As a child I had very strong likes and dislikes. My propensity for all things bright and colorful turned my mother into a very concerned citizen. I’m only paraphrasing slightly when I say that she would swear I dressed myself up like a Christmas tree when left to my own devices, having taken after my grandmother, the family magpie. I realize now that the analogy of the Christmas tree must have made more sense in French because it doesn’t really hold much drama when uttered in English.
That said, she meant I had too great of an enthusiasm for color and textures to meet the criteria of a lady, classy and tasteful. She had me pegged right. I still think fondly of my mémé Nadia (Najla) Bittar as my inspiration with regards to fashion. Stories of her eccentric behavior and questionable moral fiber flit about here and there, as a child I knew a very different woman.
It was 1972, a Parisian living in Lebanon. She was a woman who would not rely on a single man, she lived a fabulous life. The rose pink baroque velvet sofa, the glass-topped dining table and chandelier, the fox stole, the sequined dresses. Last but not least, the caribou bedroom slippers with the kitten heel. As child of five I was mesmerized by the magical natural of this opulence. Oh, my mémé must have been Liberace’s fantasy muse. She was a free spirit and she never turned down anything that glittered or shined.
She traveled and brought back trinkets from faraway places, she regaled tales with the theatrical intensity of Gloria Swanson, one captivating story after another. While adults might have tsk’ed-tsk’ed, she was my hero. Dressed to the nines every time she left the house, she drank Johnny Walker Red, smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes, straightened and bleached her curly black hair blond, outfitted her golden arms and fingers in costume jewelry and wore a lot of heavy eye make-up.
She carried herself with a glamour to inspire and mesmerize the young and innocent. She broke every rule about the expectations of women’s roles along the way. I’m not saying everything she did was right but she certainly did it her own way. While no one may have ever heard of her, Nadia Bittar is my chosen feminist style icon.
Check out these additional contributing Fashionable Feminist Icon posts for inspiration:
Hedy Lamarr – Adventures in Refashioning