The photos in this blog all come from a scrapbook I bought at auction a few years ago. The scrapbook, which covers the period 1924 – 1926, was kept by a young Southampton woman, Stella Pierres, who worked as an actress and “mannequin” (fashion model).
In 1924, Miss Pierres – I feel I should refer to her with the polite formality of the period – won a competition held in London to promote the British opening of the US film The Temple of Venus. The object was to find “Modern Venus”, the young woman whose bust, waist and hip measurements most closely matched those of Venus de Milo. The competition appears to have caught the public imagination to some modest extent and the first few pages in the scrapbook has several national and local newspaper cuttings reporting Miss Pierres’s victory. Winning a competition that generated this little starburst of press interest in her must have felt like a big break for an aspiring actress.
Presumably there was a morning when Miss Pierres woke up in her little flat in Paddington, looked over at the press cuttings lying loose on mantlepiece and thought to herself “You know, I have so many of those now, I really could do with a scrapbook to keep them in”. It’s easy to imagine the pride and pleasure she must have felt as she pasted the cuttings in. All those later pages, empty, but just waiting to be filled, must have seemed in her imagination to hold the promise of a bright, exciting future. In the real future, the scrapbook has outlived its maker.
The rest of the scrapbook documents Miss Pierres’s subsequent progress, particularly her time as one of the performers in the Pears Palace of Beauty at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley Stadium. Also pasted in are advertisements for which she was the photographic model (including advertisements for the millinery department of Harvey Nichols which show Miss Pierres modelling hats). There are also letters, pages from theatrical programmes, and magazine illustrations, for which Miss Pierres was the artist’s model (one of these, rather daringly, shows her partly nude). Loosely inserted is a large folded newspaper vendor’s poster for the Northampton Independent that is touching in its banality: “’My impressions of the Palace of Beauty’ – Wembley mannequin interviewed (pictures)”. Even more poignant is a clipping from a gossip column describing a girl called Stella whose fiancé has “. . . just gone off with another girl after a seven years’ engagement”.
Perhaps the most interesting single item in the scrapbook is a small card flyer for a display of textiles held in the British Pavilion at the 1925 Exposition Des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. This is of course, the exhibition which gave its name, in shortened version, to the Art Deco design movement. Miss Pierres presumably attended the Paris event as a model. There is also a menu card from a dinner held in the British Pavilion at the Exposition. So, for a time at least, Miss Pierres really was at the absolute cutting edge of style, fashion and glamour.
I don’t know if there are later volumes of Stella Pierres’s cuttings out there to be found but I suspect her career probably petered out after this two year flowering. A Google search for her name finds two links. The first is to a 1926 article in a Florida newpaper in the Google news archive. Miss Pierres is reported as being one of four finalists in a London beauty contest, in which the winner will win a trip to the USA. The second is to a cigarette card from the series British Beauties, one of many such collections of cards held, rather incongrously, at the New York Public Library.
On the back of the cigarette card, Miss Pierres is described as “. . . . winner of a beauty contest and popular member of the London stage; [she] is also well-known as the model who has posed in many fashion and advertising studies, her fair beauty making her a good subject for camera pictures.” I guess Miss Pierres would probably be pleased to know that we can all still see her fair beauty now – and I’m pleased to be able to introduce her to you . . . “Miss Pierres – may I present someone who has stumbled across your story while surfing the web in 2012”.