Tips from the Original Beauty Guru
I am fascinated with the health and beauty regimes of beautiful women. Two years ago I took a trip to Austria (to this day, still one of my favourite countries, more on that HERE). It was there that I learned of Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s beauty regime and became obsessed! The Empress, Sisi, reminded me of myself, with her obsession over physical perfection and love of travel. Legend has it she was so obsessed with beauty, that she resolved to surround herself only with other beautiful women. She even compiled a book of beautiful women from around the globe and called to the ministries of other countries to send in pictures of their most beautiful women. Sisi, like myself had long, curly brown hair, although hers reached all the way to the floor. She too loved trying out new beauty practices, which at the time meant home remedies, rather than filing your Sephora basket with new releases and having them arrive at your door the next day.
Apparently Siri was a stunningly beautiful and sad woman who spent most of her time obsessing over and trying to maintain her looks, she never had her picture painted, or taken after the age of thirty-two, so she would always be remembered for her beauty as it was in her prime! What a diva, I love it. The Empress had a strange, time consuming and seemingly uncomfortable beauty regimen, which allegedly kept her from ever looking over the age of thirty (she was twice that when she died).
Sisi’s hair came all the way down to her feet, so long and heavy she would often complain of headaches. Her hair took three hours to style in the morning (and I thought my hair was time consuming!). Which consisted of Sisi standing over a white silk cloth while her hairdresser brushed her hair, she was forbade from wearing rings and Sisi insisted the hairdresser wear gloves while working with her tresses. Any hairs that fell out were to be presented to her in a silver bowl, to which she was described as throwing a fit over if too many came loose. Her hair was washed twice a week with egg whites and cognac (as well as onions & balsamic according to some sources) and the process took the entire day. I once read in a beauty magazine that mayonnaise could be used as an at-home remedy for dry hair. I remember trying to wash it out, took me about five washes it was so greasy! She used a perfume, which was made specifically for her by Creed (and still available today for purchase, I nearly lost it when I learned this!!) called Fantasia de Fleurs, even the name sounds positively romantic, doesn’t it? If anyone needs any birthday/Christmas gift ideas for yours truly you can find it at the Holts Creed counter (wink & a nudge).
Elisabeth had some interesting theories on skincare, although if she truly did maintain the face of a thirty year old into her sixties, I am certainly more than willing to try out a few of these.
Sisi misted her face with rose, or lavender water toners to prevent against inflammation and infection. I use the Lush Eau Roma Water Toner morning & evening after washing my face. The toner is made with both lavender and rose water, it’s so refreshing, this is definitely one of Sisi’s lovelier recommendations.
Elisabeth loved experimenting with different skincare ingredients. She was recorded using many different moisturizers.
Though Sisi herself did not wear makeup (and apparently looked down upon those who did) she did use a cold cream. I received this Kate Sommerville Cold Cream Moizsturizing Cleanser & Makeup Remover sample from Sephora which is used as a moisturizing makeup remover. I love the concept of a moisturizing makeup remover. I worry about too much physical attention paid to the thin skin around my eyes which can be the first place to show signs of ageing. A cold cream moisturizes and plumps the skin while you gently remove makeup to prolong the elasticity of the delicate skin around your eye and prevent wrinkles from forming there. Considering Sisi’s extended time looking youthful, I’m honestly willing to try just about anything she did.
I read that she wore a “Crème Celeste” and googled to find out more about it. I found out Lush makes a Celestial Moisturizer (Crème Celeste in French) and I could not run out to the nearest Lush fast enough to get my hands on the same cream Sisi used. However, they are not exactly the same, the ingredients in Elisabeth’s cream include white wax, spermaceti (named for the sperm whale, not the other stuff, but still a waxy substance found in their head, so still kind of questionable), almond oil and rose water. The Lush version does contain almond oil, which I happen to be obsessed with – amazing for moisturizing. The Lush Celestial Moisturizer is a dream! You can barely feel it, its like dipping your hand into a cloud. It is a little on the oilier side, despite being so light, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it is great if you have dry/dehydrated skin like myself.
