Historian Helen Rappaport has written a cracking book about ‘beautician’ Madame Rachel set in Victorian London. It is a true story, immaculately researched, and immensely entertaining too. Madame Rachel was a con-woman and fraudster with a shop in Bond Street selling beauty creams and potions to the aristocracy. She was what was then known as a ‘face-enameller’ charging between five and twenty guineas to remove facial hair or fuzz, douse the skin with alkaline toilet waters and then fill-in any lines and wrinkles with a paste thought to be made of arsenic or white lead. She’d follow with an application of rouge and powder to finish off the ‘enamelled’ look.
A terrible tale-teller, crook and blackmailer, Madame Rachel had Victorian London scandalised. I’m only half way through the book but it’s just a genuine pleasure to read not only about the dreadful and truly shocking ingredients that women used back in the day in a vain attempt to keep youth on their side, but also for the outrageous fibs, the notorious court cases and the vivid pictures of Victorian London that leap out from the pages. If you like beauty, you’ll love this.
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