Hourglass Figures: Beneficent Beauties Consuelo Vanderbilt And Elettra Rosselini Wiedeman

by SUSANNAH LONG · March 22, 2010

Our next installment of Hourglass Figures is here, and it's full of prettiness and philanthropy (and David Letterman eating things he shouldn't be eating). Behold! Consuelo Vanderbilt and Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann. [Photo from FMD]

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[Hourglass Figures One: Nan Kempner and Tinsley Mortimer]

[Hourglass Figures Two: Eleanor Lambert And Carine Roitfeld]

[Hourglass Figures Three: Amanda Burden and Ivanka Trump]

Consuelo Vanderbilt and Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann

[Photo from Life Magazine]

Consuelo Vanderbilt March 2, 1877 – December 6, 1964

Aliases: Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough; Winston Churchill's BFF

First, let’s get Consuelo’s mama out of the way: Alva Vanderbilt was a Big Name. She founded the Metropolitan Opera so that she'd have a booth of her own to sit in. She threw an impossibly lavish ball in order to get back at socialites who'd snubbed her. She divorced her husband at a time when such things simply weren't done. We’ll probably give her an Hourglass Figures feature of her very own. The overbearing Alva was also determined that her daughter would obey her in every way. As a result, Consuelo’s formative years were full of “No Wire Hangers!” moments. Mama Vanderbilt smacked Consuelo with a riding crop for petty offenses, and she made Consuelo spend hours wearing a steel rod contraption down her spine in order to learn proper posture.

Alva Vanderbilt

When Consuelo finally rebelled against Alva's plans for her, it was too late. The soapy saga: Consuelo was secretly engaged to the nebbishly named Winthrop Rutherford, but Alva forced her to marry a European noble - first by locking Consuelo up, then by threatening Winthrop's life, and finally by claiming that she would literally die of betrayal-induced illness. Pity Consuelo - she believed that her insolence was draining mumsy's life force and married the Duke. Then again, Consuelo's marriage catastrophe wasn't wholly unexpected, given that Alva liked to tell her, “I do the thinking, you do as you are told.” Consuelo sobbed her way through the wedding; shockingly, the marriage ended in divorce, then annulment.

The miserable family                  Consuelo with Winston Churchill, a relative of the Duke's [Painting by John Singer Sargent,1905]

On a nicer note, Consuelo was the 1900s equivalent of a supermodel: Though she didn’t strut catwalks (which wouldn’t come into wide use until the 1930s), she was widely renowned and often ogled for her beauty. Sir James Barrie, the author or Peter Pan, gushed, “I would stand all day in the street to see Consuelo Marlborough get into her carriage.” Oxfordian Guy Fortescue wrote that a whole group of undergrads would swoon over her “piquante oval face perched upon a long slender neck, her enormous dark eyes fringed with curling lashes, her dimples, and her tiny teeth when she smiled.” You hear that? Tiny teeth. What I wouldn't give to have tiny teeth.

Consuelo was more interested in helping the less fortunate than in swanning around town, however. While moping around the Duke's estate, she became deeply interested in the more downtrodden tenants, and threw herself into charities for impoverished mothers and children. Later, she established a home for prisoners' wives, campaigned for better working conditions in sweatshops, and championed the minimum wage. Well played, Consuelo.

And now?

Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann

[Photo from Modelinia]

Elettra's rocking charitable instincts, beauty, and a wackily prominent mother to rival those of Consuelo. First, let's get Elettra's mama out of the way: Isabella Rosellini is a Big Deal (and, while we're at it, so is Elettra's grandmama Ingrid Bergman). Isabella was the face of Lancome for more than a decade. She's published three successful books. She stars in short films about animal sex on the Sundance Channel. We've all seen her naked. By all accounts, though, Isabella is completely un-Alvian: that is, she's a caring and, well, not-abusively-conniving mother.

Isabella Rossellini in a glamour shot . . . and as a very happy snail in Green Porno.

So there's no secret engagement or forced marriage for Elettra . . . although we have constructed an elaborate and unsettling fantasyland storyline based around this video clip, in which David Letterman makes us distinctly but indefinably nervous, per usual.

Like Consuelo, Elettra spent her adolescence with a steel rod down her spine - though for medical, rather than postural, reasons. She suffered from extreme scoliosis and wore a back brace 23 hours a day for five years. "I had awkward teenage years to the exponent of 5,000," she told the New York Post last year. Eh, she came out on top. After earning a BA in International Relations from the New School, she's now working toward a Masters in biomedicine at the London School of Economics.

And, again like Consuelo, she's garnered attention for her beauty, modeling for Abercrombie & Fitch, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, and various runway shows. Following in her mother's footsteps, she is a Lancome spokeswoman.

Photos from Harper's Bazaar, G-Star Raw, and FashionRat, respectively.

Another quality the two women share is their dedication to social causes. Elettra's pet projects often revolve around the environment rather than family-centered social work, but she's just as passionate about her work as Consuelo was, if a little less elegant - "Oh my god, the world is so unequal. What the f-ck!" she exclaimed to the Post reporter in '09. "Environmentalism is something I've been interested in since I was 5 and I'd have nightmares about the earth exploding." After meeting a physician from Burundi, Elettra founded Just One Frickin Day, a charity to build solar-powered hospitals in Africa, among other projects.

What does the future hold? In her Letterman interview, Elettra said she'd love to serve environmental/energy causes in the Obama administration. We're really hoping she follows the example of Consuelo's later life, marrying a balloon pilot and writing a sweeping autobiography. Maybe David Letterman can learn to fly dirigibles!