Beauty, Changing the Game, Iconicity, and the Lady Gaga

Manolo says, the Manolo has been in the ferociously interesting conversation with his internet friend Eliza Wharton about the matters of beauty, style, and what makes someone the modern icon.

Over the course of this conversation, the Manolo has stated the few of his beliefs, which he will now deliver as the set of provocative Don Colacho style aphorisms:

1. Beauty is not negotiable.

2. If you are not blessed with beauty, change the game.

3. The best way to change the game is by being very different.

4. Great beauty can make you the icon, but beauty is neither necessary nor common among icons.

And now, for the explications:

Beauty is not negotiable

Elizabeth Taylor, Young and Old

'Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety'... ORLY?

The rules of feminine beauty cannot be changed, no matter how much we may wish that they could be. They are as immutable and as fixed as the stars in the heavens: youth, fecundity, symmetry, and the pleasing hip-to-waist ratio.

We may try to convince ourselves that there are other standards of beauty, but such attempts are pretty lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better about our relative lack of beauty.

As cruel as they seem, such statements say nothing about our worth as individuals, or our goodness, or our merit to our family or the world.

Physical beauty is the gift given without reference to merit.

Although, it is the strange gift that inevitably dissipates with age. And one may still be compelling even into oldest age, but one should not be confused: compelling and beautiful are not the same thing. Beauty is compelling, but often the compelling is not also beautiful.

Gloria Swanson, Young and Old

Gloria Swanson, First Beautiful, then Compelling


If you are not blessed with beauty, change the game.

Barbara Streisand Yearbook Picture

Voted Least Likely to Date James Brolin

As youthful beauty fades, or was perhaps never fully present, this is where the art and magic of contriving the desirable is found.

If you are not objectively beautiful, or are imperfectly beautiful, make the conversation about the beauty of your clothing, or your striking personality, your beautiful singing voice, or your intellectual merits. Change the game to more fully favor that which you possess or can acquire through canny means.

It is the opinion of the Manolo that making yourself desirable from the less than ideal position is much more interesting and intellectually satisfying than raw beauty itself. Although, sadly, perhaps never as innately appealing.

Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, 1973

The Game Has Been Changed.


3. The best way to change the game is by being very different.

Shocking Elsa Schiaparelli

Shocking Schiaparelli

By adopting the pose of radical difference, by seeming to reject the immutable standards of beauty, or by rejecting the conventions of society itself, one may achieve the sort of hocus pocus transmutation, one that convinces others of our desirability even as the level of our objective beauty remains unchanged.

This is the secret of most of the fashion icons that our friend Miss Eliza has cited in her post Thou Shalt Be Iconic…

As the Manolo has said, great beauty is inherently compelling. It stands out from the crowd and calls attention to itself. If one is not blessed with great beauty, one must seek other means of differentiation.

This is where fashion and the development of personal style can help.

Wallis Simpson Schiaparelli Lobster

Wallis Simpson wears Elsa Schiaparelli's Lobster Dress

Great beauty can make you the icon, but beauty is neither necessary nor common among icons

Isabella Blow, Fashion Icon

Isabella Blow, not beautiful but iconic.

The Manolo has in the past cited the curious example of the indisputably iconic Elizabeth Taylor, the supernal beauty who has the abysmal taste in clothing. Her iconicity has nothing to do with the clothing she wears; at the best, such things are merely the adjunct to her iconic beauty.

However if you are not Elizabeth Taylor, not even by the wildest stretch of the imagination, and you wish to become iconic, what must you do?

Try putting the lobster on your head…

Isabella Blow Lobster Hat


Isabella Blow Lobster Necklace


And now to address the special problem of Lady Gaga, the Manolo will quote the Salvador Dali.

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”

Lady Gaga Lobster Hat

Possibly the Idiot

The reason why the Manolo is hesitant to declare Lady Gaga the icon is that so much of her work is so identifiably derivative. First she was the Madonna, then she was the Roisin Murphy, and now, this week in Vogue, she is Isabella Blow, and for the Grammies it was back to Madonna.

The problem with the Lady Gaga as both the fashion icon and the pop star is that she clearly suffers from the Anxiety of Influence.