The Power of Lace: Venus & Athena Are One
“The word Chantelle is the product of two French words merged together: chant, which means song, and dentelle, which means lace.”
Story and photos by Katrina Eugenia. Lingerie courtesy of Chantelle.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Greek and Roman mythology has had it all wrong in believing Athena, the goddess of war, and Venus, the goddess of love, to be two separate goddesses. I believe they are one and the same. I can’t pretend to embody one without emulating the other. In their behavior and characteristics, I find that these two goddesses overlap.
In Athena’s quarrel with Neptune over the rule of Attica and Athens, Jupiter commanded each of them to give a gift to mankind; which ever gift proved to be the most precious to the humans would win. In the form of an olive tree, Athena’s gift of life and fertility proved victorious over Neptune’s indomitable horse. Such notions persuade me to believe that Venus must have had something to do with such victories. So often throughout art history, Athena is pictured to convey an overwhelming abundance of inner feelings on her face, as if to suggest the complicated network of the various and extreme sides of her personality. Perhaps she is debating with her other half, Venus.
We can easily see how the other side of the lovely Venus’ mind, heart, and womb are that of Athena’s. Love is often the culprit of malicious retaliation. Venus can be combative in the name of love. And yet we are constantly reminded that love conquers all violence and wars through the stories of Venus.
“Chantelle is made for the mercurial goddess.”
Designed to support the warrior princess and lover in every woman. This has been Chantelle’s mission from the beginning. Even their mannequins from the 1950’s are described as ‘sophisticated goddesses.’ In the words of Anne Zazzo, “Like this mannequin’s, your face tilts up towards the slate roofs of Paris and the sky above. You feel beautiful and sophisticated, and you wear an expression of supreme nonchalance. You are radiating French Allure, thanks to the expertise of Chantelle, enhancing your beauty and confidence.”
At Chantelle they believe that the lissome feminine form is at once enigmatic and evocative. This notion of elegance only further confirms that Venus and Athena are one. For lissome, enigmatic, and evocative are three words one could use to describe either goddess.
Above: Lavinia Fontana’s “Minerva Dressing”. Minerva is the Roman goddess identified with Athena.
In a painting by Lavinia Fontana (1613), Athena is pictured with tremendous sex appeal. Next to her, a little putto [a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child] plays with her helmet on the floor -the helmet is consecrated to the goddess of war. The putto looks as though he could be her child, playing on the floor while his mother dresses in a domestic setting. This leads me to believe that the putto is simply a thinly veiled disguise of cupid, who is in fact, the child of Venus and Mars. And there he is, unfazed by his mercurial mother as he plays with her warrior helmet on the floor.
It is Athena’s habit to go out of her way to protect men. Like that time she fought a harpy – a terrible monster that tortured men. Athena protects Perseus in his efforts to save beauty from envy. He is a lover who faces all kinds of obstacles and challenges for his beloved, and Athena was there to protect him through all of this. I am suspicious of Venus’ influence here as well. And speaking of beauty, what about that time Medusa, a beautiful maiden, dared to compare her beauty to Athena’s? We all know her dreadful fate. Could Venus who personifies feminine beauty have had something to do with Athena’s profound reaction? The moral of the story- according to Athena’s mythological justifications- is not to compare your beauty to others, because such things are incomparable. We see Athena protecting love once again in the story of the reunion of Ulysses and Penelope. Athena guards the door to keep dawn at bay and make the night last longer as the lovers experience each other. I have to believe it is Venus who drives Athena to protect love the way she does. Like Athena, the goddess of beauty and love is also known to be the savior of men. Both goddesses are renowned for protecting heroes.
Finally, in the story of Hercules at the crossroads, I am convinced that he is met with one goddess, not two, as he is offered virtue and tenderness. It is said that Hercules was met at the crossroads by two beautiful maidens: Athena and Venus. Again, we see little puttos pictured playing at their feet, which could be the embodiment of Venus’ love child, cupid. Athena suggests the path of labor and achievement. A path of struggle that will lead to victorious glory, because the Gods award nothing without effort, she told him. Voluptuous Venus tempts him with a path of pleasure and joy.
