Happy Birthday Le Corbusier

Today is the 127th birthday of Le Corbusier.

NAME: Le Corbusier
OCCUPATION: Architect, Artist
BIRTH DATE: October 6, 1887
DEATH DATE: August 27, 1965
EDUCATION: École des Arts Décoratifs at La Chaux-de-Fonds
PLACE OF BIRTH: La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
PLACE OF DEATH: Cap Martin, France
AKA: Charles Jeanneret-Gris

BEST KNOWN FOR: Le Corbusier was a Swiss-born French architect who belonged to the first generation of the so-called International school of architecture.

Born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris on October 6, 1887, Le Corbusier was the second son of Edouard Jeanneret, an artist who painted dials in the town’s renowned watch industry, and Madame Jeannerct-Perrct, a musician and piano teacher. His family’s Calvinism, love of the arts and enthusiasm for the Jura Mountains, where his family fled during the Albigensian Wars of the 12th century, were all formative influences on the young Le Corbusier.

At age 13, Le Corbusier left primary school to attend Arts Décoratifs at La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he would learn the art of enameling and engraving watch faces, following in the footsteps of his father.

There, he fell under the tutelage of L’Eplattenier, whom Le Corbusier called “my master” and later referred to him as his only teacher. L’Eplattenier taught Le Corbusier art history, drawing and the naturalist aesthetics of art nouveau. Perhaps because of his extended studies in art, Corbusier soon abandoned watchmaking and continued his studies in art and decoration, intending to become a painter. L’Eplattenier insisted that his pupil also study architecture, and he arranged for his first commissions working on local projects.

After designing his first house, in 1907, at age 20, Le Corbusier took trips through central Europe and the Mediterranean, including Italy, Vienna, Munich and Paris. His travels included apprenticeships with various architects, most significantly with structural rationalist Auguste Perret, a pioneer of reinforced concrete construction, and later with renowned architect Peter Behrens, with whom Le Corbusier worked from October 1910 to March 1911, near Berlin.

These trips played a pivotal role in Le Corbusier’s education. He made three major architectural discoveries. In various settings, he witnessed and absorbed the importance of (1) the contrast between large collective spaces and individual compartmentalized spaces, an observation that formed the basis for his vision of residential buildings and later became vastly influential; (2) classical proportion via Renaissance architecture; and (3) geometric forms and the use of landscape as an architectural tool.

In 1912, Le Corbusier returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds to teach alongside L’Eplattenier and to open his own architectural practice. He designed a series of villas and began to theorize on the use of reinforced concrete as a structural frame, a thoroughly modern technique.

Le Corbusier began to envisage buildings designed from these concepts as affordable prefabricated housing that would help rebuild cities after World War I came to an end. The floor plans of the proposed housing consisted of open space, leaving out obstructive support poles, freeing exterior and interior walls from the usual structural constraints. This design system became the backbone for most of Le Corbusier’s architecture for the next 10 years.

In 1917, Le Corbusier moved to Paris, where he worked as an architect on concrete structures under government contracts. He spent most of his efforts, however, on the more influential, and at the time more lucrative, discipline of painting.

Then, in 1918, Le Corbusier met Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant, who encouraged Le Corbusier to paint. Kindred spirits, the two began a period of collaboration in which they rejected cubism, an art form finding its peak at the time, as irrational and romantic.

With these thoughts in mind, the pair published the book Après le cubisme (After Cubism), an anti-cubism manifesto, and established a new artistic movement called purism. In 1920, the pair, along with poet Paul Dermée, established the purist journal L’Esprit Nouveau (The New Spirit), an avant-garde review.

In the first issue of the new publication, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret took on the pseudonym Le Corbusier, an alteration of his grandfather’s last name, to reflect his belief that anyone could reinvent himself. Also, adopting a single name to represent oneself artistically was particularly en vogue at the time, especially in Paris, and Le Corbusier wanted to create a persona that could keep separate his critical writing from his work as a painter and architect.

In the pages of L’Esprit Nouveau, the three men railed against past artistic and architectural movements, such as those embracing elaborate nonstructural (that is, nonfunctional) decoration, and defended Le Corbusier’s new style of functionalism.

In 1923, Le Corbusier published Vers une Architecture (Toward a New Architecture), which collected his polemical writing from L’Esprit Nouveau. In the book are such famous Le Corbusier declarations as “a house is a machine for living in” and “a curved street is a donkey track; a straight street, a road for men.”

