Perhaps you don’t know the name Elsie de Wolfe (ca 1859-1950). However, if you like Cole Porter maybe you have heard her other name, Lady Mendl. In the 1934 song “Anything Goes,” her athletic skills make a brief appearance: “When you hear that Lady Mendl standing up/Now turns a handspring landing up/On her toes/Anything goes.”
Originally aiming for the stage, de Wolfe reinvented herself as an interior designer in the 1900s. In the twenties she took steps toward greater respectability by marrying British diplomat Charles Mendl (although by all accounts she never ended her lifelong affair with theater producer Elisabeth Marbury). As her fame grew, she began appearing in advertisements for all kinds of products: cars, furniture, radios, carpets, laundry soap, and dishes. Some just mentioned her name. More common was a small image of her face or upper body, a cameo within the larger ad.
Looking through an index of women’s magazines, I found the first advertisement featuring de Wolfe in in 1920. The last appeared in 1947, when she was about 88 years old.
Although the images of de Wolfe are small, we get a sense of her personal style.
Her look is remarkably consistent. She favored short, light, waved hair. (She often died it blue, but you can’t see that that here) Pearls were a standard part of her outfit, as were headcoverings from the late twenties to the early thirties. However, you only get a sense of her role as a fashion trend setter in the image from 1931. I would love to know who designed that outfit.