Above: “Hercules at the Crossroads” by Pompeo Batoni.
I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t spend their days chasing after both paths at once in their own unique way. It is Athena’s endurance, strength, and wisdom and Venus’ insatiable capacity for love and bliss that makes us crazy enough to do it. Ironically, Athena, also known as Minerva, is sometimes called the goddess of wisdom in contrast to her other half which has an irrational and undeniable obsession with romance, sex, lust, and beauty. As the Roman poet, Terentius once said, “Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus is cold.” Which translates to ‘Love suffers without good food and wine.’ Therefore, in order for Athena to be victorious in her battles, she will need the ultimate strength of love, which suffers without the pleasures of life.
In 1902, Chantelle joined scientists and doctors in the fight against traditional corsets, in their awareness of the relationship between comfort and sexy with the invention of Kretz tulle, making more forgiving girdles that were as ‘light as a butterfly’s wings’ and without constriction to the internal organs. Four decades later, the advertisement for Chantelle’s 1949 corset depicted a pinup girl on the telephone lounging about luxuriantly. The illustration conveys Chantelle’s concept of sex appeal and comfort, describing the girdle as another layer of skin. This concept of lingerie has remained true to their designs even today. To wear their bras is like wearing nothing at all besides an invisible gravity defying magic machine that keeps your pillows where you want them. The way in which the pin up girl is depicted to be lounging on the couch reminds me of Bunny Yeager’s concept of ‘American Cheesecake.’
Above: Photographer Bunny Yeager at work.
Bunny Yeager, coincidentally known as Venus with a camera, is one of my favorite photographers of all time. Capturing the golden era of pin up photography, her work radiates with coquetry and playful femininity. In ways no other photographer could, she brought Bettie Page to life, influenced the expression of female sexuality through self portraits and photographs of other women, and captured American Cheesecake like no one else – all with a smile on her face, and confidence in her heart. On American Cheesecake she is quoted as saying, “Men and women want to escape into a world of fantasy. The woman imagines herself as the girl in the photograph, a feminine fluff on a satin – tufted lounge wearing a nylon negligee trimmed with French lace, having nothing more to do than pose gracefully and lazily while munching on chocolates and cooing on the telephone.”
I believe such photographs of American Cheesecake are metaphors for the feminine longing of unquiet minds to be gone for a while. For it is in our loss of consciousness that we truly become awake. Our enlightenment is found in this loss of mind, and there, our creativity flourishes. In a painting of Cupid- the fruit of Venus and Mars- he stares at us with classical American cheesecake eyes – innocent and provocative. On top of a stack of books, he is seen building his bow, which is said to be suggesting the intellect spurned from passion. Below him are two putti, one symbolizing requited love, the other personifying the power to love and lust.
In Naomi Wolf’s, Vagina, – of which I recommend to all walks of life – we learn that the out of consciousness and out of control state a woman achieves during orgasm releases dopamine, which is vital to creative drive. Therefore, could Bunny Yeager’s depictions of American Cheesecake be metaphors for the female orgasm? Rooted in the Vagina’s history and scientific facts, Naomi Wolf’s, Vagina, is magically informative. The experience of reading this book is not unlike reading about the logistics of flower petals floating in the sky. Simultaneously, this biography of the vagina can bring you to tears in its impact of the ways in which the vagina has suffered throughout history. Yet through all of this, the vagina, like the flower, relentlessly continues to search for the light, bloom, and evolve.
“Flowers, of course, are the sex organs of plants.” – Naomi Wolf, Vagina.
In today’s culture, one could make the argument that American Cheesecake takes the form of selfies throughout our social media outlets. Generally, everyone’s life looks like a fantasy online, no matter how much we might be struggling behind our cyber profiles. Selfies are the epitome of American Cheesecake. The Power Of Lace is my American Cheesecake. In both its photography and the written word.
