Amelia Earhart is among those rare celebrities who are as familiar today as they were in their own time. Photographs of the iconic aviator, with tousled hair, leather jacket, and silk scarf, helped to secure her fame and ensure its perpetuation. Her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 is undeniably part of the story; the dramatic and unsolved circumstances of her demise, and the lack of physical evidence, are powerful factors that contribute to keeping her image alive in the popular consciousness, and the trope of the popular hero who dies dramatically at the height of fame is a familiar one. However, her end does not explain the appeal of her image in her own time--particularly for a woman--or its continued currency as shorthand for a range of cultural and stylistic ideals today.
Two ad campaigns from the 1990s make clear that Earhart's image continues to represent much more than her spectacular finish. In the late 1990s, Apple launched its "Think Different" campaign: a series of magazine ads, billboards, and posters with a single black-and-white portrait of an iconic innovator, along with the Apple logo and the tagline "Think Different," an attempt to underscore Apple's position as rebel to IBM's mainstream (whose longtime slogan was "Think"), and to associate the brand with creative risk-takers. Along with images of Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Miles Davis, Apple employed an early portrait of Earhart. It shows her in white flying helmet with goggles perched on her head. Her white shirt and tie are out of focus, so that the suggestion of menswear is present without being foregrounded, and creates a foil for her model-like looks, youthfulness, and femininity. Her expression is doe-eyed and determined. Earhart's image needs no caption: it is understood that the viewer will recognize her, and will associate the Apple brand with daring and adventure, as well as unconventionality, conveyed by the gender-bending signals in the portrait. In a similar campaign by Gap in 1993, the company employed a series of American icons to sell khaki pants. The photograph of Earhart selected for this campaign shows the aviator (in khakis) next to her plane. Her mastery of the machine that dwarfs her in the photograph telegraphs her confidence and modernity, while her boyish, almost childish demeanor disarms and lends her an air of vulnerability. Both ads rest almost solely on the array of associations with Earhart's photographic image, identifiable and potent enough to sell clothes and computers seventy years after her disappearance.
In her own time, Earhart was appealing because she represented the physical embodiment of heady new ideals circulating in the culture. Chief among these was the figure of the New Woman, an independent and convention-defying version of modern womanhood...She also represented, whether by design or synchronicity, a physical style that reflected the changing fashion in clothing and body type in the 1920s and '30s. She was in sync with styles promoted by Hollywood and fashion designers, in her thinness, androgyny, short hair, and even sunned skin. An outspoken advocate of women's rights in the postsuffrage era, she offered women a new, seemingly more modern feminist model, one which did not look like the matronly older generation of suffragette activists. Above all else, her profession endowed her with an aura of excitement, advancement, and risk. In an era before commercial aviation, the aviator was a heroic symbol of modernism. His female counterpart, the aviatrix, was the ultimate glamorous and daring modern woman. Earhart stepped into the stylistic template established by other female flyers....But while Earhart's image incorporated existing iconography, it was also essentially authentic: like her name--almost too good to be true--her leather jacket, short hair, and other key elements of her signature style were not the constructions of a publicist but perfected, refined versions of her own (prefame) self-presentation.
Camille Paglia wrote about how Earhart "pulled me out of my tailspin as an alienated adolescent and social misfit" in this 1999 LAT piece.
Hilary Swank will take a break from turning herself in to a man, and play a French Champagne executive in a film adaptation of French Women Don't Get Fat, the bestseller written by former Veuve Cliquot executive Mireille Guiliano.
Some wetblanket researchers found that French women have gained, on average, one dress size since the 1970s and adult obesity in France could equal rates seen in America as soon as 2020. No movie in that!
Swank's been French before, odd as that seems. Starring in The Affair of the Necklace, she played a French aristocrat thrown into turmoil by the Revoltion and with a nod to her career-building transvestism, wore knee britches and a tricorn and looked more elegant than in the vast skirts and lavish jewels.
She's currently filming Amelia, playing aviatrix Amelia Earhart, with Richard Gere as her husband and promotor George Putnam. FOX has been stingy with production stills, but director Mira Nair is letting someone make Swank look suitably Mid-Western and drab.
Which is a pity, as Earhart and Putnam knew the value of image.
Karl Lagerfeld branches out from his usual roles as designer, philosopher, and diet book author into a new genre--video games. In Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV, he's a radio host/DJ, on the K109 The Studio radio station, playing electronica and dance music, which was quite a switch for Liberty City citizens.(Take a listen after the jump.) The game will be available for PC in November, but be warned--he's never on-screen.
But wait! There's more.
Steiff, the venerable German toy company, has recently introduced the Karl Lagerfeld bear. Exclusive to Neiman Marcus, the retails for $1500 and features sunglasses and a KL blinged-out belt buckle. And curse the gods--only 2500 of the lush plushies will be made.
In W, Miles Socha got the gloved one (no, the other gloved one) to admit:
I never played with anything like
toys. I wanted to be grown-up.
So, having achieved hyper-adulthood, Lagerfeld now decided to be immortalized in both pixels and plush?
