Sampling The Power Of Glamour On Pinterest

I've set up a Pinterest board for my forthcoming book The Power of Glamour, featuring photos with quotes from the book. Here are a few samples:

The book (pre-order your copy here) includes four photos by the great architectural photographer Julius Shulman, including this one of the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs.

One of the biggest misconceptions about glamour is that it is somehow feminine. Men are as susceptible to glamour as women, but it takes different forms for different audiences. One of the first uses of the word  glamour in the modern sense was in reference to "the glamour of battle," and martial glamour is one of glamour's most ancient forms.

One of the delightful discoveries during my research was the work of photographer Virginia Thoren, who specialized in glamorously portraying fur coats in mid-20th-century ads. I hope to feature an interview with her in a later DG post but, in the meantime, you can see more of her work at the June Bateman Fine Art site.


Mystery is an essential element of glamour and the subject of chapter five of The Power of Glamour.

The Power of Glamour will be published November 5. You can pre-order the book here.

[Julius Shulman's photo of the Kaufmann House © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with Permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10). Model in Silverblue Mink, 1956, copyright Virginia Thoren, courtesy of June Bateman Fine Art and The Virginia Thoren Collection at the Pratt Institute Libraries.]

'Katharine Hepburn: Dressed For Stage And Screen' At The NYPL

'Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen' on view at the NYPL for the Performing Arts, October 18, 2012 - January 12, 2013.
'Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen' on view at the NYPL for the Performing Arts, Oct. 18, 2012 - Jan. 12, 2013.

With this post, we introduce our newest DG contributor, Jessica Barber. (If the post's formatting looks odd, please adjust the width of your browser window. TypePad can produce some odd effects with photo placement, and they aren't Jessica's fault.)--vp

Last month I had the great pleasure of patronizing the beautifully curated costume exhibition Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, in a seemingly unlikely venue for such a topic: the New York Public Library. The exhibition was organized by the Kent State University Museum, which was given 700 items from Hepburn's estate several years after her passing in 2003 at the age of 96. (The museum is renowned for its extensive costume collection, which contains more than 40,000 objects.) In collaboration with the NYPL, the exhibition included not only many of the costumes from the actress's long career in stage, film, and television, but also examples of the casual everyday wardrobe that helped solidify her as an icon of “rebel chic.”

The fashion and costume designers represented in the exhibition were a veritable who’s who of Hollywood names: Valentina, Howard Greer, Muriel King, Irene, and Cecil Beaton, to name a few. Exhibited alongside garments and accessories were other film and stage ephemera such as posters, playbills, lobby cards, and even a makeup kit used by Hepburn, with various brushes, lipsticks, and Max Factor concealor still inside. 

Black silk evening gown by Walter Plunkett, worn by Hepburn as Amanda Bonner in Adam's Rib [MGM, 1949]; Kent State University Museum, KSUM 2010.12.4, Gift of the Estate of Katharine Hepburn. Designed to accent her 20" waist, this gown was colored red by the MGM publicity department for the lobby card, right.
Black silk evening gown by Walter Plunkett, worn by Hepburn as Amanda Bonner in 'Adam's Rib' [MGM, 1949]; Kent State University Museum, KSUM 2010.12.4, Gift of the Estate of Katharine Hepburn. Designed to accent her 20" waist, this gown was colored red by the MGM publicity department for the lobby card, right.
Original lobby card for Adam's Rib [MGM, 1949]; Kent State University Museum, KSUM A2010.3.14, Gift of Christopher P. Sullivan.
Original lobby card for 'Adam's Rib' [MGM, 1949]; Kent State University Museum, KSUM A2010.3.14, Gift of Christopher P. Sullivan.
Katharine Hepburn, Self-portrait as "Coco Chanel," 1970, watercolor on paper; Kent State University Museum, KSUM 2010.12.58, Gift of Katharine Hepburn.
Katharine Hepburn, Self-portrait as Coco Chanel, 1970, watercolor on paper; Kent State University Museum, KSUM 2010.12.58, Gift of Katharine Hepburn

One of the most important points the exhibition illustrated was Hepburn's high level of involvement in crafting her characters' wardrobes. More than many of her contemporaries, Hepburn was acutely aware of the importance of dress not only to the characters she portrayed but to the overall storyline as well. She worked closely with the designers of her film and stage ensembles (famed costume designer Edith Head once remarked that one "did not design for her," but "with her") and she even made sketches of her own costume designs. The muticolored pastel silk organza gown by Valentina that she wore as Jamie Coe Rowan in the 1942 film Without Love was one of many dresses that Hepburn personally sketched, noting details of the fabric choice, the construction, and how the skirt "simply floated."

