Today is the 75th anniversary of Penguin Books and the company is celebrating by giving away Penguin books to blog readers all over the internet - including here, at Deep Glamour. The book we'll be giving away is The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's thought-provoking examination of how the food we eat is grown.
Pollan is part of an interesting trend in the food world, and his work points to the important role of glamour in American consumer behavior. His efforts to help Americans better understand what they eat (and to eat better) are largely about deglamorizing food by taking the mystery out of the food creation process. Hard as it is to imagine now, during the middle part of 20th century, mass-produced foods had a certain allure. They were blessed by the glamour of modernity. Most of that glamour had rubbed off by the end of the century, but mass-produced foods still retained a tiny touch of mystique. By stepping inside industrial farming, showing his readers how the metaphorical sausage is made, Pollan helps eliminate that last little bit of glamour.
At the same time, if you want to change the world (or, in this case, change how Americans shop), it's not enough to simply gross people out at the sight of plastic-wrapped ground beef. For one thing, that beef is less expensive than buying from a small, organic farmer. For another, it's how Americans have shopped for several generations now. We're used to it. If we're going to change, we need a good reason to stop doing what we're doing and a good reason to start doing something else.
Pollan recognizes this. He knows that Americans need not just good food to buy, but a good story behind that food. To get the good story, the people growing the food need to be passionate - and glamorous - themselves. In a 2006 interview with Powell's Books, he said:
You need more people on the land to do it well, so we have to make farming a more glamorous profession. That's one of the great things Alice Waters has done. She's taken that light of glamour and shown it on farmers by highlighting their menus and putting the ingredients in the forefront of her presentation.
Culture has devalued farming for a hundred years. Go back to Jefferson and nothing was more glamorous—not that glamour was the kind of word he would have used, but glamour is very important in a culture. To the extent that we value farming, more people will want to do it and we'll begin to repopulate the countryside. That will be a very positive step.
Pollan said that four years ago. In the time since, sustainable farming has continued to gain supporters and cache. However, it's still outside the mainstream and it's still expensive.
If you'd like to win a copy of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, please leave a comment below. You can say anything to enter, but we'd especially like to hear about what role glamour plays for you when you're thinking about food. We'll choose one commenter at random to win the book, which will be sent directly from Penguin. The deadline to enter is midnight Pacific Time, Thursday, August 5.
In the introduction to her essay collection, A Dedicated Follower of Fashion, fashion critic Holly Brubach makes a case for the cultural significance of fashion. It is, she suggests, “architecture’s feminine counterpart....Buildings and clothes are the primary components of our everyday landscape, and they embody the ideas and the attitudes of the time in which we live.”
While I agree with her about fashion’s significance, I’m not convinced that buildings are clothing’s masculine counterpart. They are too static, too permanent, and too communal. Architecture operates differently on the imagination. It tends to be more evocative in photographs than in person, while clothes are just the opposite.
Fashion’s real masculine counterpart is personal transportation, which since the early 20th century means cars. (It once meant coaches, as time spent with Madame Bovary or Sherlock Holmes will quickly demonstrate.) Like an outfit, an automobile wraps its owner in a new outer shell, both protective and decorative. Even the most ordinary car, like even the most ordinary clothes, thus holds some prospect of transformation while extraordinary cars, like extraordinary clothes, conjure up whole new lives. The glamour of both comes from the promise of escape and transformation.
Both cars and clothes also express, as Brubach said of architecture, the ideas and attitudes of their time. Yet, outside of the movies, they are only rarely deliberately paired to call attention to these correspondences. People who think seriously about cars usually know little about fashion, and vice versa.
As the exhibit’s copy notes, in the streamline era the echoes were sometimes deliberate:
Wealthy connoisseurs would collaborate with French couturiers, automakers, and coachbuilders to create perfectly matching ensembles. Even Chanel met with exclusive coachbuilders like Joseph Figoni to formulate matching automobile and fashion ensembles for a select few clients. Well heeled patrons often had long lunches in exclusive hotel restaurants with their coachbuilders and couturiers to order coordinating fashion and automobile ensembles to be debuted at prestigious parties or high profile events such as a concours d’elegance.
