Adele Bloch-Bauer

The Girl Behind the Gold

Snooki wore a gold mini-dress to her 24th Birthday bash in Las Vegas. Kim Kardashian launched her own perfume brand, ‘Gold’.

But Snooki-Kardashian bling doesn’t begin to compare to Adele Bloch-Bauer, ‘The Lady in Gold”, immortalized in Gustav Klimt’s famous gold-leaf artwork.

The 1907 painting, originally titled, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, was commissioned by Adele’s husband, a Czech sugar magnate. The work was a labor of love and lust for Mr Klimt, a notorious seducer of his models, which might partly explain why he took a leisurely three years to finish this masterpiece.

So who is the lady behind the glitter? Adele Bloch-Bauer was a frequent scenester at the Salons of Vienna, circa 1900s. (The Viennese Salons were the equivalent of TED Talks, “Ideas Worth Spreading”, but with Absinthe and cigars). On any given night, there’d be an elite gathering of artists, intellectuals, writers and anyone who wanted to be inspired by ideas and intelligent conversation. It was here that the waif-like beauty became entwined with the charismatic, sexually charged and irreverent Gustav Klimt. It was during this cultural golden age that Klimt, having pulled himself up from poverty and into fame as a workaholic artist and serial philanderer, created his best-known works. Unfortunately, the gritty details of the affair between Klimt and Bloch-Bauer are left to our imaginations as nothing of their liaison has been recorded. But given Bloch-Bauer’s love of conversation and Klimt’s lusty, animal persona, we could speculate that there was at least some high-brow dirty talk going on.
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But this is just the beginning of the story. During WWII, Bloch-Bauer’s portrait was seized by the Nazis and renamed ‘The Dame in Gold’ to erase her Jewish identity. Sixty years after the theft, the painting became the subject of lengthy litigation between Bloch-Bauer’s surviving family members and the Austrian government, a case that somehow ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The painting was eventually returned to the heirs and sold at auction for a record sum of $135 million in 2006. The painting was purchased by Ronald Lauder, son of beauty industry legend, Estee Lauder. The Lady in Gold now stands as majestic and timeless as ever in the Neue Galerie, NYC.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Gidget

The original surfer girl.

The most famous female icon of 60s surf culture was not a blue-eyed blonde from California, but a 16 year old Jewish girl name Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, whose parents fled the Holocaust from Eastern Europe.

Bored with the stuff girls are meant to be interested in at sixteen, the small but strong-willed Kohner found an obsession (and escape) in surfing and surf culture. Every weekend she would fearlessly steal waves off the local surfers, who affectionately nicknamed her ‘Gidget’, as in Girl and Midget.

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Back in the 60s, surfing was just a pastime for a handful of Californian rebels and outcastes. Then came along ‘Gidget’, whose real life adventures as a surfer girl were turned into a novel by her father, Frederick Kohner, a Hollywood screenwriter. His first novel, Gidget – The Little Girl with Big Ideas (1957), sold over 500,000 copies and was made into a film in 1959, starring Sandra Dee opposite a hunky James Darren.

‘Gidget’ then became a hit TV series, spreading Californian surf culture to the world. In subsequent films, Gidget would travel to Hawaii and Rome, grow up and get married etc. The beach movie cult had taken off, spawning largely forgettable films such as Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Ride the Wild Surf. (Years later, we would get Keanu Reeves in Point Break). But behind all the hoopla of the Hollywood Gidget franchise was Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, just one little girl with a big idea.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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The Eames

Lovers, collaborators, creators of the modern world.

Charles and Ray Eames were not only one of this century’s most creative power couples, they were the most creatively promiscuous. Together, they leapt from one project to another, transcending the rules of architecture, design, filmmaking and branding.

The husband and wife team created a diverse body of work, from their eponymous, modernist chairs and mid-century furniture to ingenious kids toys, experimental films and iconic Los Angeles buildings such as the Eames House and Entenza House in Pacific Palisades.

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The Eames approached problem solving as an adventure, radically combining work with play. The rigid titles of architect, painter or designer were not as important as being able to look at a problem with an open ‘beginners mind’. In the Eames’s worldview, everything was connected, if you looked closely enough. (Or far away enough, as demonstrated in their film, Powers of 10.)

