Sisi: Modern-day beauty tips from a 19th century Empress

I have been pretty much obsessed with Sisi – Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898) ever since I first saw her portrait in Vienna four years ago. Stunningly beautiful, with a tiny waist that even four pregnancies could not alter, a perfectly oval face, delicate features and sparkling eyes, it is not surprising that she was often compared to Titania, the fairy queen.

“How beautiful she is!” exclaimed the Shah of Persia when he first met her, abandoning all protocol. But then protocol was not something that ever bothered this non-conformist who was the most legendary beauty of her times and left a heritage of skincare and haircare that is indispensable even today. Actually, especially today.

sisi beauty secretsSisi’s sumptuous skincare secrets

Have I mentioned that Sisi was really, really beautiful? And that her skincare went from the romantic to the bizarre? Some of these recipes are simply decadent, like the strawberry face mask; while others are a bit gross, such as the raw veal she applied on her skin at night or the slug cream! For our purposes, we shall stick to the more can-do-in-the-21st-century-home stuff here.

Olive oil bath: Sisi took a warm olive oil bath every evening to keep her skin soft and smooth – a practise that’s lauded by spas till date. Olive oil contains vitamins A and E, which are intensely nourishing, along with a host of antioxidants that guard against environmental toxins. To make your own olive oil bath, simply pour a cup-full of virgin olive oil in the bathtub and fill with warm water. Or slather your body with warm (not hot) olive oil, leave it on for 5-10 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

sisi beauty secrets 5Face mists: Sisi relied heavily on rose or lavender face mists to protect her skin against inflammation and infections. Her favorite was violet vinegar, made from freshly picked violet blossoms, cider vinegar and distilled water: Layer the violet blossoms (or rose petals) in bottle and douse them with cider vinegar. Shut tightly and allow to infuse for two days. Then strain away the flowers and use the liquid to spritz your face.

Hay wraps: The Austrian Empress also enjoyed full body wraps made out of hay. Ironically, a number of luxury spas are now offering this as a “brand new” and “innovative” ritual to that fortifies the immune system and boosts metabolism!

Egg white face mask: A really simple and effective way of toning the complexion, Sisi’s favorite face mask needs 2 oz rose water, 1 oz milk, ½ oz grape juice, 5 drops frankincense essential oil and 2 whipped egg whites. Combine all ingredients, except the egg whites. When everything is well mixed, fold in the egg whites and immediately apply the paste to your face. Go to bed and rinse off in the morning.

Honey & strawberry face pack: To keep her complexion soft, Sisi would slather her cheeks with pure honey and crushed strawberries – thereby calling upon the effects of modern fruit acids that cleanse, exfoliate and brighten the skin. And that’s not all: this face pack also reinforces the skin’s resistance to environmental stress and strengthens its immunity.

Rose cream (my personal favourite!): History says that Sisi never left home without this rosy moisturizer. To prepare, crush 20-25 rosebuds and simmer them in a covered pan filled with 1/8th litre distilled water for 45 minutes. Add 50g lanolin and 20g fresh, unsalted butter; then put everything in a high speed blender till it becomes creamy. Keep in the fridge and apply to your face every morning for glowing skin.

And the ones you might want to skip…

Veal face mask: Sisi applied slices of raw veal to her face during the night, binding it with a leather mask that kept the meat in constant contact with her skin while sleeping. Gross as this sounds, dermatologists say it’s “not half bad”. The high vitamin C content has an anti-inflammatory effect, while the protein element (keratin) acts against skin ageing. Moreover, the meat gives skin a fresh look and neutralises harmful metabolites (free radicals). Lady Gaga, are you listening?

Slug cream: Again gross but it’s already making a comeback, with celeb proponents swearing by its skin-smoothing benefits. I have even found the original recipe for you: Put ½ kilo lard into water-bath, add 2 quintchen (fifths) marshmallow roots and 70g ground slugs. Let it stand for four hours to cool off. And then hop in! Weird much?

Sisi’s crowning glory… in royal style

sisi beauty secrets 3Sisi’s ankle-length hair was her pride and joy, even though it was so long and heavy that the weight often gave her headaches. She would sit on a low chair and a silk cloth would be placed beneath her hair while it was brushed. After dressing, braiding and pinning for hours, each one of the fallen strands had to be presented in a silver bowl to the Empress for inspection. This would last almost three hours, during which time Sisi kept herself busy by learning languages such as Hungarian and Greek.

Next, the royal coiffure was sprinkled with jewels – the most famous of which are the diamond stars made by the court jeweller Koechert. Finally, Sisi’s tresses were sprayed with Creed’s Fantasia de Fleurs EDP – a heady floral fragrance created specially for the Empress, with a regal bouquet of the best Bulgarian roses and Florentine irises.