Hepburn was also known to sketch self-portraits of herself as the characters she played. These captured the qualities she wanted to convey with each. Among the sketches included in the exhibition was her watercolor self-rendering as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, whom she played in the stage musical Coco (1969). Chanel was a hardworking couturière who was known for her stern personality, and this trait is skillfully conveyed by Hepburn's characterization.

Multicolored pastel silk organza gown by Valentina, worn by Hepburn as Jamie Coe Rowan in Without Love [1942]; Kent State University Museum, KSUM 2010.12.62, Gift of the Estate of Katharine Hepburn.
Multicolored pastel silk organza gown by Valentina, worn by Hepburn as Jamie Coe Rowan in 'Without Love' [1942]; Kent State University Museum, KSUM 2010.12.62, Gift of the Estate of Katharine Hepburn.
Katharine Hepburn as Jamie Coe Rowan, wearing a multicolored pastel silk organza gown by Valentina in Without Love [1942].
Katharine Hepburn as Jamie Coe Rowan, wearing a multicolored pastel silk organza gown by Valentina in 'Without Love' [1942].

Cream silk georgette and crêpe de Chine nightgown by Irene, Kent State University Museum, KSUM A2010.12.3, Gift of the Estate of Katharine Hepburn.
Cream silk georgette and crêpe de Chine nightgown by Irene, Kent State University Museum, KSUM A2010.12.3, Gift of the Estate of Katharine Hepburn.
Also of particular note was how meticulously well-crafted and in rather good condition many of these garments were, such as this shirred and appliquéd cream silk georgette and crêpe de Chine nightgown designed by Irene and worn by Hepburn as Mary Matthews in State of the Union (MGM, 1948). As any designer for the stage or screen will tell you, this is not always the case. Between the forgiving eye of the camera (or the forgiving distance of the audience from the stage) and the many retakes and rehearsals, the film and theatre costumes in museum collections are notorious for their shabbiness. But even from behind a wall of Plexiglas, it was clear that much care had been put into their detailed construction. This is no doubt also a reflection of how involved Hepburn was in the process of designing and creating them, and of the high standard to which she worked. As the exhibition text noted, she often had recreations of her costumes made for her everyday wardrobe, so it is no surprise that they were made to stand the test of time.
Slacks and jodhpurs worn by Katharine Hepburn at the NYPL. Image credit: The Associated Press.
Slacks and jodhpurs worn by Katharine Hepburn at the NYPL. Image credit: The Associated Press.
Of course no clothing exhibition of Katharine Hepburn's would be complete without at least a passing mention of her well-known preference for trousers in her everyday life. The exhibition included many pairs of slacks and jodhpurs skillfully installed on half-mannequins in poses that playfully evoked her unabashed preference for this masculine style, when it was still unheard of for women to express such sartorial sentiments.

With four Academy Awards for Best Actress (and eight additional Oscar nominations), Katharine Hepburn remains the most decorated actress in American film history. Even ten years after her passing, she continues to charm the public with her style, wit, and enduring performances. As noted in the exhibition brochure, perhaps Calvin Klein summed up Hepburn’s mass appeal best when he presented her with the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985: “She has truly epitomized the ultimate American woman. She’s vibrant, she’s outspoken, she’s hardworking and she’s independent…and, fortunately for all of us, she’s never been afraid to be comfortable.”

 (Note: The exhibition opened to the public in October 2012, and three months is the generally accepted upper limit on exhibitions featuring costumes and textiles because of their fragility, so the exhibition closed in January 2013. But, you can still download a PDF copy of the handsomely illustrated exhibition brochure here).

Blitz Kid Glamour: A Profile Of Alejandro Gocast

Alejandro Gocast

Glamour icon? London-based model, DJ, and scene-maker Alejandro Gocast is making an impressive go at that status. I first stumbled across Gocast on Facebook, as part of the revived New Romantic club scene in London that I’ve long admired and written about here on DeepGlamour. Arising in the early 1980s, the New Romantics represented a creative, dressed-to-impress music and style movement, post-punk, post-disco. Now, more than 30 years later, Gocast is one of a new generation of New Romantic club kids. And he cuts a spectacular image in modeling and club photos. I interviewed him exclusively for DeepGlamour.

CH: How do you describe what you do? I think of you as a model, a glamorous nightclub personality, and a DJ.  But give DG a fuller picture of what you do?

Gocast: I would describe my career as an eclectic one. As well as being known for what you have mentioned in the London scene, I also have a career in luxury events management. My life is not a simple one. It can be challenging at times keeping up with schedules, appointments, club nights, friends, family—the list is endless, but then again life is for the living.  

