Published: 18:02 EST, 23 September 2014 | Updated: 19:14 EST, 23 September 2014
Back in 1961, I met Marilyn Monroe at a small supper party in California. I still remember the almost palpable wave of awe and adulation that rippled round the room as she teetered in on black, peep-toe sandals, wearing raspberry-pink Capri pants and a cream silk sweater that showed off her famous bosom to full advantage.
Marilyn was an hour-and-a-half late; not because she was exercising a starry prerogative to keep the rest of us waiting, but because she actually lacked self-confidence.
Constantly fearful that she would fail to live up to her legendary Hollywood image, she had to steel herself to walk into a room, then assume an aura of confidence which she never truly possessed.
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Marilyn Monroe and Rita Ora: Contrast Monroe's sultry ease with Ora's contrived homage, with her horribly exaggerated pout and heavy eyebrows. The result is more parody than tribute
When she did enter — every man and woman's head turning — we found ourselves sitting next to each other on a sofa, and I was struck by her great lustre and charm. She was sweet, interested in other people and, although she oozed sexuality, was neither crude nor exaggerated. Her allure was balanced by restraint. There was not a hint of brazenness about her.
It impressed me at the time as a 21-year-old model from England, soon to work with the Eileen Ford agency in New York, and it impresses me even more today, as I peruse pictures of modern stars in their very modern attire — or lack of.
For Marilyn's ability to be alluring without being in-your-face not only made her appeal timeless (half a century later, we are still drawn to her), it also contrasts rather unfavourably against today's female celebrities and their crude, lewd interpretation of sex appeal.
That difference was this week encapsulated by Golden Globe-winning actress Jacqueline Bisset — at 70, one of my contemporaries — who lamented the 'obvious' way in which so many young women today show themselves off.
They're obsessed with 'being hot', she remarked, and qualities such as charm, magic and romance have been usurped by the cruder desire to look sexually available.
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Elizabeth Taylor and Tulisa Contostavlos: Both wear plunging dresses, but Liz appears classy and Tulisa brassy
Joan Collins and Kim Kardashian: A demure Joan is definitely more glamorous than TV star Kim in red
It is a sentiment I certainly share. Few people could deny today's female celebrities dress in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination. Their sole aim, it seems, is to seduce.
The difference becomes all the more clear when you compare the two generations. Even modern stars who try to emulate Marilyn, such as singer Rita Ora, fail to understand the understated sexiness that was the secret of her success.
On these pages, Rita is photographed in a Monroe pose. But is she a lookalike or, in fact, a caricature? The famous pout is replicated, but also horribly exaggerated.
The hair is blonder and brassier. The painted-on brows a parody of Monroe's finely-arched pair. The aura of unconscious sexiness invested in Marilyn's pose is absent from Ora's. Monroe's natural beauty is replaced by artifice.
Or consider Elizabeth Taylor's incomparable glamour — that restrained glimpse of cleavage, the alabaster shoulders, the demure smile — and compare her with former X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos, who spills out of a revealing top, her face artificially enhanced. And while Tulisa's look is universal — you see it replicated on every High Street from London to LA — Taylor was unique.
For where once quirkiness was a mark of charm and individuality, now women have been forced into uniformity, into a stereotype of feminine attractiveness that demands pouting lips, crudely overdrawn brows and boobs that have been, if not surgically enhanced, then hoiked up so they burst out of uplifting bras.
It is a world away from Elizabeth Taylor, whom I met at a mutual friend's flat in Kensington, West London, in the Sixties. She was off‑duty but still striking, her scarlet dress a perfect foil for her dark hair and those incredible violet eyes framed by sooty lashes.
Though her language was raunchy, her appearance was restrained. She did not need to employ artifice or exaggeration: her unadorned beauty spoke for itself.
Meanwhile, Joan Collins as a young starlet could almost be described as demure — an adjective that could never be applied to Kim Kardashian. The reality TV star makes a blatant appeal to the camera. She has the obligatory gravity-defying bosom.
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Raquel Welch and Amy Childs: The film siren is effortlessly sexy, left, while TOWIE's Amy is trying too hard
Jane Fonda and Caprice: The actress's sexy restraint beats Caprice's naked defiance on cover of GQ magazine
She may have become a brand, but her remorseless talent for self-promotion will not, I suspect, ensure her the enduring, timeless appeal of Joan Collins who, even in her 80s, evokes an era of glamour, poise and elegance before it was usurped by the crude objectification of women's bodies.
I find it deeply unedifying that sex is so obviously the commodity today's stars are promoting. There is no attempt to mask it; no euphemism, no subtlety, no grace.
When I was modelling, it was possible even to pose naked without forfeiting style and modesty — not that I actually did. But witness the photo of Jane Fonda, cross-legged and nude on a beach. She looks, paradoxically, sexy and innocent; beguiling yet modest.
She does not allow us a glimpse of anything indecorous, and this restraint is what makes the image not only aesthetically pleasing, but enduring and compelling.
Contrast it with Caprice's brazen GQ Magazine cover shot. The stance is similar to Fonda's but cruder: the model's arms fail to cover her breasts. Her gaze is open and defiant while Fonda's is full of fun. I regret the passing of this gentler era before romance became obsolete; when young women did not feel compelled — as Jacqueline Bisset deftly phrased it — to set out their wares as if they were sweets in a shop.
In our brave new world of aggressively promoted sexual equality, women seem afraid to reveal vulnerability or diffidence. They must be defiant, blatant, sometimes crude.
So we have the improbably enlarged Katie Price, posing — legs akimbo — in a tiny bolero top that fails to contain her vast lacy bra. Does she have charm or elegance? I fear not. Yet Bond girl Ursula Andress exudes both, in a modest white bikini and shirt.
Ursula Andress and Katie Price: The Bond girl is bewitching, whereas Katie Price merely looks cheap
Jacqueline Bisset and Kelly Brook: The Hollywood star's relaxed pose and classic bikini easily upstage Brook's more provocative posture
Kelly Brook gives a teaser of her new lingerie calendar
Subtlety is harder to encapsulate than brazenness, yet it is, in my view, far more alluring to hint at some hidden mystique than to display everything.
Which is why I so much favour the fresh-faced and unaffectedly beautiful Bisset, standing bikini-clad in the sea, over the overtly sexual — although doubtlessly beautiful — Kelly Brook.
Both are in bikinis, yet Bisset looks wholesome and elegant, while Brook's skimpy, revealing number and raunchy, made-for-men pose just looks cheap and overly-available. It is why Amy Childs, of TV reality show The Only Way Is Essex, might be striking in scanty silver underwear, as she faces the camera with modern defiance, but she has none of the class of Raquel Welch, who wears similarly little but has modestly averted eyes.
Whereas Amy looks arch, Raquel seems warm and effortlessly attractive. But then, these poses all sum up the dispiriting contrast between women then and now.
We no longer value decorum; actually, it has become obsolete; a word without currency or meaning — and we are all the poorer for its absence.
TELL The Girl, by Sandra Howard, published by Simon & Schuster, is out now in e-book and hardback, for £12.99.