Paris: Tête-à-Tête with Venus and Photographer Maurice Sapiro

Venus of the Sea! Esther Williams as Annette Kellerman, Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952 (Image: MovieStillsDB)

Venus of the Sea! Esther Williams as Annette Kellerman, Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952 (Image: MovieStillsDB)

Meet Neptune’s Daughter! Annette Kellerman

By Theadora Brack

Gather around, my fellow aquatic history bugs. I’ve got a tale to tell.

After measuring 10,000 women, one Dr. Dudley Sargent announced in 1908 that he had discovered the “perfect specimen of womanhood.” To a T, swimming champ Annette Kellerman possessed the proportions of the Venus de Milo.

“Her measurements almost surpass belief!” he exclaimed, while parading “Neptune’s daughter” past an all-male audience at Harvard. Go figure!

Soon women all over the world began sending their measurements and sepia-toned portraits to local newspapers and competitions, claiming to have proportions even closer to the classical ideal than Kellerman’s.

Because haters are going hate

At least one woman tried put the global rivalry to rest. ‘Though I have very nearly the measurements of Venus de Milo,” she wrote, “I am not at all glad of this. We are living in the 20th century and not the times of Praxiteles. The features of Venus de Milo are not at all those of the perfect beauty. Beauty changes with the centuries.” Ouch.

But she was undoubtedly right. Venus stands 6’7’ and weighs more than a ton! (more…)


Paris: Bouncing down the Boulevards

View of the Eiffel Tower and L’église de la Madeleine at Galeries Lafayette (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Gussie-up all Sarah Bernhardt-style

By Theadora Brack

Hold me close and hold me fast, my fellow hobnobbing dandies of the Paris grand boulevards. Got a mad penchant for some old time shop hopping? I’m with you, step by step. So throw your slender, opera-length gloved hands up in the air! Swoon, I will catch you.

Celebrating photographer Eugène Atget’s recent birthday, let’s break out the pointy black boots and swiftly kick the wintertime blues with a breezy promenade through a few of my favorite 19th century passages couverts.

In preparation, we’ll gussie-up all Sarah Bernhardt-style with violet-tinted powder and flaming rouged earlobes. Famous stage tricks these, guaranteed to make your eyes sparkle! “Quand même!” as the great tragedienne herself liked to say. I completely agree.

Now, let’s get to prancing!

Café with brew and a view

At high noon, meet me on the terrace of the Café Palais Royal at 202 rue Saint-Honoré, and then we’ll make our way directly to the nearby Galerie Véro-Dodat. You’ll treat this time? Well, just as you like. “Deux bocks, s’il vous plaît!” as the old-school boulevardiers put it! While we clank glasses and re-rouge our ears, I’ll give you the scoop on the passages. But first, Santé! (more…)

San Francisco: A French Connection

Getting all Tippi with the birds at the bustling Union Square, San Francisco (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Slide, 1957)

Just grab your faux furs and mittens, and meet me under the old clock at the Hotel Saint Francis! (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Marie France, 1948)

By Theadora Brack

Bonjour! C’est moi! I’ve been in California, dreaming, with birds and flowers in my hair. Like a hard-boiled history detective, I’ve been combing the streets of San Francisco for traces of Paris. “Pourquoi?” you ask. Flashing back to the California Gold Rush, the French were probably the largest population in the city. That’s why!

Attracted by the gold, and escaping another revolution, thousands of “Argonauts,” braved the six-month voyage around Cape Horn from France to San Francisco. Faster than a toison d’or, soon the “Paris of the Pacific” boasted three French department stores: Roos Brothers, the Verdier family’s the City of Paris, and Raphael Weill’s White House—named after the Grande Maison De Blanc back in France. (Banana Republic is there now, but the White House still rocks a Parisian vibe, while Neiman Marcus sports the late, great City of Paris’s original stained glass dome.)

So in celebration of the New Year, rebirth, and reinvention, let’s recharge our batteries with a sentimental journey around Union Square. Here is where I left my heart, along with a few dollars, too. After all, it was wintertime, and love and a massive Snoopy the dog inflatable cold-air balloon were in the air, spurring me on to dizzying heights.