Le Corbusier’s collected articles also proposed a new architecture that would satisfy the demands of industry, hence functionalism, and the abiding concerns of architectural form, as defined over generations. His proposals included his first city plan, the Contemporary City, and two housing types that were the basis for much of his architecture throughout his life: the Maison Monol and, more famously, the Maison Citrohan, which he also referred to as “the machine of living.”

Le Corbusier envisioned prefabricated houses, imitating the concept of assembly line manufacturing of cars, for instance. Maison Citrohan displayed the characteristics by which the architect would later define modern architecture: support pillars that raise the house above the ground, a roof terrace, an open floor plan, an ornamentation-free facade and horizontal windows in strips for maximum natural light. The interior featured the typical spatial contrast between open living space and cell-like bedrooms.

In an accompanying diagram to the design, the city in which Citrohan would rest featured green parks and gardens at the feet of clusters of skyscrapers, an idea that would come to define urban planning in years to come.

Soon Le Corbusier’s social ideals and structural design theories became a reality. In 1925-1926, he built a workers’ city of 40 houses in the style of the Citrohan house at Pessac, near Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the chosen design and colors provoked hostility on the part of authorities, who refused to route the public water supply to the complex, and for six years the buildings sat uninhabited.

In the 1930s, Le Corbusier reformulated his theories on urbanism, publishing them in La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935. The most apparent distinction between the Contemporary City and the Radiant City is that the latter abandoned the class-based system of the former, with housing now assigned according to family size, not economic position.

The Radiant City brought with it some controversy, as all Le Corbusier projects seemed to. In describing Stockholm, for instance, a classically rendered city, Le Corbusier saw only “frightening chaos and saddening monotony.” He dreamed of “cleaning and purging” the city with “a calm and powerful architecture”; that is, steel, plate glass and reinforced concrete, what many observers might see as a modern blight applied to the beautiful city.

At the end of the 1930s and through the end of World War II, Le Corbusier kept busy with creating such famous projects as the proposed master plans for the cities of Algiers and Buenos Aires, and using government connections to implement his ideas for eventual reconstruction, all to no avail.

Happy Birthday Diana Vreeland

Today is the 111th birthday of Diana Vreeland.  She was and continues to be the arbiter of style, even after her death 20+ years ago. Do yourself a favor and read “D.V.”:  her autobiography/manual of style/name-drop-a-thon book masquerading as a roller coaster ride through the early parts of the 20th century. It will seriously change your life. Watch “The Eye Has To Travel,” her documentary.  You will start to look at style as something you own, not something you follow and conform to.  She will teach you that the sexiest most attractive thing one can have and wear is confidence.   I absolutely adore her for the permission she gives people to be fashionable, be original, beautiful, without being ordinary or expected.  Wear some pearls today, wear your shirt back to front, do something original today.  Do it for yourself with a wink to Ms. Vreeland.

 

NAME: Diane Dalziel Vreeland
OCCUPATION: Journalist
BIRTH DATE: September 29, 1903
DEATH DATE: August 22, 1989
PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: As a fashion journaist, Diana Vreeland was an influential figure in American fashion during the 20th century.

Diana Vreeland began her career at Harper’s Bazaar in 1936. Her column “Why Don’t You…?” was famous for offering outlandish fashion and lifestyle tips for the times. Vreeland later became the magazine’s fashion editor and established herself as one of the country’s leading arbiters of style. In 1962, Vreeland joined the staff of Vogue and continued to be a powerful force in the fashion world.

Fashion journalist. Born Diana Dalziel on March 1, 1924, in Paris, France. Diana Vreeland was an influential figure in American fashion during the twentieth century. The daughter of wealthy parents, she spent her early years in France before moving to New York as a teenager.

Diana Vreeland began her career as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar in 1936. Her column “Why Don’t You . . . ?” was famous for offering outlandish fashion and lifestyle tips for the times. Few could afford in the Depression follow her advice. Moving up the editorial ladder, Vreeland became the magazine’s fashion editor, a post she held until the early 1960s. At Harper’s Bazaar, she established herself as one of the country’s leading arbiters of style.