Washing the Empress’s hair was another very time consuming operation, performed every fortnight with a mixture of cognac and egg yolk. Considering the length and volume of her tresses, it’s no wonder this ritual took an entire day!

Of Sisi’s 19-inch waist…

Sisi had a tiny 19-inch waist (gulp!), maintained with extremely rigorous exercise. The Empress was obsessed with gymnastics, which attracted a lot of criticism as women of this era simply did not sweat. She even had a gymnastics room installed at her palace and could often be seen dangling from the rings!

The Austrian Empress also took up fencing in her 50s. A fervent horsewoman, she rode every day for hours on end, becoming the world’s best female equestrian at the time. When she could no longer endure hours in the saddle due to gout, Sisi went for very long walks that could last up to 10 hours!

sisi beauty secrets 4At night, she was heavily massaged and slept with cloths soaked in either violet or cider vinegar, while her neck was wrapped with cloths soaked in Kummerfeld-toned washing water. In the last years of her life, Sisi became even more obsessive, weighing herself up to thrice a day. She began to live on a diet of fresh milk, egg whites, steak juice and fruit sorbet (better than the caffeine-and-coke diet of today’s celebs, at least!).

However, Sisi did have one indulgence: The Empress would wander through to Demel for boxes of candied violets. Today, she’s still immortalized on many chocolate boxes in Vienna. And in our hearts. Beautiful, extravagant, sweet and gracious, she was a woman way ahead of her times who spent her life yearning for a measure of happiness but never found it. She would have been happier married to a minor princeling but it was her fate to be Empress of Austria.

Today, the world remembers her as one of history’s most fascinating and beautiful women. Her life story has been the subject of several books (and there’s been a whole new slew of them lately!), movies (including a hugely popular trilogy starring Romy Schneider), musicals and even Karl Lagerfeld’s recent fashion collection for Chanel.

But, I wonder, if that’s consolation enough for a life only half-lived?

Meet Priyanka Chopra. Or should I say, Alex Parrish from Quantico?

The first time I met Priyanka Chopra, she was tucked away in one corner of an extremely chaotic dressing room, devouring an entire pizza. All by herself. Refusing to share. It was a shoot for Cosmopolitan (India) and the young actress was just then stepping into the limelight, riding a combined wave of authentic acting talent and stunning good looks. She was rapidly climbing up the starry pyramid – though still wasn’t anywhere near the point where one could call the shots in a male-dominated industry.

Not that this little bit about maledom and hierarchies and all that other stuff stopped her. Ms Chopra was cool as a cucumber as she chowed down her pizza, waved away the makeup artist while she took time out to help her younger brother with his maths homework and debated the storyboard for the photo shoot till she was completely satisfied. This within an industry where most stars don’t study the storyboard of an entire movie… Priyanka, it was pretty clear even then, was different. Very, very different.

At that point, more than a decade back, I really didn’t like this girl who was so different. There is a safety to interviewing cookie cutter celebs and Priyanka would simply not let you enjoy that comfort zone. She was louder than anyone else I knew in the industry, more vociferous, more challenging, more intelligent, more energetic… just, simply, more of everything.

And she was just simply so contradictory: tough as nails on the surface, yet fragile as glass when she let down her guard (look out for the “daddy’s li’l girl” tattoo on her wrist – it will break your heart); wearing relationships on her sleeve yet refusing to hang out her linen, dirty or otherwise, for magazine inches; chowing down junk food by the carton and yet remaining svelte as a beanpole; scared of heights and yet skydiving from 17,000 feet for fun… you are getting the idea?

And while it was annoying for me as an interviewer to deal with someone who refused to be pigeonholed into mere words, it is this contrariness that has taken Priyanka literally across the world and into the stratosphere. Today, she sings with Pitbull and runs around trees in fantasy-glam Bollywood fashion yet she also shares many of life’s toughest nuances with five-time world boxing champion Mary Kom, who was born to struggle as the daughter of a landless Indian farmer. Her animated Planes was considered for the Best Feature Film category at the 2014 Oscars, while she was busy promoting the cause of Girl Up, a campaign by the United Nations Foundation. Her single In My City, featuring will.i.am, debuted as the theme song for the NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, even as Matthew Bishop, the United Nations Foundation New York Bureau Chief, referred to her as the smartest Miss World.

And now there is Quantico: the mega-budget television blockbuster which propels Priyanka into the uppermost echelons of American television (winning her the People’s Choice award!), as Alex Parrish. Faces like Nimrat Kaur and Archie Punjabi notwithstanding, this is the first time an Indian actress has grabbed the totem pole in a mainstream television series as a central anchor point and not in a character role or a token Asian presence. Quantico literally revolves around Priyanka’s character, putting her front and centre in the living rooms of possibly those very same “mean girls” who bullied her as a “brownie” when she attended high school in Boston.