“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects… the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se… I don’t believe in this ‘gifted few’ concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.”Charles Eames.

The Eameses embraced their era’s (1950s-70s) visionary concept of modern design as an agent of social change, elevating it to a national agenda. Their evolution from furniture designers to cultural ambassadors demonstrated their boundless talents and the overlap of their interests with those of their country. In a rare period of shared objectives, the Eameses partnered with the US government and the country’s top businesses to lead the charge to modernize post-war America.

The Eameses were the Jay-Z and Beyonce of their time, mastering the art of branding and self-promotion long before they became 21st century buzzwords. Their work/play ethic was the centre of the Eames’s life – with typical days running from 9am to 10pm, and a full-time cook on staff so they could work and play without interruption. After Charles’s death in 1978, Ray devoted the rest of her life to archiving the vast body of work they had created, as well as communicating their ideas through talks and writing. Ray Eames died of cancer on 21 August 1988, ten years to the day after Charles.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Yayoi Kusama

Painter/Sculptor & Director of Orgies

In her day, Yayoi Kusama was as popular as Warhol amongst Pop Art aficionados. She was both prolific and daring, making headlines with her Nude Body Painting Festivals and anti-war demonstrations. In her spare time, she also directed performance-art orgies in secret Manhattan bunkers, paying police bribes to avoid arrest. Who knew you could do so much with polka-dots?

Her journey to Pop Art icon came via Japan, where Kusama grew up in a wealthy but oppressive home. It was here she developed an ability to imagine or ‘hallucinate’ her way out to infinity by painting and drawing polka dots.

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Inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama traveled to New York in the late 1950’s. Despite having no English language, little money and few friends, she began creating large-scale polka dot paintings and selling them as fast as she could. Before long she developed a reputation as an avant-garde artist and was embraced by the New York art scene.

Not content with the vast polka-dotted universe she’d built, Kusama began to design her own clothing range, Kasuma Dress and Textile, which sold at department stores and boutiques all over the United States.

But Kasuma’s journey through Pop Art world would eventually come to an end. Due to mental illness, she returned to Japan in the late 1970s and by choice, checked herself into a mental hospital. It was here that Kasuma began yet another artistic incarnation, this time as a writer. She has since written and published over 23 novels, short stories and poetry books, including the shocking and surrealistic novels, The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street (1983) and Violet Obsession (1998).

In 2008, Christies New York sold a work of Kasuma’s for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist at the time.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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The Z-Boys of Dogtown

Concrete Surfers
Creators of Imaginary Oceans

The Z-Boys were a gang of unwitting artists on wheels, turning their barren concrete wasteland, known as ‘Dogtown’, into an imaginary ocean. Their paintbrushes and spray-cans were crude planks of wood with roller-skate wheels attached. On the days when the waves at the local Santa Monica Pier were too flat, the Z-Boys (Zephyr Surf Competition Team) would go sidewalk surfing on skateboards, just to kill time.

But this was not any kind of skateboarding.  The Z-Boys were creating a whole new style of street expression, something akin to four-wheel calligraphy, sliding and gliding on the bone-breaking pavement with long flowing surfing strokes, as if they’d turned bitumen into salt water.

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea”. Isak Dinesen
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Their smooth laid-back style was completely their own, crouching down low whilst dragging their hands across the pavement, a move influenced by Pro surfer Larry Burtleman, who would nonchalantly drag his hand along the face of a wave, leaving his trademark. Style, to the Zephyr team, was everything and all their inspiration came from surfing. In 1975, the first big skateboarding competition since the 1960s was held. The Zephyr Team showed up to the Del Mar Nationals in their blue Vans Authentic shoes, Levi’s and blue Zephyr t-shirts. The crowd loved them and watched as they out-styled the stiff and upright establishment skaters. From this moment on, the Z-Boys had cult status in California.

