Gee, it’s great to be hidjus!
Source: ‘The Nose Ring Fad: 1913’
1.- Who was Émilie Marie Bouchaud (aka Polaire)?
Born at the crossroads of Agha, near Algiers, she moved with her family to Paris in 1889. She was sent back to her grandmother in Algiers after the death of her sister Lucile, but she ran away to rejoin her mother in France in September 1890. However, she preferred to avoid her mother’s partner and approached first her brother Edmond (the only suvriving sibling of 11 brothers). Edmond had already gained some fame as a café-concert singer under the name of Dufleuve, and thanks to his support she auditioned successfully for her first job as a café singer. Aged about 17 as debutant, Polaire never left her mother when success led her to tour around the world.
A comedic actress, Polaire became one of the major celebrities of her day and later, as cinema developed, appeared in several films. Polaire’s career in the entertainment industry stretched from the early 1890s to the mid-1930s and encompassed the range from music-hall singer to stage and film actress. Her most successful period professionally was from the mid-1890s to the beginning of the First World War.
It seems that she was a real muse for many artists, as those who painted her include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Antonio de La Gandara, Leonetto Cappiello, Rupert Carabin, Mme. Dreyfus Gonzales and Jean Sala.
2.- The art of Singularity
We have chosen Polaire as our third Ambassador of Singularity because she was a person far ahead her time in many facets. She was a courageous, independent woman and a fighting spirit that had strong convictions and involved herself in wartime fund-raising efforts. Polaire was not scared of swimming against the tide and making the most of her talent and peculiarities, proving an enthralling personality through her behavior, attitude and image.
Regarding the photo above, remember that photographic retouching was quite very common in the 19th century. In any case, there is no need to say that Polaire’s was a trained tight-lacer who achieved an incredibly tiny waist.
Jean Lorrain said of her (La Ville Empoisonnée. Paris: Jean Cres. p. 279.):
Polaire! The agitating and agitated Polaire! The tiny slip of a woman that you know, with the waist slender to the point of pain, of screaming out loud, of breaking in two, in a spasmically tight bodice, the prettiest slimness … And, under the aureole of an extravagant masher’s hat, orange and plumed with iris leaves, the great voracious mouth, the immense black eyes, ringed, bruised, discoloured, the incandescence of her pupils, the bewildered nocturnal hair, the phosphorus, the sulphur, the red pepper of that ghoulish, Salome-like face, the agitating and agitated Polaire!
What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-mill and what a belly-dancer! Yellow skirt tucked high, gloved in open-work stockings, Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly, mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls…trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows, faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud.
Throughout her career Polaire proved to be gifted when using her appearance to raise awareness. There is no doubt that her striking appearance, both on and off stage, contributed to her celebrity.
- She pioneered fashion trends: in fact she wore very short skirts and also cropped her hair in her early days as a café singer in the 1890s, fashions that did not become common in the rest of society until the 1920s.
- She knew how to take advantage of her uncommon charm, even nurturing her ‘exoticism’: she wore unusually heavy eye makeup, deliberately evocative of the Arab world.
- Canon of beauty? At a time when tight-lacing among women was in vogue, she was famous for her tiny, corsetted waist, which was reported to have a circumference no greater than 16 inches (410 mm). This accentuated her large bust, which was said to measure 38 inches (970 mm).
- She did not fear courting controversy, playing with ‘the bizarre’ at her will: For her 1910 supposed “debut” in New York she provocatively allowed herself to be billed in the advance publicity as “the ugliest woman in the world” and departing on a transatlantic liner she was apparently accompanied by a ‘black slave’. Returning to America in 1913, she brought a diamond-collared pet pig, Mimi, and wore a nose-ring.
- Glamour, luxury, success: talk of her figure and her lavish overdressing in fur coats and dazzling jewels preceded her appearances wherever she went.
If you want to learn more about Polaire we recommend you this website written in French Language: Polaire.