In 1962, Diana Vreeland joined the staff of Vogue, another influential fashion magazine, as editor in chief. At Vogue, she continued to be a powerful force in the fashion world, often able to identify the coming trends, such as the popularity of the bikini. Vreeland also worked with many well-known photographers, such as Richard Avedon, in making the magazine.

While she left Vogue in 1971, Diana Vreeland did not leave the fashion world. She worked as a consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, putting together fashion exhibitions. Vreeland died on August 22, 1989. Married to T. Reed Vreeland since 1924, she had two sons, Thomas R., Jr., and Frederick.

Personal Quotes:

“People who eat white bread have no dreams.”

“Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola.”

“Elegance is innate. It has nothing to do with being well dressed. Elegance is refusal.”

“I always wear my sweater back-to-front; it is so much more flattering.”

“I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.”

“Pink is the navy blue of India.”

Happy Birthday Elsa Schiaparelli

Today is the  124th birthday ofElsa Schiaparelli.

NAME: Elsa Schiaparelli
BIRTH DATE: September 10, 1890
DEATH DATE: November 13, 1973
EDUCATION: University of Rome
PLACE OF BIRTH: Rome, Italy
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the world’s leading fashion designers in the 1920s and ’30s.

A pioneering Parisian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890, in Rome, Italy. She was the great niece of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered canals on the planet Mars.

Hailing from upscale stock, Schiaparelli, at a young age, seemed to be driven to upset her aristocratic mother and scholarly father. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Rome, where she studied philosophy, and soon published a book of poetry that was deemed so sensual by her parents that they directed her to a convent. To expedite her release from the convent, Schiaparelli went on a hunger strike; once released, she dashed off to London for a job as a nanny.

In London, Schiaparelli met and eventually married her former teacher, Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, who was a theosophist. The couple soon relocated to New York, where they had a daughter, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor.

New York proved to be an enlightening experience for Schiaparelli. There, she began working at a boutique specializing in French fashions, and soon cultivated her own taste in clothes and accessories. After her marriage failed, Schiaparelli returned to Paris, where she continued her work in the fashion industry. She soon began designing clothes of her own, and in 1927, opened her own business.

Commercial Success

Schiaparelli’s debut collection, a series of sweaters featuring Surrealist “trompe l’oeil” images—which would come to serve as her trademark—caught the attention of the fashion world, including French Vogue. She followed her initial success with another well-received collection of bathing suits and ski-wear, as well as the “divided skirt”—an early form of women’s shorts. In 1931, Schiaparelli’s divided skirts were worn by tennis champion Lily d’Alvarez. That same year, “Shiap,” as she was known, expanded her work into evening-wear.

For Schiaparelli, fashion was as much about making art as it was about making clothes. In 1932, Janet Flanner of The New Yorker wrote: “A frock from Schiaparelli ranks like a modern canvas.” Not surprisingly, Schiaparelli connected with popular artists of the era; one of her friends was painter Salvador Dali, whom she hired to design fabric for her fashion house.

As her fame continued to grow, Schiaparelli traveled increasingly in famous circles. She was worshipped by some of the world’s best-dressed women, including Daisy Flowers, Lady Mendl and Millicent Rogers.

Schiaparelli also designed clothes for film and the theater. Her work appeared in more than 30 movies over the course of her career, most notably in Every Day’s a Holiday, starring Mae West, Moulin Rouge and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Final Years

Schiaparelli discontinued her couture business in 1951 and closed her design house three years later, but continued to work in fashion, designing accessories and, later, wigs. In 1954, she released an autobiography, Shocking Life.

Schiaparelli died on November 13, 1973, in Paris, France. In the decades since her death, Schiaparelli has continued to be regarded as a giant in the fashion world. In 2012, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art featured her work, along with that of Italian designer Miuccia Prada, in a major exhibition.

Happy Birthday Man Ray

Today is the 124th birthday of the photographer Man Ray.

NAME: Man Ray
OCCUPATION: Painter, Photographer, Filmmaker
BIRTH DATE: August 27, 1890
DEATH DATE: November 18, 1976
PLACE OF BIRTH: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
FULL NAME: Man Ray
ORIGINALLY: Emmanuel Radnitzky

BEST KNOWN FOR: Man Ray was primarily known for his photography, which spanned both the Dada and Surrealism movements.