With their low, aggressive style, signature hand-dragging “Burts” and freestyle inventiveness, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Within twelve months, the Z-Boys style of skating would sweep the world. The mid-1970s brought a major drought to Southern California that parched Los Angeles. This drought brought on severe water restrictions, forcing many pool owners in the wealthier neighborhoods to leave their swimming pools drained. For the Z-Boys, this was an untapped ocean of fun. They would scour the neighborhoods for empty or semi-empty pools. When a pool was found, they’d sneak in and drain the remaining water so they could skate it. They even went as far as to bringing in their own hoses and water pumps just to clear out the dank water collected at the pool’s bottom. In the empty pools of LA, the Z-Boys took their surf style of skating to a whole new level.

Every day, the skaters would try something new, pushing themselves and each other. They would skate the sides of the pool, closer and closer to the top edge as they got better. This was the birth of vertical skating, and it became the basis for skateboarding and many of the extreme sports seen today. One day during a skating session in the fall of 1977, in a pool nicknamed “the Dogbowl” in Santa Monica, the eureka moment arrived. Tony Alva pushed more and more on the pool’s top lip until his board completely cleared the edge of the pool.

He then twisted, doing a 180-degree turn and landed back in the pool, completing the very first aerial. This revolutionized skateboarding and many extreme sports. Many of the tricks performed on skateboards, and later snowboards, wakeboards and BMX bikes, would be performed in midair from that point on. In a trippy loop of karmic feedback, Pro surfers now perform the aerial manouvers that these skateboarders did.

The story of the Z-Boys has been captured in a documentary, ‘Dogtown and Z-Boys’, directed by Stacey Peralta, one of the original Z-Boys. The film ‘Lords of Dogtown’ starring Heath Ledger, was released in 2005.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Frida Kahlo

One of history’s greatest Divas.

She was a tequila-slamming, dirty-joke telling bi-sexual who hobbled about in colorful indigenous dresses and threw wild dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo certainly deserved to party. The great artist spent most of her life suffering enormous pain, inflicted first by a serious bus accident, then by a tempestuous love affair with Diego.

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Frida had already survived polio, but at 18, she suffered a more lasting devastation as a result of a bus accident in Mexico City, where she was studying medicine. The impact shattered her pelvis and caused multiple fractures to her spine and ribs. She spent over a year in multiple casts staring at a blank canvas – the white ceiling above her. It was here, caged in a plaster cast, that Frida began to paint. She started painting on her own body cast and then took her visceral, pain-filled colorful images onto much larger canvases. The rest is history.

It wasn’t long before Kahlo became a respected artist, but her fame was over-shadowed when, at 22, she married Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist, who was twenty years her senior.

Their wayward, passionate relationship survived infidelities, career pressures, divorce, remarriage, poor health and finally her inability to have children. Frida once said: “I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.”

During her lifetime, Frida created over 200 paintings, 55 of them self-portraits. In 1953, Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico. Against doctor’s orders, she arrived in an ambulance and was wheeled in on a stretcher-bed so she could celebrate with guests and horizontally swill champagne.

Today, more than half a century after her death, her iconic paintings are highly sought after, fetching prices that would’ve paid for those awesome tequila-filled dinner parties, and more. Her work and many of her personal belongings are on display in her house, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacan, Mexico.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Candy Darling

Warhol Superstar, Actress, Train commuter.

It was on the late night train from suburban Long Island to Manhattan where the young James Slattery transformed into the lipstick wearing, flamboyantly dressed Candy Darling, the Warhol “It” girl who appeared in Warhol’s films and who was immortalized by The Velvet Underground in the songs, ‘Candy Says’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.

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Candy came from out on the island,

In the backroom she was everybody’s darling,

But she never lost her head

Even when she was giving head – she said

Hey Babe, take a walk on the wild side,

Said hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.

And the coloured girls go, doo dodo…

The lyrics pretty much capture Candy Darling’s short life. Too poor to live in Manhattan, she would catch the late-night train each night from Long Island, using the hour-long journey to put on makeup and add the final touches to her glamorous look. Once in NYC, she’d hang out in the ‘backroom’ of Max’s Kansas City Nightclub with all the cool kids, who included the likes of Lou Reed, Debra Harry and, occasional cross-dresser, David Bowie.

Warhol may have brought Candy Darling plenty of fame, but he never paid her much money. Hence Candy “never lost her head,” even when she was doop-doo-doing stuff for cash on the side. Mostly though, she would jump back on the Long Island train each night to what she called her “country house”.

