Lina Cavalieri was born on the 25th December, 1874 in Viterbo, Italy – the oldest of three children – her birth name Natalina coming from the Italian word ‘natale’ for Christmas.
Accounts of Cavalieri’s early life are generally unreliable but the consensus is that the family was impoverished so Lina was put to work at an early age and. after a series of other jobs began earning money as a singer. When combined with her natural beauty and a talent for performance, her voice led to stage performances, a short career as an opera singer on both sides of the Atlantic [1900-1916], and then work as an actress in a series of movies for various American and European film studios [1914-1920]. Along the way she attracted the attentions of a succession of men some of whom, as noted by her contemporary, the New Zealand born opera singer Frances Alda [1879-1952], played a role in furthering her career.
Cavalieri’s extraordinary beauty evoked all manner of legends.
It was generally accepted as truth that she had begun her career as a flower-seller in Rome. There an elderly marquis had seen her and discerned under her peasant dress a beauty that the whole world was to acclaim. Like Shaw’s Galatea, Lina repaid washing and feeding. The Marquis’s generosity ran, I believe, to an apartment and lessons in singing and dancing.
The last took Lina to Ronacher’s in Vienna, and out of reach of the Marquis. Success in Vienna sent her to Paris and the Folies Bergères, where she was billed as ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in Paris.’
When I went to Paris to study with Madame Marchesi, Cavalieri was all the rage. She was famous for her beauty, her jewels, and her lovers. She had already started her career in Grand Opera by singing Nedda, in Pagliacci, in Lisbon. She was not a success in it, however; though later, in Paris, she sang Fedora with Caruso. I remember going to the first performances thinking she would be laughable, instead of which I was impressed by her singing and acting. And she was unbelievably beautiful.
Frequently described as the ‘world’s most beautiful woman’, or ‘Venus on earth’, Cavalieri capitalised on her beauty and notoriety in a number of ways that give her a place in the history of Beauty Culture.
Between 1909 and 1914, she put her name to hundreds of beauty articles published in American newspapers under the general heading ‘My Secrets of Beauty’. I doubt they were written solely or largely by her.
MME. LINA CAVALIERI the famous beauty and the well-known grand opera soprano, who has made a life-long study of beauty culture, and has, indeed, herself worked out many recipes whose secrets are her own, has arranged to write for this newspaper a series of extremely interesting and valuable articles on the Secrets of Beauty.
The articles covered a wide range of topics and were later complied into a book of the same name, published in 1914. A number of similar beauty articles listed as hers also appeared in the Parisian magazine Femina.
Like other opera and movie stars, Cavalieri also did endorsements, although not as many as might be thought. It is possible that the scandals surrounding her relationships with men, particularly her second, brief marriage in 1910 to Robert Winthrop Chanler [1872-1930] – a member of the influential Astor family – may have been a limiting factor.
Her most lucrative endorsement was probably for Palmolive Soap which began in 1929 and continued through the 1930s.
Cavalieri also used her reputation as a great beauty to establish beauty businesses. In 1909, she opened a shop at 240 Fifth Avenue, New York to sell perfumes, powders and other cosmetics. Possibly set up to provide work for her brother Oreste, it does not appear to have lasted very long.
A more successful venture was the Lina Cavalieri Institut de Beauté and Académie de Coiffure that opened in Paris on the Avenue Victor Emanuel III in 1926.
Branches of the Paris business were also opened at the Hôtel Carlton in Cannes, the Grand Hôtel Roseraie in Biarritz and the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo. By 1931, Cavalieri also had an establishment in the French summer resort of Le Touquet.
Although Cavalieri and her third husband Lucien Muratore were photographed as actively involved in the business it is hard to know how engaged they were and it is possible that she was simply paid for her name. Cavalieri divorced Muratore in 1927 so presumably his part, if any, in the enterprise must have been short lived. If Cavalieri had a stake in the business I suspect that she left most of the day-to-day operations to others such as Monsieur Ficklinger the salon director in 1932.
Information on the beauty treatments offered at Cavalieri’s Institut de Beauté is fragmentary at best. From advertising we know that the salon provided hairdressing for men and women, massage and other beauty treatments as well as manicures and pedicures. I have found no evidence that she offered electrolysis which is unusual.
Also surprisingly, Cavalieri appears to have been against using high frequency currents in facial treatments, restricting its use to the scalp.
See also: High Frequency
If her book is to be believed, Cavalieri placed a great deal of faith in Swedish massage. Like others of her time she held the view that massage could build up or reduced body tissue depending on how it was practiced.
Give me an excellent masseuse and I could dispense with a doctor, except in some tremendous emergency. Thin shoulders can be plumped and fat shoulders can be reduced by massage. If they are thin a light massage, using a rotary movement of the palms of the hands, applying olive oil copiously, will gradually plumpen them. If they are fat the massage should be much deeper and more vigorous. The masseuse should knead as near the bone as possible.
See also: Massage Wrinkles and Double Chins
In addition to the use of massage in body treatments, Cavalieri considered gentle massage to be an important preventative in the fight against age lines.
For half my life I have had my face massaged frequently, and for many years I have had it massaged every day. With what result? That my face is absolutely free from lines. That my complexion is smooth and absolutely free from blemishes.