Dita Von Tease is all encompassing in her celebration of the vagina through her incomparable strip tease performances, to her love for Chantelle, and her admiration for Bunny Yeager and Bettie Page. Conveyed through her book’s double-sided covers, we can interpret the one side, Burlesque And The Art Of The Teese, and the other side, Fetish And The Art Of The Teese, as her personifications of the argument that Venus and Athena are two sides of one goddess.
“Having experienced Chantelle’s devotion to comfort and beauty, I can tell you first hand, that their lace certainly does sing.”
The word Chantelle is the product of two French words merged together: chant, which means song, and dentelle, which means lace. Having experienced Chantelle’s devotion to comfort and beauty, I can tell you first hand, that their lace certainly does sing, and completely embodies their name. Chantelle’s ability to succeed and evolve through the decades is no wonder once you’ve experienced their lingerie. Their bras confirm their efforts to achieve exquisite engineering and gorgeous aesthetic. Throughout the brand’s history, Chantelle has remained loyal to their respect for feminine curves and comfort. In the 1980’s, Chantelle’s slogan was, ‘Chantelle Loves Breasts’ and I can tell you, it is true, when you wear Chantelle, you can feel the love! And in honor of Venus, love is the most important ingredient when creating anything.
“The myth of Pandora suggests that women were created from water and clay in the image of immortal goddesses.”
Gifts from the divinities were offered to this feminine mortal creature. Athena teaches her the womanly arts, while Venus gives her grace and a consuming longing for love. I’ve got this theory that my consciousness is not a struggle between good and evil, but a struggle in my attempts to balance the embodiment of my combative, and loving nature in my two forms of Venus and Athena. Both of them in me, discovering that it’s not enough to be right.
I picture these two halves of my consciousness as versions of myself: Athena, at a desk, watching me on various screens, wearing a suit and smoking, red lipstick and black cat eyes. Venus watches over me in a snow-globe-like land of white light, where petals float in place of snowflakes. There is less gravity there. She wears all kinds of gowns, and flowers grow everywhere. They live in each other’s minds, constantly debating back and forth – their victories resulting in my decisions. I believe when we are born our fetus is our core, and the body we grow into is a shell that forms around that core determined by our life experiences and what we are exposed to in our environments. My combative side can be tremendously larger than my loving side, but my core is always there. There are moments when I feel like Venus is only a tiny little nymph inside a snow globe on Athena’s desk, banging on the glass with the strength of a mouse. But even in her tiny form, Athena always hears her. She sits there, turning the little globe upside down, making the petals flurry, tossing around tiny Venus, as she weighs her options. Yet when it is Venus’ form that is all consuming, it’s as if Athena is dormant; sleeping somewhere until something wakes her.
So different are they, and yet in their traits, they are one and the same. Equally drawn to darkness and constantly after the light. Fierce, and yet one is no less vulnerable than the other. Both of them possess an insatiable desire for attention. They are infinite dreamers, and eternal believers. Magical and courageous are they in their everlasting inspiration. Seduced and seductive, glimmering and tarnished. Both need an infinite amount of affection. Both have a capacity to be exquisitely trashy and sleazy. There’s something familiar and yet elusive about trash. Something undeniably enticing and seductive in the mystery of sleaziness. They each have the capacity to be ugly beyond recognition and at other times, they find their beauty. They can be graceful and disastrous and in other moments, regal on their thrones composed of their attributes. Pure and voluptuous and always true. A guardian of the arts, bearing all good things. Counseling men in what the future brings. Terrifying and inviting, provocative and enticing. A helmet on her head, and myrtle in her heart. Myrtle that grows from the evergreen, symbolizing everlasting love. On top of her heart she wears armor, and yet plays with a dove. Dignified in royal blue, and saturated in scarlet, the color of love, the heroin, and the harlot. Born from a seashell, and from a man’s mind, born from a diamond, and born from the grind. Twins different only in their style.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that a dove holding an olive branch is of the universal symbols for peace. The dove is an attribute of Venus, and the olive tree is an attribute of Athena. I have to wonder, is peace the child of love and war? And if women can embrace both their inner Venus and Athena, perhaps this balance is the answer to finding one’s inner peace.
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