Despite being poor (and quite possibly, a poor actress), Candy Darling never gave up her dream of becoming a Hollywood superstar. She landed either big roles in small films or small roles in big films, but never quite got the break she needed. The highlight of her career may have been her 17-second cameo role with Jane Fonda in the 1971 film, Klute.

On March 26, 1974, Candy’s extraordinary walk on the wild side was cut short. She died of leukemia, with hundreds of loyal friends and fans around her in her final hours. Warhol, who was weird about a lot of things, especially death and mortality, did not visit her in hospital, nor did he attend her funeral.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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The Dolly Sisters

Siamese twins. Twice the fame. Double the trouble.

The Dolly Sisters were not quite joined at the hip, but they shared the same dance moves, the same stage and possibly the same men. Arriving in New York as immigrants from Budapest in 1905, it didn’t take long for their precocious talents to get noticed. When the nuns at their convent school expelled them for doing the splits, the identical twins must have known they had a gift for scandal.

By the time Rosie (Roszika) and Jenny (Yansci) Dolly were eighteen, they were performing on Broadway in New York City, mesmerizing audiences with their perfectly synced double-act, often performed in front of a giant mirror to add to the illusion. Could this be really happening or was it a trick of light? Men were especially spellbound by The Dolly Sisters and the most cashed-up Donald Trumps of the day spent their fortunes trying to pry them apart.

They wore the most lavish jewel-encrusted costumes as they performed exotic Persian dances, often accompanied by a troop of prancing poodles in a segment titled, ‘The Dollies and their Collies’. While the sisters briefly moved from stage to screen for ‘The Million Dollar Dollies’ – which earned them plaudits and Hollywood friends like Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin – their live performances remained their crowning glory.

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As their fame increased throughout the world, so did the number of husbands. Between them, they were married five times and left a trail of broken hearts across Europe and America. A number of invincibly rich men nearly went broke trying to out-do each other with outlandish gifts. Such was the life of a Dolly Sister. They were lucky with money, glamour and men, so it’s no surprise they were lucky with gambling as well. At the ritzy casinos of the French Riviera, they almost doubled their vast fortunes with wayward nights of gambling. On one good night, at the Chemin de Fer table alongside the Aga Khan, the ex-King of Portugal and Prince Esterhazy of Hungary, they raked in the equivalent of $1.5 million dollars, most of which was immediately spent on jewelry.

But this is where the Dolly Sisters’ luck runs out and their story becomes all-too-familiar. Their glittering careers came to an end and so did their youthful looks. They lost a large chunk of their fortunes in the Wall St crash. They got involved with even dodgier men. The dodgier men lead to car accidents. The car accidents lead to facial scars and depression. When it came to tragedy, it seemed the fabulous Dolly Sisters were also joined at the hip. That said, at least they got to share their extraordinary lives with someone they loved, even if it was a mirror image. A Hollywood film titled, ‘The Dolly Sisters’ was made in 1945, staring Betty Grable and June Haver.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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Annie Lennox

Activitst, Humanitarian, Greatest White Soul Singer Alive.

Annie Lennox may have possessed a voice of a thousand angels on steroids, but she was at her most powerful when she gave a voice to others.

As part of the hugely successful 80s British synth-pop duo Eurythmics, she was named “The Greatest White Soul Singer Alive” by VH1 and was listed in The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. Her recordings, both as a solo artist and as part of Eurythmics, sold over 80 million records worldwide, cementing her place in British Rock Royalty.

[expand title=”READ +”]Who would’ve imagined that this economically challenged, scrawny shy girl who studied classical music at The Royal Academy of Music in London, would have rocked the world in so many ways. The stylishly androgenous diva can now add political activist, humanitarian and philanthropist to her CV.

Sweet dreams are made of this…


Who am I to disagree?


I travel the world


And the seven seas

Everybody’s looking for something.

From ‘Sweet Dreams (are made of this)’.

Apart from helping save countless lives with her HIV/AIDS work in Africa, Lennox campaigned tirelessly for the release of one of 21st century’s most elegant and brave humans, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi. (Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate spent 15 years under house arrest and was finally released on 13th November 2010).

Annie Lennox was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2010 for her tireless work in fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa. All this, in one lifetime, whilst looking fabulously original throughout.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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