CH: Where are you from? Your Model Mayhem profile says you are from Latin America, with parents of Mexican and German descent, respectively. How old were you when you moved to Britain?

Gocast: That is one tricky question. I am actually British, although I was born in Mexico. I have lived in London since a very young age. However, my mother language is Spanish, therefore (unfortunately) I do not have the honor of speaking with an English accent. My “genetic” background has indeed German from my dad’s side and Mexican from my mother’s. I hope this all makes sense.

Alejandro Gocast by Peter AshworthCH: You have such a distinct look, one that I would describe as exotic and androgynous.  Not what most people might think of as a typical male model. How would you describe your style image? And how did you discover and develop that image? (Did you get started in the new New Romantic club scene in London, or was it some other inspiration?)

Gocast: My image definitely started in the London club scene. I used to go out to “normal” clubs and bars, but always feeling that I was not quite suitable for them, I started to look for a more arty environment and played around with different looks, which I still do. Since I have always had a thing for the New Romantic style, I decided to become “re-born” into a new way, more in sync with my inner personality and my personal opinion in life, which is a very simple one: be who you are. 

CH: What are the Blitz Kids?

Gocast: The Blitz Kids were a group of young people who frequented the Blitz nightclub in Covent Garden, London in the very early 1980s and are credited with launching the New Romantic cultural movement. Among their number is a good friend of mine, Steve Strange, also Boy George and his friends Marilyn and Alice Temple, Perri Lister, Princess Julia, Philip Sallon, Carl Teper and Martin Degville (later to be the frontman of Tony James's Sigue Sigue Sputnik). The club was known for its outrageous style of clothes and make-up for both sexes, while it was also the birthplace of several pop groups. There is an official website for this, on which I actually also feature, you can visit it here.

CH: What musicians and bands are atop your current playlist? What musicians and bands are lifelong favorites?

Gocast: I have a wide range of taste when it comes down to music, and also quite extreme. I go from hardcore metal to Kate Bush. My personal music player is full of extremes. I do not really focus my attention to one artist or band. Since you asked, a few on my playlists at the moment are Garbage, JLo, Amanda Lear, Tribal House, Korn, Dead or Alive, Donna Summer, Kate Bush, Siouxie and the Banshees… see what I mean?

CH: You've worked with numerous artists and designers. Perhaps one of my favorite of your collaborations has been with Marko Mitanovski, a favorite designer of Lady Gaga. When I first viewed his fashions, I was truly astonished - they are strange and intriguing and elegant. Anthropomorphic creatures in black and white. How did you come to model for Mitanovski?

Gocast: I met Marko at one of my clubs, “THE FACE.” He was a guest there, and the moment we met we knew we would be working together. It was the right chemistry and we also get along really well. It is indeed a pleasure to work with him. I can’t wait for his next collection!  I love his dramatic design style.

CH:  Is there a designer you wear most often right now?

Gocast: I wear a lot of pieces from various artists, and it is just a question of blending and matching them to create my night-out style. I recently worked with Dane Goulding, who designed for the Spice Girls. He has some truly amazing pieces.

CH: You've been in a few fashion-art short films. I thought "The Dionysian" released in 2011 was really beautiful, and you looked darkly enchanting wearing lace and a high collar. And enormous spidery eyelashes. What was that experience like? What sort of direction were you given in the film, in terms of posing or projecting a certain image?

Gocast: This film was shot in London, in December. It was a very cold night and the director knew exactly what he wanted. Since we shared the same vision, I fit perfectly in the film. This film is going to an exhibition in Paris this year. I have worked behind and in front and the camera for a few years now, and the experience is always the same for me, exciting and always looking forward to seeing the final creation. 

CH: You starred in another fashion/art film called "Perform Nijinsky," which was produced by the very talented cabaret performer Mr. Pustra. Clearly the film was something of an homage to the early 20th-century Ballet Russes legend, Vaslav Nijinsky. Can you tell DG more about that film project?

Gocast: Pustra is a good friend and I am also an admirer of his work. Together with Dorota Mulczynska, the vision of a morphed early 20th Century Ballet Russes was created into a short film, celebrating and honoring Nijinsky. 

CH: Do you often do your own make up for photo shoots and club nights? Or do you more often work with a make up artist?

Gocast: For photo shoots I do work closely with Stephanie Stokkvik, a Norwegian high fashion make up artist. I have learned so much from her. If you have time, have a look for her on the net—she is amazing! When I go out, I normally “paint my face” on my own.

CH: Who is your top style icon?

