In the age of gallantry, for which the present period is not remarkable, it was the custom to toast the mistress of one’s affections by drinking champage out of her white satin slipper; how many young men of the present day have a slipper amongst their valued collection of souvenirs? Not one of them; indeed, it is doubtful if they have souvenirs at all. Of course, it may have been a bit awkward for the lady, depriving her of her slipper, unless she provided herself with another pair, but those who indulge in poetical follies of this description never troubled their heads about practical matters. Nowadays we are too hopelessly dull and matter-of-fact for anything.
The chance thus to maul the ludicrous is supplied by the two chief librettists, Mr. Ronald Jeans and Mr. Noël Coward. These authors are usually more than flippant if less than philosophical…Mr. Coward, for instance, is at his liveliest in depicting a Parisian cabaret of 1890 with the polka as its high lavolt and a vintage English gentleman (Mr. Morris Harvey) drinking champagne from the slipper of La Flamme, a ravishing and freely proportioned charmer who sustains her ardour for the polka and English whiskerdom with much knowing application to the absinthe glass. This is nonsense de luxe. I need hardly say that Miss Maisie Gay coruscates as La Flamme, Mr. Harvey being an engaging moth to this prodigious candle.
Back in Lillian Russell’s day, no actress possessed the real spirit of the theatre if she didn’t periodically dance on a supper table and drink champagne out of a slipper. But though I watched Elsa Stenning, the Australian actress [and soprano], who opens at His Majesty’s to-night in “The Vagabond King,” very closely at a party the other night, I didn’t notice her do either of these things. She seemed quite content to nibble nuts and ham sandwiches.
After long absence from New York you notice things that full-time New Yorkers have quit seeing. Has it been widely observed, for instance, that the famously talky New York cabdriver is gone with the Trylon and Perisphere, the $1.50 second-balcony ticket for the best show on Broadway, Yankee Stadium crowds wearing fedoras and business suits, and old Delmonico’s [at Fifth Avenue and 44 Street], where men with diamond studs glittering on starched shirts may or may not have drunk champagne from Lillian Russell’s slipper?
Nowadays certain members of the international bondage and discipline set have taken up this curious scenario, noting with some excitement that the shoe-designer Christian Louboutin (top) “s’est associé à la marque de champagne Piper-Heidsieck pour remettre à la mode un «rituel» quelque peu fétichiste du monarque anglais Edouard VII dans les années 1900: boire le nectar pétillant dans les chaussons d’une danseuse juste après le ballet.”
The pas seul, pas de deux, pas de trois, and pas de quatre, which used to drive the exquisites of “Fops’ Alley” wild with excitement in the reign of William IV. [1765–1837], when champagne would be drunk out of a figurante’s white stain slipper, and a glove that had been worn by Fanny Eissler [the celebrated Austrian ballerina] was worth its weight in gold, have been superseded to a great extent by brilliant groupings, picuresque masses, a harmonious blending of the dominant note of colour, supple and simultaneous maneuvres of a hundred flexile figures in sumptuous costumes, rapid changes of position, producing the effect of a bed of gorgeous tulips swaying hither and thither as the wind stirs them, and brightening and darkening under alternate sunshine and shadow.
“Fops’ Alley,” incidentally, was the comparatively wide space between the edge of the orchestra pit and the first row of stalls in which during the entr’acte “exquisites,” “mashers,” and other dandies ogled young ladies in the boxes, and puffily drew to themselves as much public attention as possible. If the part about the reign of King William IV is true, then blame for the unsavory and stubbornly durable habit of quaffing perfectly good champagne from a grubby, smelly, lukewarm old shoe may safely be laid at the feet of Queen Victoria’s awful Hanoverian uncles, or at least their regimental mess-room pals.