Born Emmanuel Rudnitzky, visionary artist Man Ray was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father worked as a tailor. The family moved to Brooklyn when Ray was a young child. From an early year, Ray showed great artistic ability. After finishing high school in 1908, he followed his passion for art; he studied drawing with Robert Henri at the Ferrer Center, and frequented Alfred Stieglitz‘s gallery 291. It later became apparent that Ray had been influenced by Stieglitz’s photographs. He utilized a similar style, snapping images that provided an unvarnished look at the subject.

Ray also found inspiration at the Armory Show of 1913, which featured the works of Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Marcel Duchamp. That same year, he moved to a burgeoning art colony in Ridgefield, New Jersey. His work was also evolving. After experimenting with a Cubist style of painting, he moved toward abstraction.

In 1914, Ray married Belgian poet Adon Lacroix, but their union fell apart after a few years. He made a more lasting friendship around this time, becoming close to fellow artist Marcel Duchamp.

Along with Duchamp and Francis Picabia, Ray became a leading figure in the Dada movement in New York. Dadaism, which takes its name from the French nickname for a rocking horse, challenged existing notions of art and literature, and encouraged spontaneity. One of Ray’s famous works from this time was “The Gift,” a sculpture that incorporated two found objects. He glued tacks to the work surface of an iron to create the piece.

In 1921, Ray moved to Paris. There, he continued to be a part of the artistic avant garde, rubbing elbows with such famous figures as Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Ray became famous for his portraits of his artistic and literary associates. He also developed a thriving career as a fashion photographer, taking pictures for such magazines as Vogue. These commercial endeavors supported his fine art efforts. A photographic innovator, Ray discovered a new way to create interesting images by accident in his darkroom. Called “Rayographs,” these photos were made by placing and manipulating objects on pieces of photosensitive paper.

One of Ray’s other famous works from this time period was 1924’s “Violin d’Ingres.” This modified photograph features the bare back of his lover, a performer named Kiki, styled after a painting by neoclassical French artist Jean August Dominique Ingres. In a humorous twist, Ray added to two black shapes to make her back look like a musical instrument. He also explored the artistic possibilities of film, creating such now classic Surrealistic works as L’Etoile de Mer (1928). Around this time, Ray also experimented with a technique called the Sabatier effect, or solarization, which adds a silvery, ghostly quality to the image.

Ray soon found another muse, Lee Miller, and featured her in his work. A cut-out of her eye is featured on the 1932 found-object sculpture “Object to Be Destroyed,” and her lips fill the sky of “Observatory Time” (1936). In 1940, Ray fled the war in Europe and moved to California. He married model and dancer Juliet Browner the following year, in a unique double ceremony with artist Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning.

Returning to Paris in 1951, Ray continued to explore different artistic media. He focused much of his energy on painting and sculpture. Branching out in a new direction, Ray began writing his memoir. The project took more than a decade to complete, and his autobiography, Self Portrait, was finally published in 1965.

In his final years, Man Ray continued to exhibit his art, with shows in New York, London, Paris and other cities in the years before his death. He passed away on November 18, 1976, in his beloved Paris. He was 86 years old. His innovative works can be found on display in museums around the world, and he is remembered for his artistic wit and originality. As friend Marcel Duchamp once said, “It was his achievement to treat the camera as he treated the paint brush, as a mere instrument at the service of the mind.”

Happy Birthday Coco Chanel

Today is the 131st birthday of Coco Chanel.  I admire a person that creates their life how they wish it to be.  Determination, focus, drive, and perseverance.

NAME: Coco Chanel
BIRTH DATE: August 19, 1883
DEATH DATE: January 10, 1971
PLACE OF BIRTH: Saumur, France
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: With her trademark suits and little black dresses, fashion designer Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today.

Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.” Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,” according to an article in The Atlantic.

Around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his even wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.

Opening her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes. Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she once told author Paul Morand.

In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” Chanel once explained.

In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. Her designs were revolutionary for the time—borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions. She helped women say good-bye to the days of corsets and other confining garments.

Another 1920s revolutionary design was Chanel’s little black dress. She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for eveningwear. In addition to fashion, Chanel was a popular figure in the Paris literary and artistic worlds. She designed costumes for the Ballets Russes and for Jean Cocteau’s play Orphée, and counted Cocteau and artist Pablo Picasso among her friends. For a time, Chanel had a relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky.

