Alpha Females and Their Secrets

Alpha Females and Their Secrets

To celebrate the arrival of a new fleet of Lucie Kaas’ handpainted kokeshi dolls, we examine the secrets of some of the world’s most famous Alpha women.

 

We’re told the climb to the top is long and lonely.  The higher you ascend, the more people want to know about you, the more private you become, and the harder they dig. So it’s inevitable that your secret, should you have one, will be found out as soon as you’re halfway up the mountain. 

Today we look at some of the world’s most famous alpha women and how they managed their rise to the top in spite of, and sometimes even because of, their secrets.

Coco Chanel - Sorry Thanks I Love You

Coco Chanel

Her name instantly conjures images of strings of pearls and clean cut LBD’s, and is synonymous with French sophistication.  She revolutionized women’s fashion and kept company with Picasso and Stravinsky, but Coco Chanel (or Gabrielle, as she was christened) had a host of secrets that make the stomach churn.

Chanel’s rags-to-riches story is a memorable one, but there are other pieces of the puzzle, like her morphine addiction and Nazi collaboration, that we’d rather forget.  Brought up in an orphanage by Roman Catholic nuns, Gabrielle found a job as a seamstress at 20 and was making waves in Parisian social circles as Coco by the time she was 21.  Hounded by a fear of losing everything (instilled in her at the orphanage), she was an eternal opportunist, famous for her ‘horizontal collaborations’ with French and British high society and, during war time, German intelligence officer Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage.

Perhaps the biggest and least understood of her secrets is how she went from mistress to Nazi secret agent (involved in an operation code-named Modelhutt - ‘model hat’) and back to the darling of the social set again, after being questioned briefly by a French judge.

The queen of reinvention and master of inconsistencies, her ability to slip under the radar when it matters is the biggest mystery of all. 

“People's lives are an enigma,” she once said to her friend Claude Delay.  None moreso than hers. 

Anna Wintour

The editor in chief of American Vogue is one of the most famous women in the modern world.  While her signature bob and oversized sunglasses make her instantly recognizable, her power playing in the fashion industry has made her something of an icon – not that she sees herself that way.

“I get up every morning… work out, I go to work, I try to do the best job I possibly can… but you know, I’m not thinking, I’m an icon. I hope that I set as good an example as I can, but it’s not — I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, I’m going to set a really good example today!’” she told the New York Magazine last year

Described as the tsarina of high fashion, Anna Wintour is just as famous for her reputation as a formidable ice queen.  Her father, a newspaper editor in London, earned the nickname Chilly Charlie and the directors of The Devil Wears Prada would have us believe that it’s a genetic disposition.

But the truth, and the biggest secret to her success, is something quite different.  She’s not a monster.  (This is someone who can’t handle House of Cards because the characters are too evil.) She’s decisive, and she chooses to be that way.  And that’s something she learnt from her Dad.

“I learned how important it is to lead and be decisive and to, in a way, empower other people to do their best,” she has said. 

“[Decisiveness] is a winning trait in a leader and, to some, a fearsome quality in a woman.” 

Marilyn Monroe

Her stutter, true hair colour and two secret pregnancies have been well-documented.   But what Norma Jean managed to keep hidden for much of her life was her schizophrenic mother.

Marilyn spent the majority of her childhood being shunted between foster homes because her mother Gladys was too unstable to take care of her.  When she told Gladys, who was basically confined to mental hospitals by this time, that she was reinventing herself and becoming a model, she was told it was a sin.  “It is not what God intended you to do with your life,” Gladys told her.

Gladys outlived Marilyn, but the most dreaded secret that Marilyn carried with her was that she would follow in her mother’s footsteps and wind up mad and institutionalized.  This happened briefly, though at Marilyn’s own doing, when she checked herself in to Weill Cornell Medical Centre and spent a harrowing three days locked in a padded cell, treated as medically psychotic.

An avid believer in psychoanalysis, Marilyn recounted this period in a rambling letter to her psychiatrist, Dr Greenson. 

“It’s not to much fun to know yourself too well or think you do,” Marilyn mused after describing the ordeal.  “Everyone needs a little conceit to carry them through and past the falls.”

 

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Coco, Anna and Marilyn are available now.