There might have been other, less official wardrobe coordination. The second car pictured is a 1937 Delage D8-120. Louis Delage, the car company’s founder, contrasted his products with the competition. “Gentlemen drive Alfas, and you’re driven in a Rolls,” he said. “But a Delage is something to give one’s mistress,” perhaps along with a similarly streamlined bias-cut dress.
[Car photos courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum. Fashion from Phoenix Art Museum Collection, photos by Ken Howie. Bottom exhibit photo by Virginia Postrel.]
The capacity of human beauty to move us has long been a source of mystery. In Christopher Marlowe’s 1587 play, Tamburlaine the Great, Tamburlaine’s rage for conquest causes him to destroy cities, kingdoms, and whole races. He kidnaps Zenocrate, the daughter of the Egyptian king, rapes or seduces her, then falls in love and marries her. They have three sons together, and when she dies he is inconsolable.
At one point, unable to understand why her beauty moves him so, Tamburlaine decides that if all the poets in the world, with all their wit, were to fashion the perfect tribute to beauty, then
“Yet should there hover in their restless heads One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least, Which into words no virtue can digest.”
I chose this photograph of Monica Bellucci to illustrate our inability to fully express our sense of wonderment when we perceive beauty because it conceals her astonishingly sexy figure. The beauty of her face and figure are so impossible to ignore that many of her film roles have focused on the obsessive desire that her appearance fosters in men. In 2004 AskMen.com voted her the most beautiful woman in world.
This black-and-white portrait of Bellucci in her mid-40s allows us to see that part of her allure is her remarkable poise. She started modeling when she was sixteen, and for awhile she used her earnings to pay for law school before she eventually choose to pursue modeling and acting full time. She speaks Italian, French, English, and Spanish, and as an actress she has had speaking roles in each language. I suspect that her intelligence has helped her keep all the fuss about her appearance in perspective.
Looking at Bellucci’s dark Italian eyes, I also suspect that it would be impossible to ever fully “know” this woman. But I think the same is often true of the people that each of us loves and are closest to. We may get used to the patterns of living with someone after a number of years, but “getting used to” someone doesn’t mean that we fully “know them.” And I suspect that thinking we do can easily become an unfortunate mistake. There is something important to be said for retaining some sense of mystery, and periodically surprising your significant other with an unexpected action designed to please them can suggest that you never intend to take your relationship with them for granted.
As someone who enjoys surprising my wife with unexpected gifts, I once mentioned to a colleague that I thought I would pick up a dozen roses on the way home. He asked what the occasion was, and I said that there was no occasion, and that’s what would make it a nice surprise. He said that he had never done anything like that, and maybe he should buy roses too. Then after a moment’s thought, he said, “No, if I did that my wife would start the third degree on me, wanting to know what I had done wrong, and she would never let up.”
[The photo of Monica Bellucci is by Studio Harcourt Paris, and is used under the WikiMedia Commons license. The “A Wonderful Surprise” photograph is by Flickr user audreyjm529, and is used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]
Americans long ago consigned world’s fairs to the toy box of history. Once celebrated as showcases of world cultures and windows into the future, these grand expositions lost their glamour sometime during the Johnson administration. Like Space Food Sticks and Jonny Quest,they are fondly remembered — at least by those over 50 — but a bit ridiculous: all that ethnocentricism, naive internationalism, and technological good cheer. The last one to warrant much attention was Montreal’s Expo ’67, from which the now-defunct baseball team took its name. (Sorry, Seville ’92.) Our cynical culture is done with world’s fairs.
Not so for Shanghai, where Expo 2010 opened on May 1 and runs through October. In its first two months, the Shanghai Expo attracted more than 20 million visitors, mostly from China itself. Spanning more than 1,300 acres on both sides of the Huangpu River, the fair is an ubiquitous presence throughout the city. Public gardens reproduce the logo in white flowers, subway-car TVs broadcast upbeat interviews with exhibitors and tourists, huge LED screens on downtown buildings play promotional videos, and street vendors hawk knockoffs of its squat, blue, Gumby-like mascot. Visiting Shanghai in May, I quickly discovered that the Chinese authorities haven’t lost their zeal for propaganda. They’ve just changed their colors from revolutionary red to Expo green.