Another important romance for Chanel began in the 1920s. She met the wealthy duke of Westminster aboard his yacht around 1923, and the two started a decades-long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!”

The international economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company, but it was the outbreak of World War II that led Chanel to close her business. She fired her workers and shut down her shops. During the German occupation of France, Chanel got involved with a German military officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. She got special permission to stay in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz. After the war ended, Chanel was interrogated by her relationship with von Dincklage, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Some have wondered whether friend Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes on Chanel’s behalf.

While not officially charged, Chanel suffered in the court of public opinion. Some still viewed her relationship with a Nazi officer as a betrayal of her country. Chanel left Paris, spending some years in Switzerland in a sort of exile. She also lived at her country house in Roquebrune for a time.

At the age of 70, Chanel made a triumphant return to the fashion world. She first received scathing reviews from critics, but her feminine and easy-fitting designs soon won over shoppers around the world.

In 1969, Chanel’s fascinating life story became the basis for the Broadway musical Coco starring Katharine Hepburn as the legendary designer. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and lyrics for the show’s song while Andre Prévin composed the music. Cecil Beaton handled the set and costume design for the production. The show received seven Tony Award nominations, and Beaton won for Best Costume Design and René Auberjonois for Best Featured Actor.

Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz. She never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” Hundreds crowded together at the Church of the Madeleine to bid farewell to the fashion icon. In tribute, many of the mourners wore Chanel suits.

A little more than a decade after her death, designer Karl Lagerfeld took the reins at her company to continue the Chanel legacy. Today her namesake company continues to thrive and is believed to generate hundreds of millions in sales each year.

In addition to the longevity of her designs, Chanel’s life story continues to captivate people’s attention. There have been several biographies of the fashion revolutionary, including Chanel and Her World (2005) written by her friend Edmonde Charles-Roux.

In the recent television biopic, Coco Chanel (2008), Shirley MacLaine starred as the famous designer around the time of her 1954 career resurrection. The actress told WWD that she had long been interested in playing Chanel. “What’s wonderful about her is she’s not a straightforward, easy woman to understand.”

Happy Birthday Mata Hari

mata hari

NAME: Mata Hari
OCCUPATION: Spy, Dancer
BIRTH DATE: August 7, 1876
DEATH DATE: October 15, 1917
EDUCATION: Teachers’ College in Leiden
PLACE OF BIRTH: Leeuwarden, Netherlands
PLACE OF DEATH: Vincennes, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: Mata Hari was a professional dancer and mistress who became a spy for France during World War I. Suspected of being a double agent, she was executed in 1917.

Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, on August 7, 1876, to father Adam Zelle, a hat merchant who went bankrupt due to bad investments, and mother Antje Zelle, who fell ill and died when Mata Hari was 15 years old. Following her mother’s death, Mata Hari and her three brothers were split up and sent to live with various relatives.

At an early age, Mata Hari decided that sexuality was her ticket in life. In the mid-1890s, she boldly answered a newspaper ad seeking a bride for Rudolf MacLeod, a bald, mustachioed military captain based in the Dutch East Indies. She sent a striking photo of herself, raven-haired and olive-skinned, to entice him. Despite a 21-year age difference, they wed on July 11, 1895, when Mata Hari was just shy of 19. During their rocky, nine-year marriage—marred by MacLeod’s heavy drinking and frequent rages over the attention his wife garnered from other officers—Mata Hari gave birth to two children, a daughter and a son. (The couple’s son died in 1899 after a household worker in the Indies poisoned him for reasons that remain a mystery.)

By the early 1900s, Mata Hari’s marriage had deteriorated. Her husband fled with their daughter, and Mata Hari moved to Paris. There, she became the mistress of a French diplomat who helped her hatch the idea of supporting herself as a dancer.

All things “Oriental” were the fad in the Paris of 1905. The time seemed ripe for Mata Hari’s exotic looks and the “temple dance” she created by drawing on cultural and religious symbolism and that she had picked up in the Indies. With characteristic confidence, she siezed the moment. She billed herself as a Hindu artist, draped in veils—which she artfully dropped from her body. In one memorable garden performance, Mata Hari appeared nearly naked on a white horse. Although she daringly bared her buttocks—then considered the most tittilating part of the anatomy—she was modest about her breasts, generally keeping them covered with brassiere-styled beads. Completing her dramatic transformation from military wife to siren of the East, she coined her stage name, “Mata Hari,” which means “eye of the day” in Indonesian dialect.

