No other item in my collection captures the feeling of Southern California during the 1920s as well as this West Electric Beach & Motor Hair Net envelope.

In addition to producing hair nets, West Electric, based in Philadelphia, manufactured hair curlers and shampoo. The company patented one of its hair curler designs as early as 1909 and ads for their products appeared in magazines such as The Ladies’ Home Journal.

The sandy beach and graceful palm trees depicted on the package are evocative of any location offering surf and sand, but the car is a dead giveaway of the L.A. life—no other place has embraced car culture with such frank enthusiasm and unconditional love as Southern California.

 As soon as I saw the hair net package I was drawn into 1920s Los Angeles, and the birth of modern styles in swimwear.

Prior to the 1920s women’s bathing suits were more concerned with coverage than with comfort. Imagine jumping into the surf at Santa Monica Beach in a black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dress. Following WWI everything changed. Women painted their faces and bobbed their hair, and bathing suit designs started to reflect their new freedom. No right thinking flapper would show up at a beach party in anything that covered her knees or her arms.

In 1921 a local fashion show introduced inflatable bathing suits, which were described as pretty and practical because they allowed the wearer to float in the water, just like she was using water wings. The style sank without a trace.

Following the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 people were consumed with all things Egyptian, and of course Egyptian themed bathing suits briefly became the rage on local beaches. What made the water wear Egyptian themed? Why the hand-painted hieroglyphics representing inscriptions from the Pharaoh’s tomb, of course.

Bathing suit designs then changed forever in 1925 when Fred Cole entered the swimwear business. Cole had been a silent film actor, an occupation his parents thought thoroughly disreputable, during the early 1920s, so they were pleased when he suggested that they start a swimwear line at their knitting mills in Los Angeles, and the staid sounding “West Coast Manchester Knitting Mills” became “Cole of California.” Cole would bring Hollywood glamour to the swimsuit industry.

In 1936, Cole hired Margit Felligi, who served as Cole’s head designer until 1972. Felligi was an inspired innovator and in 1943, during the wartime shortage of rubber, she created the first side-laced swimsuit. It was called the “Swoon Suit” in honor of popular crooner Frank Sinatra.

She continued to make fashion history over the years with her significant contributions to fabric and design, including the 1964 “Scandal Suit,” which was considered to be one of the most overtly sexy bathing suits of all time.

Cole still exists as Catalina-Cole, and in 1997 the company launched another winner, the “tankini.” I think Fred Cole and Margit Felligi would be pleased.


aspara from cambodia

Aspara from Cambodia

This face powder box is a fairly recent addition to my collection. The name may be either an accidental or deliberate misspelling of Rambha. In Hindu mythology Rambha is the Queen of the Apsarases, who are magical and beautiful female beings in Devaloka (the plane on which gods exist). 

Rambha is accomplished in the arts of dancing, music and love-making.  When you’re a beautiful and talented woman you can bet that men are going to ask something of you.  In Rambha’s case she was frequently directed by Indra, the king of the Devas (angels) to seduce men (in particular those men practicing asceticism). The gods couldn’t risk having ascetics become more powerful than they were and one tried and true way to check a man’s devotion is to place an alluring woman within reach.  If a man could resist Rambha’s charms, then his penance was pure.

Rambha ran afoul of Rishi Vishwamitra (who was attempting to become a Brahmarishi).  Rather than merely resist the temptation presented by Rambha, Rishi cursed her and Rambha became a rock for 10,000 years!  Couldn’t he have just said no?

theodore roosevelt_1910_harvard college libraryThe design of the Rembha box indicates that it was made during the 1920s. It reflects the craze at the time for all things exotic, especially with an Egyptian flair. Theodore Roosevelt had travelled to Egypt in 1910, and King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922.  The box appears to blend the art of a few different cultures in order to achieve the overall effect. 

There is a hint of the Apsarases for instance, as in the photo.  There also appears to be a gryphon-like creature in the background.

The box itself is comprised of cardboard and paper which makes it all the more amazing that there is a slight bevel at the top!  It is an exquisite detail, and I would imagine this particular face powder would have been one of the pricier brands available.griffin

The research that I did revealed that the Boerner-Fry Company, that made the powder, was in business during the 1920s. In fact, Dr. Emil Boerner was a Prussian immigrant who built a factory in downtown Iowa City, Iowa in which he produced vanilla extract, perfumes and pharmaceuticals. 


Boerner-Fry Building

Dr. Boerner graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1876.  That same year he returned to Iowa and opened the Boerner Pharmacy. Boerner was primarily responsible for founding the pharmacy department at the University of Iowa and in 1885 he served as the sole faculty member to 13 enrollees (twelve men and one woman).  He passed away in 1903. In 1922 the building that was his factory was converted to the Davis Hotel.

 These days the name Rehmba leads us directly to Bollywood.  Thirty-four year old Amritha is an Indian actress who uses the name Rahmba.  She’s appeared in many South Indian films and some Hindi movies.

I’d never heard of Rahmba, but when I searched for her on Youtube there were dozens of clips with views numbering well into the millions.  My world suddenly felt very small.  I am going to have to keep a closer eye on Bollywood – I’m really missing something.