Priyanka, as usual, defies stereotyping and pigeonholing. And this time round, I can’t help but cheer for her from the rooftops for this leap of faith.

So, meet Priyanka Chopra: Indian actress, American television star, model, singer, United Nations Foundation ambassador, former Miss World. The new villain of the much awaited Baywatch movie. The second most searched for name during this year’s Oscars and part of the Top 10 Best Dressed lists in literally every publication that tracks fashion on the red carpet.

Combine this with the fact that she’s the first Indian woman to become and international Guess girl – shot for the campaign by none other than Bryan Adams – and you know that this 33-year-old has definitely arrived. With trumpets blaring.

Time then, to have a proper chat with this multifaceted enigma and figure out what goes on behind those doe eyes and how in the world does she look so gorgeous, all the time!

priyanka chopra quantico2

Priyanka Chopra in Quantico

When do you feel most feminine?

When I slip into my Snoopy pyjamas and do my nighttime beauty rituals – applying different kinds of lotions all over my body, brushing my hair and so on.

The secret behind that show-stopping figure?

Pizza! No, seriously. I love junk food and the pizza in Mumbai is so good. And French fries… sigh! That’s soul food. [I can vouch for this after having seen “Piggy Chops”, as she is known in Bollywood, scarf down a whole pizza pie on at least THREE different occasions!]

So that’s it, all the time? Really?

[Big sigh] I do mix up the junk eating with sprouts, raw veggies (especially fresh red carrots), steamed or stewed stuff and high fibre snacks. I am also obsessed with coconut water and can have any amount of it at any time in the day.

And that’s how you get such flawless skin?

That and the CTM method: Cleanse-tone-moisturize. Every single day. I also take multi-vitamins and drink a lot of water to keep my skin clear and healthy. Water is really important as it keeps skin moist and sweeps out toxins, which would otherwise clog your body and make everything look and feel sluggish.

Shot by Bryan Adams for Guess

Priyanka Chopra shot by Bryan Adams for Guess

Do you have a nightly beauty ritual?

I can’t go to bed without washing my face thoroughly. Skin won’t breathe or repair itself till all the pore-clogging grime and make-up comes off.

Any secrets to achieving your silky, shiny hair?

I really believe in indigenous kitchen recipes. Warm coconut oil massages are fabulous, as they keep my hair soft and supple while being relaxing as well. At various times, I also bring out the beer, eggs and yogurt for deep conditioning.

What’s the best part about being a woman?

That we get to dress up! On a more serious note, women are emotionally far stronger than men. We can deal with anything and everything without cracking up like most guys. And more than anything else, our capacity to become mothers: That’s truly the most beautiful thing god has bestowed on women.

Channelling Bollywood for Ram Leela

Priyanka Chopra channelling Bollywood for Ram Leela

What would you do if you were a guy for a day?

Nothing really. I don’t think there is anything that a guy can do that a woman cant. However, I would definitely like to live like Winston Churchill for a day. I want to know how it felt to live with such rigid ideals.

What should guys know about women?

That we love getting loads of attention, lots of sympathy and want to be with someone who understands our point of view. Guys are usually too focused on getting others to see things from their point of view, or in analyzing and solving our problems rather than just listening… and that just does not cut it for women!

What’s the biggest mistake that women make in a relationship?

Being too overbearing or possessive, and not giving any space to your guy.

Priyanka Chopra, India-style!

Priyanka Chopra, India-style!

Your kind of guy?

He will have to meet a long list of requirements. Sincerity, intelligence, good looks — so that our kids, all six of them, will be good looking. He has to be adventurous and spontaneous. A good sense of humour is a must and he should share my fetish for cleanliness. AND he should be understanding, give me my space. Asking for much… why, whatever gave you that idea?

What’s a perfect date?

To the moon and back!

Most romantic dream?

I want to have 6 weddings – all with the same guy! The first will be a typical Punjabi wedding in Ambala (India), with rituals that go on for 18-20 days and the whole extended family stays under one roof. The second will be in a small Mother Mary church in Locarno, Switzerland. The third will be underwater, while the fourth will be in Vegas with Elvis officiating. The fifth will be a nikaah, because I find the whole concept extremely romantic. And the sixth will be as my husband wants it.

Is it easy being a celeb?

I wish people would see an actress as someone who is also human. As a girl at heart who wants to do all the normal girly things, like standing in the rain and having an ice cream. It’s not always about the parties, the glitz and the glamour.

What’s the gutsiest thing you’ve ever done?