Taking place in a society that is both authoritarian and rapidly developing, the Shanghai Expo highlights the double-edged allure of world’s fairs, which are both deceptive and inspiring. The Expo’s cheery boosterism and sanitized reality match Lawrence R. Samuel’s description of the 1964 New York World’s Fair in The End of the Innocence: a “protective cocoon” where “foreign nations sang in harmony, corporations existed to produce things that made life better, and, most important, the future looked brighter than ever.” Like all glamorous objects, the ’64 fair was an illusion. Yet its optimistic spirit, and those of other fondly remembered world’s fairs, fostered attitudes that often did produce real progress. “For the tens of millions of kids who went,” writes Samuel, who was one of them, the fair “planted a seed of the possibility to achieve great things.”
In the 1980 comic movie CaddyshackRodney Dangerfield’s character played a loud-mouthed, nouveau-riche real-estate tycoon who disrupts the decorum of a country-club golf course. Great touches in Dangerfield’s portrayal were brightly colored clothes and flashy cars.
Now life is imitating art as American golfer John Daly has become a representative of Loudmouth clothes. Virtually all of Loudmouth’s pants have a clown-like character which makes Dangerfield’s movie outfits look almost restrained. The psychedelic pants shown in the photo are so garish that most men would be embarrassed to wear them as pajamas.
Golf has long been a relatively moneyed sport, and if you watch a telecast of a major golf tournament the main sponsors will inevitably be investment firms, luxury cars, expensive watches, and golf equipment. Since much golf is played at country clubs, proper dress is usually tasteful, occasionally even a bit dapper. Here is British player Sir Nick Faldo looking as glamorous as his title suggests he might (he was knighted for his services to golf).
Although some brightly colored golf clothes in solid colors are seen on tournament broadcasts, Daly’s outfits make him look as if he has wandered in from some other cultural universe. One of Daly’s nicknames has been ‘wild thing,’ and it is a tribute to some quirk of his personality that he can manage to play great golf while wearing clothes that make him look like a caricature of bad taste.
[The photo of John Daly is by Flickr user Keith Allison and is used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]
Randall's post about the aging motorcyclists raises an interesting question: What's the difference between being glamorous and feeling glamorous?
Since at least the 1930s, fashion magazines, cosmetics companies, and fashion houses have treated "glamour" as a style or product. "The gospel of Max Factor and [British makeup artists] the Westmores was that glamour could be achieved by any woman who put her mind to it," writes Carol Dyhouse in Glamour: Women, History, Feminism, citing a magazine's 1939 on the makeover of a charlady. (She wiped off her new face and went back to her regular life.) A makeover or special outfit may make someone look attractive, and looking attractive may make her feel glamorous, but is that all there is to actually being glamorous?
In her excellent new book American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture, architectural historian Alice T. Friedman examines mid-century buildings that were designed to make their occupants feel glamorous by framing their lives--literally, with windows and other structural outlines--and giving them a feeling of processing through a special space. Eero Sarinen's TWA terminal, she writes, "offered travelers a vivid architectural experience, one in which ordinary people were given the opportunity not simply to arrive and depart in style but also to process and promenade, to sit, stand, dine, and observe one another in spaces of a ceremonial quality previously reserved for only the privileged few." The terminal was glamorous, but judging from the ordinary-looking crowd in the accompanying photo, I can't say the same about the passengers. Slumping in their swoopy modern seats, they look tired and a little schlubby, hardly up to crisp Mad Men standards. (You can see the photo at the end of this online excerpt from the book.) They don't make me yearn to join their special world.
Real glamour requires a receptive audience. You can only be glamorous if others perceive you that way. Feeling glamorous, on the other hand, means that your mental picture of yourself is one that you would find glamorous. You become the audience for your own glamour, creating a image of yourself that veils your flaws. Defying the ultimate intimacy, you somehow manage to turn yourself into an alluring Other. As for actual others, they may see something different.
