We’re going to Asia today. My journal entry took shape as I sat smelling of Fresh Sake perfume and sipping a cup of Le Palais des Thes Fleur de Geisha tea, home from a rare winter, backroads walk on this balmy, sunny afternoon.
Not Just Business
Asia was wonderful to me. I made a great effort to understand her ways, and she rewarded me for my patience.
Saturated in sensory stimulation this afternoon, I reflected on the more overtly restrained approach to sensuality, ingrained in Asian cultures.
Beauty is different in Asia, born of discipline, training, deference and great subtlety. Stern on the surface, it reflects another vision, if one looks deeply beyond the artifice.
No Can Can Dancers
Asia lacks the luscious, bonbon effects of Paris or even Bangkok, with its French Indochine influences.
In some ways, she reminds me of the big tree that grabbed me along my walk today. It was a towering fir tree with a terrible wound, a hideous scar of missing branches, right where its face should be. A saw, not a sword, gouged out its eyes, but the effect was harsh and brutal.
Dismayed by the gaping hole in such an otherwise beautiful, important tree, I remember supreme geisha Mameha’s words to the young Chiyo, as she embarks on her demanding, rigorous geisha transformation in the 2005 movie Memoirs of a Geisha:
“Agony and beauty live side by side.”
Lessons to Learn
In this scene from Memoirs of a Geisha, Mameha instructs Chiyo on the path to becoming a true geisha, a woman who can stop a man in his tracks with a single look.
The 2008 Pirelli calendar is another exquisitely beautiful example of a sophisticated, elegant, erotic tension. Please note that all the photos in this year’s calendar are child proof. Celebrate its sensual beauty, but a cautionary word for the website.
Pirelli maintains a fantastic archive of past calendars, offering us an interesting look at female sexuality, design and culture since the 60s. Be advised, not all photos are kid proof. Nor do I want to offend any readers.
I believe the calendar has always been produced in wonderfully good taste. It springs, nevertheless from European creativity, one that finds us Americans to be unusually puritanical, when it comes to sensual art photography.
This gorgeous video about shooting the 2008 Pirelli Calendar in China is an inspiring look at a more restrained, grownup sensuality, one so different from déclassé, 2007 American frat girl Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
Contained and Restrained
Creating a more constrained, yet exquisite beauty is the artistic gift of my Chinese American friend Pak-hing Kan.
Pak-hing created the most fabulous lingerie prints for me, in my Victoria’s Secret days. We shared a passion for creating an elevated, sensual beauty in the lingerie, and American women couldn’t get enough of it. The brand is barely recognizable now, but American men actually stood in line for over an hour, waiting to enter the store, knowing that only one box was desired under the Christmas tree. (See VS update at end of article.)
I have not seen Pak-hing for about five years, and she doesn’t know that I’m coming to her New York gallery opening on Wed. night. I was the privileged recipient of her first ceramic box, and I now gush with pride over the evolution of her imagination, creativity and talent.
Admiring her ceramic boxes of New York, I remark that her creations come from the same sensual soul, as the scenes and photos in the 2008 Pirelli Calendar and movie Memories of a Geisha.
It is the beauty of a felt restraint, an experienced, patient love and respect.
Whisper Not Shout
Asian beauty is not grounded in denial or avoidance, but in a highly-developed sensitivity. This quiet heart recognizes the aching beauty of old, wounded trees and harbors a private sensuality, simmering quietly, just waiting to be discovered and unleashed by an impassioned lover.
I could commission Pak-hing to create a ceramic box of 90 West Street, certain to become my most treasured possession. Then again, I had best find a really rich lover who will buy it for me for Christmas.
Like so many Asian businesswomen, my friend Pak-hing is an astute, shrewd businesswoman, when it comes to financial negotiations.
I must remind her that I no longer fly in a private jet.
Anne update on July 4, 2009. Shortly after I wrote ‘Restrained Beauty’, executives at Victoria’s Secret stated publicly that the brand has lost its way from an aesthetic standpoint. I would not write the same negative critcisms of the VS design today. At the same time, I take credit for being honest with Victoria’s Secret, along with numerous other writers, that the brand was out of control in Jan. 2008.