Skydiving from 17,000 feet at Locarno, Switzerland. I have always been terrified of heights and had promised myself that I would break the fear before I was 22-years-old.

Excerpted from an interview I did for Marie Claire

Deodorant as face primer? THAT’s how celebs look so flawless on the red carpet

Humid evenings are never a good match for alfresco dinner parties. And yet I keeping getting trapped into them over and over again. So, with makeup literally melting off faster than I could apply it, I decided to risk a truly bizarre beauty tip that I saw in action at the Cannes Film Festival last year – using deodorant as a face primer.

deodarant on faceSeriously! It sounds totally bonkers but works like a dream. The logic is simple: antiperspirants formulated to keep underarms dry should have the same effect when applied to parts of the face that have the most sweat glands. Yes, I am talking about the upper lip and hairline. Today, most celebs on the red carpet stay sweat-free under the glaring lights by applying clear, unscented deodorant to their face (with a foundation brush, in thin layers) before putting on makeup.

I did it yesterday and it totally worked – for the first time, my makeup actually stayed in place. But remember that deodorants were not exactly developed for use on facial skin, so test them a small patch before applying all over the face. And only use the unscented ones for this purpose – I used Dove, though I guess Nivea would work just as well!

What’s your most bizarre beauty tip?

12 seriously strange skincare secrets the experts swear by (I kid you not!)

Having beautiful, glowing, flawless skin is not always about rigorous dermatological treatments or expensive products. Sometimes, simple goes a longer way and every skincare pro I’ve ever spoken to has sworn by at least a couple of kitchen shelf DIYs they call upon in their own life. Some of these secret rituals are merely curious, while others are downright bizarre. But they are all underlined by serious doses of skincare science and the experts promise they perform miracles. So, here you go!

skincare tips1. Do shots… with chlorophyll: Don’t really relish those green juices and salads seem too much of a bother? Just stock up on liquid chlorophyll. This most essential of plant nutrients detoxifies the body, oxygenates the skin, boosts tissue repair, steps up digestion and restores our acid-alkaline ratio to keep the complexion clean, healthy and glowing from the inside out. Added bonus: It works fast and tastes like mint.

2. Order the guac: Or just go straight for the avocados, which are loaded with healthy fats and phytonutrients that nourish skin from the inside out and bring back your glow.

3. Bring on the beer: Beer isn’t just good for your hair, it’s also a powerful skin ally. All those B vitamins, hops, saccharides and yeast help dissolve dead cells, balance pH levels and bust acne-causing bacteria. Simply mix together half a cup of beer with one egg white and slather on your face. Let the mask dry for 20 minutes, then rinse off with warm water. Now say hello to radiant, fresh skin.

4. Freeze up: Late night? Crying bout? Sun scorched? Beauty pros always keep a few sheet of aluminium foil in the freezer. Simply take one of the chilled sheets and put them on your face for a few minutes to de-puff, tighten pores and bring back the glow.

5. Eye it: If it’s your eyes that need the de-puffing and redness relief, pop some eye cream in the  icebox and apply to lids for turbo-charged results.

6. Tea time: Skin more irritated than puffy? Chill some green tea bags and gently press them onto the inflamed areas – the antioxidants will soothe a sore complexion.

7. Tropical treat: Another refrigerated treat for your skin? Pineapple juice. Freeze some fresh pineapple juice and then rub this “ice cube” over clean skin. Let the liquid dry on your face for 5-10 minutes, then rinse away with plain water. Pineapple’s natural enzymes exfoliate, improve hydration and boost elasticity. Hello, luminous skin!

8. Dairy goodness: Swap the hot water with freshly boiled milk while steaming your face for the ultimate skin detox. Simply boil the milk, pour into a bowl and let the vapours float over your face as you lean in under a towel. Milk is full of lactic acid, which will decongest the pores, leaving your skin beautifully clear.

beauty hacks9.  Hydrate NOW: Dewy, glowing skin equals hydrated skin and when you’re sorely lacking in the latter department, whip together an egg yolk and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Apply a generous layer of this mixture all over your face and leave on for 20 minutes before rinsing off with lukewarm water.

10. Acne Rx: Need to bring down the redness and inflammation of a pimple right NOW? Dab a  bit of Visine on the blemish. This won’t make your pimple smaller, but it will definitely look less obvious for a few hours.

11. Scrub-a-dub: To banish dry, cracked heels, mix a handful of sea salt with enough almond oil to make a thick paste. Use this to exfoliate your feet and toes; say hello to smooth, sandal-ready summer feet!

12. Thigh high: For legs that tend to rub or chafe in summer, apply deodorant to the insides of your thighs… this sounds weird but it works!

What’s the strangest beauty tip you’ve ever heard? And how did it work out for you?