Along with massage Cavalieri placed great store in the rejuvenating powder of electricity and it played a role in a number of her therapeutic practices.
The signature electrical treatment of the salon appears to have been the Masque de Beauté. Rather than being used alone, it formed one part of a facial routine designed to firm the throat, sharpening the jaw and reducing facial lines.
Study the drooping cheek muscles and you will notice that they are apt to sag from the cheek over the edge of the lower jawbone, and try to melt in an ungraceful way into the neck. This is not to be permitted. The jawbone should keep its thin, fine edge to the end of life. The nearer it is like a razor edge in sharpness the nearer you are to keeping the facial line of youth.
The treatment began by positioning the client, dressed in a kimono, on a comfortable chaise-longue. She was then given a bar electrode to hold and an electric roller was then used to firm the throat. This was followed by a session with a ball electrode to reduce the ‘smile lines’ that appear in the naso-labial fold and expression lines that appeared between the eybrows.
The ball electrode was then covered with a chamois and used around the eye area to reduce any signs of ‘crow’s feet’.
The Masque de Beauté – a device made up of a chinstrap with two long pads of leather to support the throat and chin along with two small ropes that run from the lips to the nostril – was then positioned over the face after it had been treated with an astringent.
Also see: Straps, Bandages and Tapes.
The electrical current was turned on and the client was left to relax for 20 minutes while the treatment did its work. After the mask was removed the client was then treated with ice on the cheeks, lips, chin and forehead to help close the pores.
I can only guess what role electricity played in these treatments but given that Rumkhorf coils were used in the salon, to generate high-voltage pulses from the direct (galvanic) current, it is possible that the treatments combined electrically-stimulated muscle contraction (roller) with cataphoresis.
See also: Iontophoresis and Desincrustation
Electrically-generated muscle contraction appears to also have been used in salon weight-loss treatments.
As well as the procedures previously mentioned the only other salon treatment that I know of combined steam generated using rose water with exposure to purple/blue light, again a common treatment of the time.
Lina Cavalieri cosmetics were sold through the various salons that operated in her name. They were also available from some other French outlets such as the Parfums d’Isabey shop at 20 Rue de la Paix, Paris and were retailed across the Atlantic by a few American Department stores such as Wanamakers in New York.
Cavalieri followed the French tradition and named most of her skin-care cosmetics by number. American advertising suggest that Monna Lina was the main fragrance used to scent them. Monna Lina – a ‘tribute’ to the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), painted by Leonardo da Vinci [1452-1519] – and Cavalieri’s cheaper Nuit de Chypre were created by Parfums d’Isabey, founded in 1924 as the Sociéte Parisienne d’Essences Rares et de Parfums in Paris.
Cavalieri’s skin-care creams were described as being used in Oléothérapie (Oil therapy). Essentially this meant using certain oils and herbs – supposedly employed by ancient Greek and Roman women – to create products based on ‘wonderful recipes from antiquity’ that were reformulated using modern techniques. These could penetrate the pores, facilitate ’skin breathing’, remove toxins and provide nourishment, all common themes of the time.
Four of her skin-care products received special attention: Crème No. 2 for dry skin, containing a distillate of white water lilies; Crème No. 3 for oily skin, made with essence of Florentine irises; Crème No. 6, an anti-wrinkle skin food made with juniper berry extract; and Gelée Camphrée No. 5, a camphorated jelly also used as a skin regenerator.
The only other skin-care product that I am aware of was Lotion Onctueuse No. 7 which may have been an astringent.
Cavalieri also developed a fairly comprehensive make-up range of make-up that included face powders, rouge, lipsticks and nail polish. One advertisement suggests that her face powders came in twenty-six shades but the shade ranges for each of these products has eluded me.
She also sold eye make-up including Fard pour Cils, Fard Kohl and Fard Hindou. I have been unable to determine exactly how these were differentiated but it appears that her Fard Kohl and Fard Hindou were both mascaras but of different colours: Fard Kohl being black while Fard Hindou was sepia/brown.
The French business survived Cavalieri’s divorce to Muratore in 1927 but was abandoned sometime in the second half of the 1930s and gazetted as wound up in 1938.
By the time the Paris business had closed its doors for the last time, Cavalieri was living in Florence, Italy. Sadly, she was killed during an Allied air raid on the city in 1944.
|1909||Perfume and cosmetic shop opened at 240 Fifth avenue, New York.|
|1926||Paris salon opened at 61 Avenue Victor Emanuel III.|
|n.d.||Paris salon closed.|
|1938||French business liquidated.|
15th January 2018
Alda, F. (1937). Men, women and tenors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Armstrong, A. (1908). Lina Cavalieri, the famous beauty of the operatic stage. Munsey’s Magazine, 39(1), April, 77- 78.
Cavalieri, L. (1914). My secrets of beauty. New York: The Syndication Syndicate, Inc.
Cavalieri, L. (1927). L’art de s’embellir. Femina, February, 11-15.
Fryer, P. & Usova, O. (2004). Lina Cavalieri: The life of opera’s greatest beauty, from 1874 to 1944. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Inc.