Friday, August 23, 2013

Inspired By Literature: Renée Vivien's La Dame à la Louve

When I began to see promotional images for Tom Ford's fall shadow palette She Wolf (review forthcoming) I immediately began to think of my favorite French short story, Renée Vivien's La Dame à la louve. In French the word louve means "she wolf," but it's one of the many words in the French language that seems to carry a certain weight. Indeed it's not just a word, it's a concept. What does louve mean to you? When I think of a "she wolf" there is no negative connotation, rather the implication of an awesome almost dangerous power capable of standing alone even in a vast wilderness (both literal and figurative).

Renée Vivien's La Dame à la louve features such a woman. This woman, cold and strong, is traveling with her loyal wolf and encounters aboard her ship a man who is vain enough to believe that he can possess her. The story is told from the perspective of this man, who views la dame à la louve as a form of entertainment, after all (as he repeats to us many times) she is the only woman aboard. Yet there is something other worldly about this woman. The more she stands alone and rejects the advances of her vain suitor, the more he describes her in terms more fit for her lupine companion than for an attractive young woman.
"Ses yeux jaunes ressemblaient à ceux de sa louve. Ils avaient le même regard d'hostilité sournoise. [...] Ses dents de fauve brillaient étrangement sous les lèvres au menaçant retroussis."  
"Her yellow eyes resembled those of her pet wolf. In them there was the same expression of sly hostility. [...] Her teeth, like those of a wild animal, flashed unsettlingly behind menacingly curled lips." - Renée Vivien 
(Top to bottom): Dior Incognito Addict Extreme Lipstick, Chanel Culte Rouge Coco Lipstick, Chanel Boy Rouge Coco Shine

One can imagine this woman: pale yellow green eyes, thin bloodless lips that are ready to part to reveal not a smile but a grimace and cheeks devoid of color. Despite his best efforts, what our masculine narrator fails to do is to render her unattractive. This woman is hauntingly beautiful, fearsome and independent. Her beauty is derived from the threat of her feminine power, the fact that she so closely mirrors her companion: the lone hunting prowess of a dog captured on the face of an almost animalistic looking woman who is unafraid to reject the advances of a man. 

(Clockwise from top center): NARS Douceur Blush, Sin Blush and Penny Lane Cream Blush

I've selected pale shades that suggest power and inherent strength rather than fragility. Hazy yet alluring hues of dust pink, rose and plum coupled with hues of taupe and grey mirror not only the hide of our dame à la louve's pet wolf, but also the woman's own spirit. 

(Left to right): MAC Hocus Pocus, Copperplate and Green Smoke Eye Shadows, Tom Ford She Wolf Palette

As far as I'm concerned, the narrator of Renée Vivien's La Dame à la louve has not only underestimated the young woman he meets aboard ship, but women in general. He overlooks the fact that she is far from being a weak woman with the appearance of being tame like her pet wolf. La dame à la louve stands alone, she is her pet wolf and the pet wolf is her. They are one in the same, lone and fearless. At the end of the short story this woman chooses to drown in a shipwreck with her wolf by her side rather than allowing herself to be rescued and separated from the fiercely loyal animal. If one reads this allegorically, you might go so far as to say that allowing herself to be rescued would be the same as allowing herself to be separated from her independent spirit (of which the wolf is undoubtedly symbolic). To the last the narrator attests that this is a sign of her weakness, but readers know otherwise.

Though this story is not at all uplifting, it speaks to the voracity of female strength and the tendency of others to underestimate it. It's a message I adore, despite the unsettling delivery.

What is your favorite short story? What kinds of colors would you associate with Renée Vivien's La Dame à la louve?