Impressions of the Palace of Beauty


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”.

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3 thoughts on “Impressions of the Palace of Beauty

  1. Very interesting article, many thanks for sharing it. Readers may be interested in the names of some of the other women who performed in the Pears’ Palace of Beauty. They appear on Fleetway Press postcards published in 1924 (Miss Pierres was not one of those depicted.) They were (all prefixed Miss) Nora Baker (as Elizabeth Woodville); Ivy Booker (as Miss 1924); Dido Carter (as Mrs Siddons); Gabe Gilroy (as Helen of Troy); Bobby Haseltine (as Scheherazade); Miriam Roby [Mimi] Jordan (as Miss 1924 – she married a Joseph Davies in 1926); Pat Malone (as Mary, Queen of Scots); Ida Mowbray (as The Spirit of Purity); Renee Mowbray (as Bubbles); Constance Pendock (as Dante’s Beatrice); Marjorie Roach (as Nell Gwynn); Vera St. Clair (as Helen of Troy) and Ethel Warwick (as Cleopatra). Initially there were 20 young women, selected from over 5,000 applicants. They stood in sound-proofed glass-fronted rooms, working in shifts of two women to one character (I’m not sure how Bubbles and The Spirit of Purity fitted in), one week working from 10.00-13.00 and 19.00-23.00 and the other week from 13.00-19.00 (whihc I’m guessing was the busier shift.) They had a chaperone, and were managed by a Mr. Kimpton. Admission was 1/3d for adults and 8d for children. Nearly 750,000 people visited the Palace.

    See Mike Perkins & Bill Tonkin – Postcards of the British Empire Exhibition Wembley 1924 and 1925 (Exhibition Study Group, 1994), St Petersburg Times (27th March 1927) and The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (9th June 1924). Both newspapers are viewable online.

    All best

    Malcolm Barres-Baker
    Heritage Officer
    Brent Archives

  2. Thanks Malcolm. That’s fascinating stuff. Completely amazing that 750,000 people visited the Palace of Beauty – and what an eclectic mix of “beauties” they chose to portray! I’m pleased that this information is on the web. I can’t help thinking that Stella Pierres, Bobby Haseltine, Vera St. Clair, Dido Carter and the rest would be pleased to know that their names are still before the public.

    David

  3. Pingback: Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model versus the Modern Venus Competition | London Historitage

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