Compare and contrast with Britney Spears, who dresses like a pole-dancer but claims to be a virgin.) Christine, like Jackie K., wore classic, simple shift dresses and suits. Her accessories? A largish handbag and, occasionally, a mumsy, simple brooch. She looked like a well-brought-up French teacher on her way to pick up some ginger marmalade for Daddy at Fortnum and Mason (£2.30–$3.90–for a jar on http://www.fortnumandmason.com). This restrained conservatism was a mystique-enhancing foil for the outrageous mythology that accumulated around the girl whom the tabloids dubbed “a shameless slut.” This sizzling style-paradox is ultimately why La Keeler, in my opinion, pips White House Jackie at the post as the ultimate 20th-century style icon.
Keeler aficionados, and those of you who have no idea what the hell I’ve been blathering on about, should check out Christine’s new book, Christine Keeler: The Truth at Last (with Douglas Thompson), published in England in February by Sidgwick & Jackson and now reduced to £11.89 ($20) on http://www.amazon.com.uk.
Girls wishing to clean up and Keelerize their look (it’s the perfect antidote to the Slutty Spice-Earl Jeans look and the scrappy, shredded John Galliano-Dior look) should consider the following: floral pique shift dresses from the Barneys New York collection ($435); Ann Taylor sheath dresses ($98 to $140); or Lilly Pulitzer shifts ($154 from Saks and Bloomingdale’s). Re: Keeler-esque brooches, conventional styles are back, e.g., a jeweled feather, a leaf, a posy. Girls with Sugar Daddies should opt for a Fred Leighton jeweled butterfly ($4,500 at 773 Madison Avenue). All others should “borrow” from Granny’s jewel box or buy costume junk at the flea market.
Hordes of conniving June brides are causing havoc in the bridal registries of New York stores. A nouveau cynicism has produced some devious new approaches to the process of bridal registration–some of which I highly recommend.
Tips for unscrupulous–i.e., smart–brides:
1. Register at a store which also sells gorgeous clothing, shoes and other adornments, then cash in your bridal dollars for a new Prada outfit. Don’t feel guilty; it’s probably, apart from your wedding-night shag, the only part of the whole shebang you will actually get to enjoy. Ellen Klein of the Barneys Bridal Registry (833-2066 or 833-2085) explained to me how the typical fashion-crazed devil-bride operates. “She comes in and asks to set up a registry–it’s called a bridal bank–just like a regular bride. But then we don’t hear from her for months. Then, when the maximum dollars have accumulated, she rushes upstairs to buy a major shearling coat.”
2. If it’s your second marriage, all you have to do is register for the stuff you already got on your first go-around. (Hello! When your new relatives come to your house, you can proudly and gratefully show off your “new” china and glassware.) Then blow your accumulated bridal bucks on tons of smashing drag. If you register at Bergdorf Goodman (872-8868), Christopher Auricchio will gladly enable this sleazy registry subterfuge. “We don’t care because, unlike Barneys, we don’t work on commission. We’re happy if the money stays in our store. Our brides often convert their accumulated dollars into Manolo Blahnik.” Christopher doesn’t judge these materialistic girls: “Most of them have more inherited china than they know what to do with and they all eat in restaurants every night–what’s the big deal?”
If you’re planning a bona fide registry, beware. Most registry wares are depressingly farty; there’s a lot of Bernadaud this and Baccarat that. Inherited farty is fine–but buying new farty makes no sense, especially when you are spending between $3,000 and $5,000. Here are some hip, kicky alternatives:
Register at a gallery, e.g. Paul Morris (465 West 23rd, next to barber shop, 727-2752). Mr. Morris’ offerings cover a reasonably broad taste spectrum: Non-rad brides will love David Seidner’s flower photographs, done toward the end of his magnificent career; Goth girls will prefer Chris Verene’s grim portraits of his Midwestern family; gay couples will enjoy the photos and movie stills of James Bidgood–he’s the freak who “directed” (I use the term loosely) the cheesy 1971 cult fantasia entitled Pink Narcissus . (Rent from Kim’s Video, 6 St. Marks Place, 505-0311.)
The Wallpaper generation should register at Maxwell-Silver.com, an almost annoyingly hip online bridal registry. Maxwell-Silver is partnered with some of the grooviest small boutiques in New York: Shi, Apartment 48, Global Table, Broadway Panhandler, Simon Pearse and Jonathan Adler (yes, he’s my bloke–so what!), among others.
Getting in touch with your inner Keeler also involves taking off your clothes–and wearing a chair. I refer to the iconic nude portrait in Ms. Keeler’s new book, shot on a fake Arne Jacobsen chair by Lewis Morley. This photograph became synonymous with what the faux-prudish tabloids called “the permissive society.” This exact chair is available from Nuovo Melodrom (60 Greene Street, 219-0013) for $99. It’s probably the cheapest outfit you’ll buy all season and may well add a new dimension to your erotic lifestyle.
Watch out for splinters!