Just grab your faux furs and mittens, and meet me under the old clock at the Hotel Saint Francis. After we powder our noses in the celebrity photograph-laden ladies room, we’ll sashay forth to the Romper Room Tavern on Maiden Lane to watch the twilight sky fall.

As Sarah Bernhardt wrote in 1891, with gloved hands all a-flutter, “I mean to have lots of fun in this city before I leave. This is a jolly place to enjoy life in!” Or as Frankie Sinatra once crooned, “Now there’s a grown-up swinging town!” I couldn’t agree more. (more…)

To Paris With Love

Ile-de-France by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol (Photograph by Theadora Brack)

Ile-de-France by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

By Theadora Brack

Paris will survive. The City of Light has been through thousands of years of barbarian invasions, plagues, religious wars, sieges, and Nazi occupations, and always comes through. In fact, the city’s heraldic symbol is a boat on waves surrounded by a motto that says something to the effect that no matter how rough it gets, she keeps on floating, “Fluctuat nec mergitur!” A 14th century mantra: “Tossed by the waves but never sunk!”

And Paris will keep on floating and cha-changing with the times.

My musician friends have already started spreading the word about their upcoming gigs in concerts halls, big and small, and parks, bars and cafés, too.

“The beat must go on,” my bass player friend Jeff wrote. (more…)

Weird Paris: Angels and Aliens

Let’s rustle up some spirits in another dimension, Grands Magasins du Louvre, 1954 (Images: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Gather ’round, my fellow angels and aliens. October always means it’s time for the annual re-spilling of bizarre stories and red wine. I’ve got a big ring jangling with skeleton keys to the imagination. This year, I’ve also added a few more mysteries and photographs. So without further ballyhoo, here are some of my favorite phantom-chasing grounds in Paris.

Ready to raise heck? Let’s go rustle up some spirits in another dimension.

1. Down in the Seine

Witness if you will, a young woman, hailing a taxicab at Place Pigalle. The year is 1922 and the destination is the Pont Neuf. Arriving at the bridge a bumpy ride later, she hands the driver a five-franc note, climbs up on one of the nook-like bastions, and then immediately tumbles over the parapet. Her body isn’t recovered until much later that evening, some distance downstream.

According to newspaper accounts the following day, Alice Marie Dessenne was a seamstress, still sharing a flat with her parents in Montmartre. She had recently fallen head over heels for a pearl dealer from Sri Lanka, but unfortunately, her Prince Charming turned out to be not all that charming. He had fled France before tying the nuptial knot. (more…)

Paris: 5 Tales from the Tub

Splish! Splash! LA FONTAINE DES MERS, PLACE DE LA CONCORDE Photograph by Theadora Brack

Rub-a-dub-dub Mon Ouvrage magazine, March 1957

By Theadora Brack

Celebrating cooler weather and fresh starts, let’s take the plunge. And why not? “After a hot bath, I’m ready to take on the world,” is what my indomitable grandmother used to say. Napoleon would have loved her. In fact, one of his own favorite mantras was, “Water, air, and cleanliness are the chief articles in my pharmacy.”

I couldn’t agree more. So let’s recharge the batteries with five bizarre bath tales from the City of Light. I’ll grab the towels and bubby, while you fill the tub.

1. Puttin’ on the Ritz

After an extreme makeover, the Hôtel Ritz Paris has reopened. Down through the years, the hotel has seen the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charlie Chaplin, and Greta Garbo, along with Sophia Loren, Orson Welles, and Marlene Dietrich — just to name a few. Let’s not forget Hemingway, either.

Hem’s wife Mary wrote, “Marlene used to wander down to Ernest’s room to sit on his bathtub and sing to him while he shaved, and they both forgave me when I mimicked her.” Oh, la la. It is a small world. (more…)

Paris: Backdrops for Photo-ops with Peter and Riley Brack

Riley Brack on the Pont Alexandre III with the Eiffel Tower in view (Photo by Peter Brack)

Riley Brack on the Pont Alexandre III with the Eiffel Tower in view (Photo: Peter Brack)

Peter Brack at the Woodstock Hostel (Photo by Riley Brack)

Peter Brack at the Woodstock Hostel (Photo by Riley Brack)

By Theadora Brack

Celebrating photographer Man Ray’s upcoming August 27th birthday, let’s trip the de-light fantastique in Paris with two of my favorite photographers in the world, Peter and Riley Brack. First, though, let me offer a bit of full disclosure: they’re among my favorites not only because they’re my cousins but also because they’re both great lensmen and adventurers, as you’ll soon see.