While strolling past the Santa Fe, NM plaza, the amplified music of the folk singer entertainer was temporarily drowned out by a group of motorcyclists riding by. Their loud bikes shouted “look at me,” but I had already guessed what I would see. This would not be a youthful motorcycle gang led by a Marlon BrandoThe Wild One look-alike, but aging fathers and grandfathers reliving the feelings of their youth. The do-rag of the gentleman who stopped closest to me held back not the luxuriant hair of youth, but the thinning gray hair of upper middle age. His minimally muffled Harley-Davidson might have sounded slightly menacing, but the rider looked benign. His portly figure spoke of too many beers and too much sitting, and for the sake of his body he would have been better off walking, hiking, or bicycling.
But this ride was not about how he appears to the outside world, but how he feels inside. Like many summer riders, during most weeks of the year his life revolves around the typical responsibilities that tie a man down: a wife, a family, a house, and a regular job or profession (assuming he’s not retired). But for the moment he is riding free: he has escaped all of that and feels unencumbered by conventional obligations.
Granted he may have to bring along a Lipitor prescription for his high cholesterol, and perhaps other medications for high blood pressure or other ailments, but these are far from his thoughts. And tonight he may have to phone home to let his wife know he is safe and well, assuming that she is not driving a support vehicle for the group and will meet him later at some prearranged motel. But none of that matters now. At this moment in time he has escaped the restraints of everyday existence, and with “Born to be Wild” as his mental soundtrack, he can imagine himself a youthful free spirit riding toward the unknown adventures of his future existence.
In her delightful memoir, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House (which I reviewed here), Meghan Daum pokes loving fun at herself, her mother, and everyone else smitten with house glamour and the redecorating and relocation it inspires. Among her insights is that:
In home ownership there are two realms: the visible and the invisible, the fun and the unfun, the parts for which there are paint chips and plant nurseries and catalogs filled with doorknobs and drawer pulls and reproductions of Art Deco light fixtures and the parts for which the only gratification is that your water is running and your lights are on.
Even if you find the perfect house, you eventually have no more space for new furniture or no more money (or time) for redecorating. The fun part is over and you're just fighting entropy.
Are there 12 step programs for people addicted to design magazines? My heart races when I rush to my mail box just looking for the bright catalogues from which I will buy nothing. I love to dream about redecorating my kitchen (not that I am much of a cook.) Or even just arranging my dishes (and in my imagination they are always clean and matching) just so in their perfectly nestled cupboards. Currently we have a serious pot problem (not that kind) in our kitchen. The pots are lurking in a dark corner cabinet, piled incorrectly and ready to snap at an unsuspecting hand should you want to umm…boil an egg.
But in my dream dollhouse I can have glorious dishes and pottery and pots that won’t bite. In playing digital dollhouse I can arrange and re-arrange to my little hearts content. I don’t think about things like general contractors or the fact that our plumbing doesn’t allow for more than an intermittent drip in our kitchen should the sprinklers start going. In my dream kitchen, dishes are always new and glasses are always clean.
Digital Dollhouse, which has 289,000 members, is child-friendly--it hit big last October, when Mattel added it to Barbie.com's online game network--but its most adept and obsessed designers are adults.
Below is a room called "Glamorous", by Debbie McLaney, one of my favorite DDH designers. Those valances are made of pillows, illustrating one of the common themes of the best rooms: repurposing the rather limited elements available in DDH space to create the effects you want. (Here's an article about the technology behind the site.)
Here's another room, by designer nounoir, that not only uses the pillows-as-valance trick but also turns plates into recessed lighting and another pillow, on the bureau, into what I take to be a mirror or picture frame.
The physical laws governing DDH are different from those in the real world. Objects can only rotate on their vertical axes. Some can levitate while others stick to the walls or floor. You can hang a mirror on a window, for instance, but you can't put it on the ceiling. In this room, I used the levitation option to suggest wire plant holders.
Despite the site's name, there are very few dolls in the Digital Dollhouse world and none in the beach house. (The site also has a Victorian.) For adults, at least, that's good. Without people, the rooms have an expectant quality, inviting viewers to project themselves into these idealized spaces or to imagine their owners' stories. The sense of mystery tends to make any well-designed room, regardless of palette or style, feel glamorous. And, of course, there are no cords on the lamps.
John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel, was already captivated by automobiles by age five. He knew the names and model years of all the cars on the road. He would sit behind the wheel of his father’s parked 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook, and instead of being in the mountains of West Virginia, he would look at his father’s maps of Colorado and Utah and imagine himself driving in the wild West.
