Monday, January 18, 2010

Mimi Monette


I met Mimi the first day I started at Rizzoli Bookstore in Beverly Hills. I was a bit taken aback that the lady who at the time was at least 80 was working at all, much less running around with piles of books. But she was a dervish, charming everyone who came in with her wit and deep knowledge of Art and the City in general. I was immediately enamored of her and very proud that we became instant pals.

Mimi and her sister came to live with her Aunt and Uncle after the Wall Street crash and subsequent death of their parents. They lived with Uncle Edwin Belt, a famous local doctor; one of the first to perform a sex-change operation. Mimi's sister was the more conventional of the two, marrying early and starting a family. Mimi was the prototypical free spirit (and prototypical modern woman, although she loathed being called a feminist) in that she didn't especially want to get married. She enjoyed the company of men, but didn't need to be a wife. This was reinforced by a brief marriage to a man who abused her physically and emotionally she had met while studying in Mexico City, and from whom she fled, leaving almost every one of her possessions to return to the somewhat disapproving Belt household and the United States.

With a degree in Fine Arts from UCLA and having studied in Paris, she turned her talents first to working at 20th Century Fox under costumer Travis Banton before turning to fashion illustration for I Magnin and Bullocks Wilshire, then the best department store in Los Angeles. At one book signing at Rizzoli I had unbidden an Oscar-winning costume designer tell me that Mimi was the top of her field during that time when illustration and not photography really sold the clothes. Upon her return from Paris once in the late 60's she drew some shoes she had seen at an atelier onto one of her models. Magnin had the dress the model sported, but not the shoes. They were inundated with requests from society ladies of LA and the buyers had no rest until they could procure them for sale. Mimi was politely asked to keep the accessories to ones they had in the store..

Mimi travelled the world, saving her earnings so she could take these trips. She met the love of her life in her 50's, but even her couldn't get her to marry. She saw a ring as a yoke. She had more stories than anyone I ever met, about her life, her travels, and the people she met. Despite the fact that later in life she wasn't as comfortable as she would have liked financially, she told me more that once that she never regretted a moment, and I could tell that she meant every word. Her last financial windfall was a small one, but one that pleased her no end; the Boston Museum of Fine Art acquired some of her works for an exhibit on Fashion Illustration in the 20th Century.

Towards the end of her life, her world became smaller. She gave up driving herself. Trips to Santa Barbara in my car became too tiring for her, then trips to Malibu. She suffered from Vertigo and walking too far became an issue. She dealt with this with her typical humor and joie de vivre: she had her art, her books and her correspondence. The last time I saw her we as always had some champagne but I stayed only an hour. I could see that I was tiring her. I'd been trying to reach her the past few weeks and only got a machine, and was worried. Today since I drove to work and holiday traffic would be light I drove to her apartment and I could see that the balcony was denuded of plants and the windows dark. The landlord's phone number was on the sign for the building. I called and he told me that Mimi died three days ago.

They say that when you die that you're met in the afterlife by your family. While that would be nice I hope that first in line is Miss Mimi Monette, ready to hand me a flute..

Portrait of Mimi Monette by Jack Potter, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts


Debbie and Gerry said...

I am sorry to hear if Mimi's passing, though from what you write about her I'm sure she would pooh pooh any mourning. I know how you loved her, and I remembering how I enjoyed hearing of your trips to Santa Barbara for lunch.

tmp00 said...


That's true; she would pooh pooh any mourning. While I can't help but be sad at the loss I choose to look at the gift that her friendship was to me and her belief that I was a greater person that I imagined I could be.

Flora said...

What a lovely tribute - I knew a lady like that once and I learned a lot from her.