by Lady Carlton née Katie O’Roarke, heroine of “The Blonde Samurai”
Did you observe all heads turning to watch the Duchess of Sussington enter her box at the opera last night? Even the hefty baritone warbling Figaro lost his place when Her Grace made her arrival like Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen of Hearts toppling heads.
And stealing hearts.
Resplendent in a rose-red satin gown, her long train swishing behind her as if brushed by the magic of an Impressionist’s imagination, she showed off her long neck, graceful like that of a supple swan but bare–
Nary a jewel adorned her throat. Her head. Or her wrists. Wearing long, thirty-two button white gloves that covered her arm almost to the shoulder, her hands fluttered a black lace fan about as she leaned over to utter a witty remark to the gentleman next to her. Then she smiled at the handsome lord behind her. And was that HRH himself entering her box?
The corset régime*** says the duchess is the naughtiest lady in London. Yet her mode of fashion is neither gaudy nor garish but rather plain, though more than one roguish blade has proclaimed that she has a pair of “sister hills” that can drive a man mad.
What does this naughty lady have that you don’t?
I shall tell you, dear lady reader.
I had on previous occasion the opportunity to make Her Grace’s acquaintance at the Viscount Aubrey’s town house residence in London where she imparted to me her secret: It is her manner of dress that attracts the gentlemen.
No jewels, no lace, no ribbons. Her only adornment is her personality and her wit.
Where did she chance upon such an idea? I asked her. She smiled and invited me to take tea with her at her red brick palace outside the city, a casual retreat with red velvet wall coverings and pink paint in the sitting room. A grand afternoon it was, me, Katie O’Roarke, sipping tea and munching on raspberry dainties with the Duchess of Sussington.
This is what she told me:
“My dear Lady Carlton, you of all personages should know the answer to my success. For ’twas from the recent craze in England of all things Japanese that I discovered the geisha depicted so well in the woodblock prints and photographs. Drawings and prints of these beautiful women posed with parasols or arranging blossoms or playing the lute and dancing.”
How did she obtain such prints? I asked her, daring to lick the raspberry jam off my lips when no one was observing me.
“I am privileged to enjoy the company of a famous British statesman who travels frequently to the Orient. This grand gentleman visited a tea house while in Tokio, where the geisha in her subdued kimono and sash entertained; she is known for her witty repartee and intelligent conversation on politics, the arts and the news of the day.
“Imagine spending your life having to look beautiful every day as the geisha does. We ladies of Mayfair spend days preparing ourselves for a ball or a night at the opera, choosing our gowns and jewels, while the geisha spends her waking hours studying her art.
“I decided I would emanate the geisha in her long, slim-fitting kimono. Accordingly, the richness of the fabric and the simple cut of my gowns are like those of the geisha, whose understated garments hint at the deep feelings she possesses inwardly. I use bold colors sparingly and consider it a must that my gown hugs the curves on my body but is never too tight. Only the best dressmaker will do.
“I limit my accessories to a parasol or a fan but never both, since too many accessories tend to make a lady look as if she isn’t a lady but a hatless girl from York Street.
“I never wear soiled gloves, taking a hint from the geisha who wears only the most pristine white tabi or stockings when entertaining a gentleman.”
“A geisha is also known for her deportment and how she carries herself. A lady’s posture can make her appear as slim as the geisha in her long kimono. Chest up, stomach in, bosom aligned.
“And when I thought I had studied all the photographs and woodblock prints, my gentleman friend told me something I didn’t know.
” ‘Geisha do not wear drawers underneath their kimono but merely a slim underslip,” he told me.
I immediately adopted this practice and have found nary a gentleman who doesn’t applaud my decision.”
And there you have it from Her Grace, the Duchess of Sussington:
If you wish to dress like a naughty lady, dear lady reader, abandon your drawers.
Mercy, what will his lordship say?
*** I have mentioned the corset régime in a previous post: They are that stalwart group of Society ladies who shake their ample bosoms and rattle their tiny parasols whenever a new idea creates social upheaval in their ordered world.
February 2010: meet The Blonde Samurai
“She embraced the way of the warrior. Two swords. Two loves.”