A style icon, a wit, a prolific author and national treasure, Dame Barbara Cartland was truly one-of-a-kind. As Cabana Issue 18 exclusively reveals the show-stopping home she lived in for more than 50 years, Barbara Cartland's granddaughter, Charlotte di Carcaci, explores the life and legacy of the original Pink Lady.
BY CHARLOTTE DI CARCACI | NOVEMBER 2022
#Barbicore has recently swept through social media, gaining many millions of views and follows. The trend is all about high-dopamine dressing, embracing a pink aesthetic and a flamboyant, more-is-more energy. Countless celebrities have been photographed clad head-to-toe in shades of eye-popping fuchsia, while Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino has designed a whole collection around the colour, sending down the runway forty ensembles in this shocking hue, many of the outfits embellished with sequins and marabou.
My grandmother Barbara Cartland, however, understood the potency of pink decades ago, but subverted the assumed ultra-femininity of the color, turning it into a symbol of her personal power and making it her signature look long before it became synonymous with her plastic-fantastic namesake. Indeed, at the height of her glory, she barely wore any other colour so as not to disappoint her legions of fans, who were known to queue for hours to catch a glimpse of their idol at her many public appearances. It became a virtual rite of passage for young journalists of that era to interview her over tea and rose-colored cakes at her country home.
Ever since the 1920s, when as a young woman she had arrived in London from the Midlands determined to conquer high society, Barbara had been keenly aware of the importance of creating an original and recognisable image for herself. Although clever, she possessed neither outstanding beauty, nor an aristocratic lineage, nor indeed a remarkable bank balance; and thus it was that, by sheer force of character, along with a carefully orchestrated wardrobe, she began to infiltrate the glamorous world that she so wanted to be a part of.
Her style was always individual, inventive, and theatrical; and she would even design her own costumes for the fancy-dress balls that were in vogue at the time, once appearing as the Spirit of Champagne in a gown made entirely of cellophane (pictured top left). Not long thereafter she was to find another kindred spirit in a young fashion student by the name of Norman Hartnell, who would in time become a favorite of all British royal ladies, even designing the late Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress and Coronation robes.
But it was Barbara who gave Hartnell his first commission, her own wedding dress, even if, true to form, she knew exactly what she wanted, and jealously guarded the upper creative hand, knowing that what she sought - heavy frills at the skirt and around the sleeves - bore little relation to the streamlined aesthetic of the period.
In due course she found the fame that she had always sought, becoming an internationally best-selling author, health-food guru, and political campaigner. Always at the ready with an amusing quotation for the newspapers, she actively courted the press: it became a virtual rite of passage for young journalists of that era to interview her over tea and rose-coloured cakes at her country home. To the public she was instantly recognisable in her diamonds, pink sparkly dresses, outlandish feathered hats, and increasingly mask-like maquillage.
Hartnell, by his own admission “more than a little partial to the jolly glitter of sequins,” continued to make her clothes, and she would regularly be driven in her white Rolls-Royce to his couture house in Bruton Street. Sometimes though, when after something a little more outré, she would call upon the costumier who made stage clothes for her friend Danny La Rue, the most famous of England’s post-war drag-queens. And although now, over twenty years since her death, her star has inevitably faded, and her books, with their emphasis on chaste romantic love, lost their relevance, her idiosyncratic personal style remains iconic and eternal.