Mata Hari took the Paris saloons by storm, then moved on to the bright lights of other cities. Along the way, she helped turn the striptease into an art form and captivated critics. A reporter in Vienna described Mata Hari as “slender and tall with the flexible grace of a wild animal, and with blue-black hair.” Her face, he wrote, “makes a strange foreign impression.” Another enthralled newspaper writer called her “so feline, extremely feminine, majestically tragic, the thousand curves and movements of her body trembling in a thousand rhythms.”

Within a few years, however, Mata Hari’s cachet had faded. As younger dancers took the stage, her bookings became sporadic. She supplemented her income by seducing government and military men; sex became strictly a financial practicality for her. Despite the growing tension in Europe in the years leading up to World War I, Mata Hari foolishly knew no borders with her lovers, who included German officers. As war swept the continent, she had some freedom of movement as a citizen of neutral Holland and took full advantage of it, country-hopping with trunks of clothing in tow. Before long, however, Mata Hari’s cavalier travels and liaisons attracted attention from British and French intelligence, who put her under surveillance.

Now nearing 40, plumpish and with her dancing days clearly behind her, Mata Hari fell in love with a 21-year-old Russian captain, Vladimir de Masloff, in 1916. During their courtship, Masloff was sent to the Front, where an injury left him blind in one eye. Determined to earn money to support him, Mata Hari accepted a lucrative assignment to spy for France from Georges Ladoux, an army captain who assumed her courtesan contacts would be of use to French intelligence.

Mata Hari later insisted that she planned to use her connections to seduce her way into the German high command, get secrets and hand them over to the French—but she never got that far. She met a German attaché and began tossing him bits of gossip, hoping to get some valuable information in return. Instead, she got named as a German spy in communiqués he sent to Berlin—which were promptly intercepted by the French. Some historians believe that the Germans suspected Mata Hari was a French spy and subsequently set her up, deliberately sending a message falsely labeling her as a German spy—which they knew would be easily decoded by the French. Others, of course, believe that she was in fact a German double agent. In any case, the French authorities arrested Mata Hari for espionage in Paris on February 13, 1917. They threw her in a rat-infested cell at the Prison Saint-Lazare, where she was allowed to see only her elderly lawyer—who happened to be a former lover.

During lengthy interrogations by Captain Pierre Bouchardon, a military prosecutor, Mata Hari—who had long lived a fabricated life, embellishing both rearing and resume—bungled and facts about her whereabouts and activities. Eventually, she dropped a bombshell confession: A German diplomat had once paid her 20,000 francs to gather intelligence on her frequent trips to Paris. But she swore to investigators that she never actually fulfilled the bargain and always remained faithful to France. She told them she simply viewed the money as compensation for furs and luggage that had once disappeared on a departing train while German border guards hassled her. “A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never!” she defiantly told her interrogators. “I have always lived for love and pleasure.”

Mata Hari’s trial came at a time when the Allies were failing to beat back German advances. Real or imagined spies were convenient scapegoats for explaining military losses, and Mata Hari’s arrest was one of many. Her chief foil, Captain Georges Ladoux, made sure the evidence against her was constructed in the most damning way—by some accounts even tampering with it to implicate her more deeply.

So when Mata Hari admitted that a German officer paid her for sexual favors, prosecutors depicted it as espionage money. Additionally, currency she claimed was a regular stipend from a Dutch baron was portrayed in court as coming from German spymasters. That amorous Dutch baron, who could have shed light on the truth, was never called to testify. Nor was Mata Hari’s maid, who acted as an intermediary for the baron’s payments. Mata Hari’s morals conspired against her, as well. “Without scruples, accustomed to make use of men, she is the type of woman who is born to be a spy,” concluded Bouchardon, whose relentless interviews were the blueprint for the prosecution.

The military tribunal deliberated for less than 45 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. “It’s impossible, it’s impossible,” Mata Hari exclaimed, upon hearing the decision.

Mata Hari was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917. Dressed in a blue coat accented by a tri-corner hat, she had arrived at the Paris execution site with a minister and two nuns and, after bidding them farewell, walked briskly to the designated spot. She then turned to face the firing squad, waved away her blindfold and blew the soldiers a kiss. She was killed in an instant when their multiple gunshots exploded as one.