I'm fascinated by this ad (by Venebles, Bell & Partners), which has been running in heavy rotation during the Olympics. It adopts the conventions of shelter magazines (and their advertisers) in presenting an empty but evocative home interior, then speeds up the imagery so fast that you experience the space only as if out of the corner of your eye. You don't quite have time to feel the glamour of the interior or the displaced meaning it represents. But that's OK, because the ad is using the house to sell a car.
The ad works because you don't need the details. You already know what the house, in its two incarnations, represents: the good life. What's interesting is that the ad doesn't cheat. It makes the traditionalist interior look well-designed and appealing. It simply presents an alternative and names it "progress," confident that the audience it wants will agree. And then, of course, the trick is to get people who feel the allure of the modern house to identify with Audi rather than (again, no cheat) Mercedes.
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Posted by Virginia Postrel on August 21, 2008 in
Thanks to Jesse Walker, The Agitator, and Sean Kinsell, we're getting traffic already. Thanks, guys, but we're just practicing at the moment and the blog's design is only temporary. Monday, August 25 is the official launch! It will be much more glamorous then.
OK, you can read now. (But our graphic designer is still refining the logo.)
Posted by Virginia Postrel on August 15, 2008 in
Beyond the ordinary factors that give the Democrats an advantage this year, Barack Obama's glamour poses a huge problem for the McCain campaign. To destroy glamour, you have to change perceptions. You can try sober realism. But that lacks emotional punch. To strike at glamour's emotional core, horror and ridicule work better. Instead of telling the audience to ignore its desires and be rational, they replace desire with dread or derision. What was once inspirational becomes terrible or absurd.
McCain's "The One" attack ad (now in a new Denver convention version, above) is clearly an attempt to strip some of the glamour off Obama. That much is indisputable. Pundits are now arguing about whether the ad's imagery is intended as satire (the ridicule strategy) or as a veiled attempt to paint Obama as the Antichrist (the horror strategy). If you're a cool cosmopolitan character, it's hard to object to satire, even when directed at your favorite political figure. Irony is too much a part of your cultural milieu. Hence the appeal of the horror narrative: The ad isn't mocking Obama for messianic excess. It's literally portraying him as not just any old false messiah but the Antichrist.
What's interesting about this dispute is that it can't be resolved simply by looking at the ad. The interpretation is entirely in the audience's mind. The words and imagery that make Obama look ridiculously messianic are the same words and imagery that make him look like he's usurping the real Messiah's role. There's no way an ad meant to spoof him could avoid the charge of playing to fundamentalist fears. Do you find those words and images silly or scary? It depends on your cultural assumptions.
Though I'm not exactly a fan, I find it hard to believe that John McCain, a man whose humor is a major part of his persona and who clearly thinks Obama is a wet-behind-the-ears pretender, intended anything other than satire. The ad seems like obvious mockery. But it's impossible to disprove that someone in the campaign wanted a "dog whistle" to scare fundamentalists. Like glamour, humor is in the audience's mind. And the people who look at the ad and cry, "Antichrist" see only horror in the Republican base, imagining the worst. Hat tip: Megan McArdle
What's been largely forgotten by the non-expert public is that Saarinen's future-shaping architecture included the design of many corporate research campuses, including those for Bell Labs, IBM, and GM. These facilities were just as forward-looking and glamorous in their day as any airport. "Coming to work at the Tech Center was like stepping into the future," Wayne Cherry, GM's vp for design, told Metropolis magazine in 2003. (Great slideshow here.) In December 1955, Architecture Forum called Saarinen's GM Technical Center "nothing less than the Industrial Versailles--the nerve center, the capitol of an empire whose corporate directors and managers believe in what GM stands for and what it does even more firmly than Louis XIV ever believed he was divine, and have declared themselves (as he did) in the way they built."
Click here, or on the photo above, for examples of Saarinen's work from the National Building Museum exhibit.
Glamour is...not a matter of style but of psychology. It is not a physical property but an imaginative quality that creates a specific, emotional response: a mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It is this emotional experience, this pang-filled pleasure, that we hope to recapture once "glamour is back."
Like humor, glamour is universal, but its manifestations vary from person to person, culture to culture, and era to era. To equate jewel tones or mirrored furniture with glamour is like treating a pratfall or a Monty Python routine as the definition of humor. Calling a particular style "glamour" is, at best, a form of synecdoche. "There are as many definitions of glamour as there are people who aspire to attain it, and each age brings its own spin on glamorous lifestyles, clothing, and settings," writes Phyllis Magidson of the Museum of the City of New York, introducing an exhibition on New York glamour. Specific objects, lifestyles, or aesthetic elements become glamorous only when beheld by the right audience, for whom, say, skyscrapers or goddess gowns represent a yearned-for way of life. Some people find glamour in Zen-like restraint, others in baroque excess. Some glamorize a whirl of parties, others the solitude of a mountain retreat.
Just as different eras produce different forms of humor, what audiences find glamorous changes over time. The decline of one kind of glamour, whether of nineteenth-century Parisian grandes dames or of the mid-century Rat Pack, often presages the rise of another kind, representing different values or aspirations: the glamour of bohemian cafés or of rock stars. A geisha's glamour meant one thing in the nineteenth century, when geisha were chic style setters, and another after the 1920s, when they became custodians of tradition. The themes that unify the many forms of glamour are not formal elements but imaginative qualities--grace, mystery, and the promise of escape and transformation.