After learning that Sisi travelled with a heard of goats so that she could take goat milk baths (the life of an Empress, right!) I became obsessed with the idea of goat milk beauty products, which is when I discovered Kate Sommerville, I use the Kate Sommerville Goat Milk De-Puffing Eye Balm (I also love her Goat Milk Moisturizer & Goat Milk Moisturizing Cleanser).
Sisi also used a rose moisturizer. I like the Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Face Cream, not the best value for money, as I found I used it up quite quickly in comparison to my other moisturizers (namely the Celestial Cream above which lasted forever). Though, it’s still a very nice, light moisturizer, I definitely recommend it for warmer, humid months. Personally, I need something with a bit more weight during cold, dry Toronto winters.
Elisabeth was a big fan of masks. To bed she wore a leather, or silk sleep mask lined with veal, or crushed strawberries mixed with vaseline (can you imagine the terrifying sight her husband would endure upon accompanying her to bed!?).
I have been using the Lush Mask of Magnaminty, which contains honey to moisturize after hearing she applied honey to her cheeks. It is a refreshing mask, with peppermint which can lift your mood. The oatmeal helps to exfoliate and it is also very easy to wash off.
Sisi wore egg white face masks, so I tried the Too Cool for School Egg Cream Mask Pore Tightening. I’m not totally into sheet masks- although considering Elisabeth’s nighty veal and leather masks, perhaps she herself would love them. I did’t mind this mask though. I don’t know so much about pore tightening, which I am on an endless mission to succeed in, despite objections that pore size is genetic. My pores did look less visible following this mask.
Sisi would take a cold shower in the morning and a warm olive oil bath at night to preserve her skin. I use the Lush Olive Branch Shower Gel with olive oil – to moisturize while cleansing. She would also have full body hay wraps to keep her skin soft.
The Empress was as obsessed with her weight as she was her beauty. At 5’8″ she kept her weight at only 110lbs (her lowest ever being a terrifying 97.5lbs). Her waist with a corset measured only 16″ and her hips 24″. In addition to her exercise and diet which I’ll go into later, she would take steam baths to prevent weight gain and slept with cloths soaked in violet- or cider-vinegar above her hips to keep her waist slim. Her neck was wrapped in cloths soaked in Kummerfeld-toned washing water.
For her posture she had massages often and would sleep without a pillow on a metal bedstead. How on earth this woman slept through the night is beyond me, she was certainly not the inspiration for The Princess and the Pea.
Arguably the saddest obsession of Sisi’s was that of her weight, for which she weighed herself up to three times in a single day. Though she was never diagnosed, likely due to the time, she most certainly would have been treated for anorexia by today’s standards. She rarely ate in front of others and would go days without eating. If her weight threatened to exceed 110 lbs she would put herself on a starvation diet consisting of beef broth, or milk, oranges, sorbet and eggs. Occasionally she would have milk and biscuits and white bread. She allegedly kept a caloric intake of that of a jokey in training (as little as 1200 per day from my research). Her one indulgence were the Candied Violets sold at Demel, a cake shop in Vienna where the ladies of high society would gather for hot chocolate. I picked up a box while visiting there.
Sis would rise at 5am to start her day with exercise. She had a full gymnasium in her summer house, Schönbrunn. She would work out fully corseted! It was frowned upon and considered unladylike for her to practice gymnastics. I happen to love this about her, not only was I a gymnast growing up, but I love Sisi’s will to do what she pleased despite the thoughts of others. She loved to ride horses and was at one time one of the best, however it was said that she rode too hard and there were concerns regarding her health. She would also go for long walks to burn off calories, up to 10 hours!
I hope you enjoyed this piece on Sisi. Personally I find her absolutely fascinating and find her very relatable. If you visit Vienna (which you absolutely must – it’s like Paris without the French, though I do kid, Paris Ilu, David Frost said it, not me) definitely go for a visit to the Hofburg Palace & Schönbrunn to learn a bit more about Sisi. Also go for hot chocolate & apfelstruddle at Demel & get yourself a box of candied violets, the experience will have you feeling as glamorous & as a melancholic empress.