During the final leg of their recent month-long European expedition, this dream team documented the rues of Paris without rest, capturing the city with infectious zeal and zest. Their portraits coolly mesh old with new, fully embracing a sacred new Proustian world of dynamic, overlapping, ever-changing juxtapositions.

As Man Ray once wisely put it, “To create is divine.” I couldn’t agree more.

Peter and Riley set the scene. (more…)

Paris: Rendezvous with Lady Liberty



By Theadora Brack

In celebration of the recent July 14th Bastille Day in France, let’s doff our “bachi” to my favorite Franco-American collaboration, the gigantesque statue of Lady Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in the New York Harbor.

This year, I’ve got new images, along with one taken by our own special photographer friend, Maurice Sapiro. While playing the trumpet with the 279th Army Band in Europe in 1956, Maurice documented the streets of France. So without further adieu, let’s play forward with some homage, shall we?

After all these years

Our own 151-foot tall beauty is still looking fierce in her spiky nimbus (that’s right, mythically speaking, it’s not a crown!) and matching floor length chiton in all its copper green tonalities. An exquisite nod to the style of classical Greece, I must say. All the rage in Empire France, too.

As the late, great designer, Christian Dior once put it, “Darling, your toile with the cinched waist is perfect!” (more…)

Paris: Smooth Sailing at the Department Stores

Smooth Sailing: “First fashion show held in the air” Lord & Taylor, 1931 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away! Calling all bargain hunters: It’s that most wonderful time of the year in Paris. “Les Soldes d’Eté” launch today (Wednesday, June 24, 2015). I look forward to the “Sales of Summer” all year long.

In celebration, here are a few new tips for scoring big at the centuries-old grand magasins during this sizzling five-week affair to remember.

You know the thrill, so crank up the printer. (more…)

Rome: Timeless Images of the Eternal City

Fashion show at the Sorrelle Fontana studio, featuring Ava Gardner, Rome, 1954 (Image: T. Brack's archives)

Fashion show at the Sorelle Fontana studio, featuring Ava Gardner, Rome, 1954 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

“Playtime Pants” by the Fontana Sisters, Villa Borghese, Rome, 1955 Photographer: Massimo Ascani (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Dear friends, Romans, and incurable romantics, lend me your pointy cat ears, kid gloves, and sunglasses. Blame it on the balmy breezes blowing to and fro, but I’ve got a strong hankering for a generous spritz of some misty time travel. That’s how we flow.

As promised, this week we’re making a pilgrimage back to Rome with photographer Maurice Sapiro.

So, get to packing! Don’t forget your coins for the Trevi Fountain. However, leave the party ball gowns and “Playtime Pants” at home, because we’ll also swing by the Sorelle Fontana studio, and nip some stylish garb to call our own.

Fontana Sisters

Helping ignite a worldwide love affair with Italian Haute Couture during the 1950s, Micol, Giovanna, and Zoe Fontana outfitted the curves of the likes of Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, and Audrey Hepburn.

In addition to her signature draping and beading, Micol Fontana also strutted her stuff as the fashion house’s ambassador at large, fearlessly trekking all over the globe. Victory laps, most likely, because her promotional campaigns possessed “real legs.” Her legs, in fact.

According to one zippy New York Times headline, the enchanting designer traveled with a personal “international wardrobe,” made up of no fewer than 24 custom-made outfits and 70 prêt-à-porter pieces.

“If I had time to make them, I’d wear a new dress every day. I love to change my clothes—I feel that clothes really change one’s mood,” said Micol. I completely agree. And apparently, so did actor Cary Grant, who gave her a lift home after her very first fashion show in Hollywood. (more…)

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