For me there are only two kinds of women; goddesses and doormats.’ These are the words Picasso addressed to Françoise Gilot. He was 61, a famous artist and a self-styled sexual ‘minotaur’; she was a 21-year-old student. They were about to embark on an affair.
It was a callous assessment, but an accurate one. Picasso tended to deify his lovers, then trample them. Of the seven most important women in his life, two killed themselves, two went mad and one died of TB four years into their relationship. But as his daughter by Gilot, Paloma Picasso, remarks: ‘People were happy to be consumed by him. They thought it was a privilege. If you get too close to the sun it burns you. But the sun can’t help being the sun.’
For an insight into Picasso’s extraordinary relationship with his muses as well as his other inspirations, I urge you to go to the National Gallery’s Picasso exhibition. Titled Picasso: Challenging the Past, it is a marvellous and revealing show.
Perhaps the painter’s most intriguing consort was Dora Maar, the raven-haired masochist he first met in the Café les Deux Magots, where she sat stabbing a knife between her gloved fingers till she drew blood. He kept the gloves and painted her incessantly until he was distracted by Gilot’s youthful charm.
The exhibition also illuminates Picasso’s relationships with the themes and techniques of earlier painters like Velázquez and Rembrandt.
If you do go to the gallery, make sure you go to its café before you leave: their sponge cake is one of the best in London. Which makes it one of the more stylish places to spend an afternoon – and a useful date location.
Where Picasso wanted to tear reality apart, I’ll settle for tearing up my jeans. Hip LA brand Current Elliot is scalding hot right now, with denims that come in three stages of distress: Easy Love, Super Loved and Super Love Destroy. They’ve already been spotted on the tushes of everyone from Rachel Bilson to SJP.
This summer we are set to be channelling the 1980s. To make sure I stay more Balmain and less Bonnie Tyler, I went to South Kensington to catch up with Donna Ida in her eponymous boutique. Allaying my concern over the coming vogue for shorter trouser lengths, Donna says: ‘Those city shorts women wear in dark colours cut close to the leg are a disaster. They make you look FAT. These ones, with soft roll-ups, make your thighs look super-skinny.’ That, in a nutshell, is why I adore Donna.
I leave her shop with some three-quarter length, low-rise boyfriends. Such a shame she only does trousers. With her fitting skills, she could run the best dating agency in town. A friend is having a party round the corner at Vendome on Walton Street and the excellent martinis dissipate any post-shopping guilt. Unprompted, the DJ even hit us with a burst of 1980s classic, Money for Nothing. As Paulo Coelho says, sometimes the universe conspires with you. In my Elliots I am bang on trend.
It is one thing to have your denim destroyed, another thing your epidermis. Most Gorgeous Girlfriend has been looking especially radiant of late, but my current cycling addiction is doing nothing for my complexion. She drags me off to the Elemis Day Spa in Mayfair – not that I need much persuasion – to share her secret pick-me-up, the Tri-Enzyme Facial.
After an hour of deliciously scented masks and massage I feel fantastic, and when the therapist Amanda hands me the mirror I nearly drop it. The years have rolled off. Apparently the trick is to follow the facial with regular applications of an anti-wrinkle pen (I kid you not), which immediately smoothes your skin. I am sold. Meanwhile MGG buys every jar of Pro-Collagen Body Serum they have in the store. ‘It lifts everything,’ she explains. ‘Which really makes it the best sort of investment.’
Probably it is as good as any other investment these days. We leave the spa congratulating each other on our forward planning. Summer’s not far away after all and if you’re going to wear shredded clothing, the least you can do is look good through the holes.
On the subject of lifts, if you fancy a quick boost of your spirits, go to YouTube and check out the video for Bananarama’s Venus. You remember: ‘Goddess on the mountain top, burning like a silver flame... She’s got it, Yeah baby she’s got it...’. Three minutes of pure 1980s abandon, with plenty of stonewashed denim – which, unlike the Elliots, will cost you nothing. What’s not to love?
Original article published in The London Magazine, in April, 2009