It was an improbable end for the exotic dancer and courtesan, whose name became a metaphor for the siren spy who coaxes secrets from her paramours. Her execution merited a scant four paragraphs inside The New York Times, which called her “a woman of great attractiveness and with a romantic history.”

Mystery continues to surround Mata Hari’s life and alleged double agency, and her story has become a legend that still piques curiosity. Her life has spawned numerous biographies and cinematic portrayals, including, most famously, the 1931 film Mata Hari, starring Greta Garbo as the courtesan-dancer and Ramon Novarro as Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff.

Happy Birthday Yves Saint Laurent

Today is the 78th birthday of Yves Saint Laurent.

NAME: Yves Saint Laurent
OCCUPATION: Fashion Designer
BIRTH DATE: August 1, 1936
DEATH DATE: June 1, 2008
PLACE OF BIRTH: Oran, Algeria
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
FULL NAME:  Yves Henri-Donat-Mathieu Saint Laurent

BEST KNOWN FOR: Yves Saint Laurent was best known as an influential European fashion designer who impacted fashion in the 1960s to the present day.

Yves Henri Donat Matthieu Saint Laurent was born on August 1, 1936, in Oran, Algeria, to Charles and Lucienne Andrée Mathieu-Saint-Laurent. He grew up in a villa by the Mediterranean with his two younger sisters, Michelle and Brigitte. While his family was relatively well off—his father was a lawyer and insurance broker who owned a chain of cinemas—childhood for the future fashion icon was not easy. Saint Laurent was not popular in school, and was often bullied by schoolmates for appearing to be homosexual. As a consequence, Saint Laurent was a nervous child, and sick nearly every day.

He found solace, however, in the world of fashion. He liked to create intricate paper dolls, and by his early teen years he was designing dresses for his mother and sisters. At the age of 17, a whole new world opened up to Saint Laurent when his mother took him to Paris for a meeting she’d arranged with Michael de Brunhoff, the editor of French Vogue.

A year later, Saint Laurent, who had impressed de Brunhoff with his drawings, moved to Paris and enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, where his designs quickly gained notice. De Brunhoff also introduced Saint Laurent to designer Christian Dior, a giant in the fashion world. “Dior fascinated me,” Saint Laurent later recalled. “I couldn’t speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent at his side.” Under Dior’s tutelage, Saint Laurent’s style continued to mature and gain still more notice.

In 1960 Saint Laurent was called back to his home country of Algeria to fight for its independence. He managed to secure an exemption based on health grounds, but when he returned to Paris, Saint Laurent found that his job with Dior had disappeared. The news, at first, was traumatic for the young, fragile designer. Then it became ugly, with Saint Laurent successfully suing his former mentor for breach of contract, and collecting £48,000.

The money and the freedom soon presented Saint Laurent with a unique opportunity. In cooperation with his partner and lover, Pierre Berge, the designer resolved to open his own fashion house. With the rise of pop culture and a general yearning for original, fresh designs, Saint Laurent’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Over the next two decades, Saint Laurent’s designs sat atop the fashion world. Models and actresses gushed over his creations. He outfitted women in blazers and smoking jackets, and introduced attire like the pea coat to the runway. His signature pieces also included the sheer blouse and the jumpsuit.

By the 1980s, Yves Saint Laurent was a true icon. He became the first designer to have a retrospective on his work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Under the direction of Berge, who continued to manage Saint Laurent’s firm even though the two had broken up in 1986, the fashion house flourished as a money making venture.

But Saint Laurent struggled. He became reclusive, and fought addictions to alcohol and cocaine. Some in the fashion world complained that the designer’s work had grown stale.

In the early 1990s, Saint Laurent found firmer footing. His designs were rediscovered by a fashion elite that had grown tired of the grunge movement that dominated the runways. Saint Laurent, too, seemed to have conquered his demons. By the end of the decade, with Saint Laurent slowing down his work pace, he and Berge had sold the company they’d started, netting the two men a fortune.

In January 2002, Saint Laurent participated in his final show and then retired for good in Marrakech. Five years later, Saint Laurent’s imprint and importance on French culture was cemented when he was appointed Grand Officer of the Legion d’honnerur by French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Yves Saint Laurent passed away in Paris on June 1, 2008 after a brief illness.