As an adult, John loved to watch documentaries and didn't think enough were available on TV, so in 1982 he founded the Cable Educational Network and, three years later, the Discovery Channel. Over time, while doing work that he loves as chairman of Discovery Communications, he and his wife Maureen have become wealthy.
Keep in mind that most entrepreneurial ventures fail, but imagine success. Imagine yourself with a multi-million dollar net worth. Would you imagine continuing to work, starting new ventures, and spending some of your earnings on your personal interests? Or do you see yourself leading a life of leisure, perhaps traveling the world on some fashionable circuit?
John and Maureen Hendricks have realized the first fantasy: Their interests and personalities haven't changed. They aren't flashy, and the luxuries they spend their money on aren't designed to impress the world. John, like many entrepreneurs, continues to work hard at various ventures, and both he and Maureen are involved in charitable activities, including establishing two foundations. But their wealth lets them live the dream of indulging their lifelong passions.
With extra money to spend, John Hendricks began to collect autos in earnest. And to share his love of automobiles, he created the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum to exhibit his growing collection of more than 40 vehicles. This beautifully designed museum provides both an educational and aesthetic experience. John’s statement about the museum reveals his intense passion for automotive design.
The video above shows the prototype of legendary auto designer Harley Earl’s 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 on display at the museum. General Motors decided against producing the F-88 car partly because they were concerned it would compete with the Corvette. Only four prototypes were built and only this one survives. Hendricks purchased it at auction in 2005 for $3.24 million.
The Hendricks's shared love for the American Southwest led to their latest business venture, Gateway Canyons, a luxurious resort in a remote, spectacularly beautiful location in Western Colorado. The resort is now open after Phase I development, and includes the Experius Academy, a retreat for “introducing the most curious learners to the most passionate experts.”
Maureen Hendricks is avid quilter and art-quilt collector, and the Gateway Canyons facilities display numerous large art quilts, many of them by Katie Pasquini Masopust. Katie used to hold an annual quilt symposium Alegre Retreat in Santa Fe, which Maureen attended each year until rising venue expenses made it too difficult for Katie continue the symposium. The Gateway Canyon resort has given Maureen a way both to enjoy herself and to support other enthusiasts. With the resort’s support, Alegre Retreat now holds its workshops there. Staying at a luxurious resort to study and interact with some of the world’s best-known art quilters remains an expensive retreat for the participants, but Maureen’s passion for quilting is so strong that whether or not the quilting retreat becomes profitable is not her primary concern. She wants the aesthetic rewards of the Alegre Retreat to continue to be a part of her life.
Meeting them when my wife taught at Alegre, I was impressed at how inner-directed John and Maureen Hendricks are. If we fantasize about how we might spend multi-millions if we had them, would our choices likewise remain true to our preexisting passions? (Reflecting on this makes me consider my own passions.) Or do our fantasies revolve about living a life of luxurious leisure dictated by the images we see in fashion and travel magazines? (Such images definitely have appeal for me.) What about you? Imagining that you had some extra millions to spend, DG invites you to comment on how you might spend them.
When I first saw this painting a few years ago at SMU's Meadows Museum, I thought it was some kind of spoof. Surely the sunglasses were an anachronism in a Baroque painting.
But, no, Jusepe de Ribera's Portrait of a Knight of Santiago is a legitimate 17th-century work. The Meadows website explains that the "large ebony spectacles are of a fashionable type sometimes worn by upper class Spaniards. Besides adding concentration to the sitter’s already imposing gaze, the spectacles offered Ribera an opportunity to capture the subtle interplay of shadow and reflection in the lenses as well as a glimpse into the sitter’s personality."
The history of sunglasses seems under-researched. This dubiously sourced article seems to be the Ur-text of most online histories, but even this seemingly more reliable one suggests that tinted lenses date only to 1752, a history contradicted by de Ribera's painting from more than a century before. But there seems to be a consensus that they only caught on in the early 20th century.
Why did it take so long? Were there manufacturing and cost barriers? Or did hats and veils provide the physical and psychological protection that now come from shades? If you know more, or can point me toward good sources, please leave a comment or send an email to vpostrel-at-deepglamour.net.