My birthday fell due last week, and as all birthdays do, it fell, took place and passed. But this nonentity of a birthday, ostensibly a nothing year, arrived on an ill-wind, one that ruffled my middleageing feathers in most unexpected fashion.
For this “unremarkable” birthday has dragged me kicking and screaming to Forte-nine, to the unwelcome fear of fifty, to all that this age brings – and all it takes away – described masterfully (or mistressfully?) by Erica Jong.
If truth be told, I have anticipated this age with some trepidation, articulated now and again, to The Beta Boys. Handsome and mid-life to a letter, this small but perfectly formed group of male friends annoyingly seem just to improve with age. Consequently, they show too little sympathy and gain too much amusement from my predicament. Until finally, heavily disguised, something constructive. “G darling, you need a makeover.”
Shocked and not a little affronted, I placed this observation temporarily on the bar (yes of course we were barside.) Should I take it as gift – or offence? But when it comes to Boys, one simply doesn’t get this candour from the Alpha sort and for that I have learned to be grateful. So I took the statement home and inspected it – and me – from every angle. The conclusion: a harsh comment, well meant and necessarily made.
So where to start? I’m the kind of girl that takes pride in getting things done and making things happen but this somewhat left field, loaded proposition left me flummoxed. Take it at face-value I thought. There’s a start. And so it was to my immediate appearance that attention became focused.
The Beauty business is relatively unexplored territory for me; in my twenties, I didn’t need to give it much thought, although leaving the house without mascara has always been unthinkable. But that’s pretty much the start and finish of the matter. Later, with small children there simply wasn’t time. And so any routine, or habit as such, fades along with a little bit of self-esteem and, with unhappy synchronicity, one’s looks. But the process is so incremental, we don’t really notice, until we start to feel, well, less good about ourselves.
Having arrived in this unexpected and uncertain place, I examine in infinite detail the person staring back from the mirror. Whilst the reflection is an undeniable testament to a less than exemplary lifestyle, it’s not half as bad as it could or indeed should be. Wrinkles: negligible thanks to an Olive Oil diet. Skin tone: patchy (Vino Rosso.) Hair: dry as hell (Marlborough Menthol.) On balance: not bad, could be better.
A plan is hatched and I embark on Phase One: the new hairdresser. My antennae take me up Pitfield Street to Francesco Picardi, a youthful, expressive Italian who, whilst trawling through my arid roots and ends, explains that this is not an overnight process. This will take a few weeks, if not months, because: “There is damage here. You cannot expect a plant to flourish without water, and look what you have done to your hair!” Ah.
And so to work. Francesco uses a conditioning colour. Then he conditions and conditions again; he trims and grooms my frayed fronds and puts something in the hairdryer that conditions a bit more. All of this is delivered with an attention-rich, high-pamper-factor, effervescent charm that out-sparkles the fabulously chilled Prosecco he serves. I depart in possession of yet more conditioning potions and firm instructions as to how to use them. Four weeks later: smoother, softer hair. Not yet perfect, but definite, tangible progress!
Phase Two: to a favourite shopping spot, the Brunswick Centre. Here, Space NK offers civilised face-care and gentle make-up advice, provided by attractive, serene, approachable women who have been plucked from a different planet to the abrasive, over-bronzed, over-lashed and over-pouted Cruella Cosmeticians of the West End.
An advisor takes me in hand. She examines my skin and declares it to be in generally good shape, just a few broken veins to manage. I blame scooter and bicycle use that subjects my woefully unprotected face to direct weather attack (a far more palatable explanation than red wine, after all.)
She patiently explains the advantages of SPF 46 and demonstrates the benefits of Chantecaille Fond de Teint, how to brush and blend … and blow-me-down, it makes a delightful difference. Encouraged and inspired, I buy.
Two weeks later, accustomed to the foundations of this new regime, I find myself passing the Mac store in Brighton, and with uncharacteristic spontaneity for a shop-o-phobe, I enter. Spotting uncertainty in my eyes, the young, characterful and utterly professional Beth steps forward and kindly quizzes my intent.
I warm to Beth straight away. About 19 years old, she’s all done up in a brave and beautifully blooming way. Indeed, during our very engaging session, we discuss the merits of two-wheeled transport and she observes: “If I were a scooter, I’d be a pink Vespa.” Indeed, lovely Beth, a Pink Lady is exactly what you are and in such a good way, too.
Beth charms me into buying the new eye make-up that she has already applied with discretion, care and expertise; mascara that’s the best I’ve ever used and lip colour that I wouldn’t have dared even try, but which offers surprising and welcome rejuvenation. I smile. Oh, how I smile.
It wasn’t all this smooth, dear reader; I should mention my encounter with Sisley, whose make-up advisor turned out to be a fashion student, whose only exposure to the tricks of the make-up trade was watching his Mum. He wielded his applicator brush as though it were a garden trowel and powdered my face to within an inch of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Those were very expensive products I wasn’t persuaded to buy.
Generally though, my modest make-up excursions have made a positive impact, perhaps noticed only by me. But that’s enough, because this is all mine. Mornings have become enriched as I dip into my little pots of pleasure, my gleaming containers of colour. Whilst hardly a face-changer, this tiny, yet transforming ritual, this blurring of reality is a new and exciting thing and sets me on my day with a firmer step and a happier outlook. More plans are afoot but suffice to say, this has become a hugely enjoyable work in progress.
To conclude, I have a renewed spring in my step, thanks for which are due of course, to my lovely advisors, but most of all to the eternally candid Beta Boys. No middleaging Beauty should be without them.
Or, for that matter, without that fearless, timeless, exemplar Erica Jong.
© Giovanna Forte