Gocast: I am afraid I do not have one.

CH: When you travel around on everyday errands, to the grocery and laundromat and whatnot, how do you look and dress?

Gocast: You would not recognize me, that’s all I call say. I try to go under the radar when out and about on my personal life in order to give some space to myself and my close friends and family.

CH: When you aren't working, what do you do for fun?

Gocast: I am a bit of a geek. I own a PS3 and a whole bunch of games. I enjoy also watching horror movies with friends.

CH: What is your dream vacation destination?

Gocast: My other half loves traveling, and I have been lucky to have been to and seen some amazing tropical paradises. My favorite places.

CH: Do you have favorite perfumes/colognes?

Gocast: Yes, I am currently about to finish “Un Jardin Sur Le Nil” by Hermès, and my next fragrance will be from Diptyque Paris.

Alejandro Gocast 4CH: What are your go-to make up and skin care products?

Gocast: Any good moisturizer does, really, not any favorites in particular.

CH: What professional goals do you set for yourself? Are there particular photographers, artists, or designers you long to work with? Or, do you have something else in mind quite different from what you are doing now?

Gocast: I am shooting a few more fashion films this upcoming year and planning on starting some sketches for my own collection. However, I must keep this under wraps. I am pretty much open to work with anyone - as long as the chemistry is there, anything is possible.  

CH: What are your New Years Eve plans?

Gocast: I am spending New Years Eve with a good friend of mine. She runs a club in Bricklane, from which I will also be throwing another infamous club night soon. It is a very intimate space with limited capacity, which is just what I like.

LAST DAY to enter our special Makeover Week giveaway of IntésivEye eye-makeup remover pads. Deadline is midnight Pacific Time 1/31/012. Details at the post below.

Distant, But Not Inconceivable: James Bond And Glamour's Escapist Balance

In a survey of the James Bond movies, pegged to the opening of Skyfall, Slate's Isaac Chotiner points to a quality essential to 007's appeal:

James Bond is not a “realistic” character; real people occasionally smile. But he is a compelling and distinct one. With the right leading man, Bond is just human enough to be believable—and yet sufficiently aloof and suave to appear mostly untroubled by the world’s real worries. He thus provides just the right amount of escapism. The best fantasies are those that appear not entirely unattainable.

This observation offers an insight into why Bond used to be the quintessentially glamorous male figure. Glamour offers an emotionally specific version of escapism. It does not merely stir adrenaline or laughter. Rather, glamour provides a way to imaginatively transcend the constraints and burdens of everyday life. For a moment at least, it makes us feel that our greatest yearnings are achievable, that the impossible is possible, that we are not stuck with the life we have.

Bond allowed audiences to project themselves into an ideal life—distant, improbable, but not entirely unimaginable. As Simon Winder argues in The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond, that life was particularly remote from the cold, depressing, make-and-mend Britain of the 1950s.

As Bond/Fleming sits in America and tucks into a mountain of crabs and melted butter, gorges on steak ‘so soft you can cut it with a fork’ and slurps another giant martini it becomes an almost pornographic contrast with the cable-knit sweaters and briarwood pipes, trad-jazz-revival and milk-bar world he had flown away from. As Felix Leiter in the book of Thunderball watches from a helicopter through his binoculars a naked girl sunbathing on a yacht and yells to Bond, ‘Natural blonde,’ Fleming’s original, chilblained, earnest British reader, with his uncontrollable flashbacks to the Burmese jungle and ill-informed keenness on Harald Macmillan, must have flung the novel across the room in despair.

Skyfall-Union-Jack-Bulldog Skyfall continues the Daniel Craig movies’ deglamorization of Bond. Here, he epitomizes not the old easy grace but, as M says in his premature obituary, “British perseverance.” The film is a celebration of the world the old Bond offered audiences escape from. This stoic, aging 007 belongs to the tough world of Tennyson, Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, not the Jet Set. He struggles, suffers, and eventually wins out.

We don’t long to live in his world. We fear we already do.

Iconic Glamour Images From Blade Runner And Basic Instinct

[This post is by new DG contributor Cosmo Wenman.--vp]

Virginia recently tweeted and posted on Facebook asking, "What photos should absolutely be in a book on glamour?"

While putting together this collection of recommendations from pop-culture, I sought out the two photos below, of Sean Young in Blade Runner and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. But it wasn't until I saw them side by side that I realized how similar they are. Not only do both women know how to hold the hell out of a cigarette, but the images' contexts are nearly identical.

Both are from interrogation scenes in which the women are suspected of concealing their true natures. Both characters are extremely poised and confident, and both become romantically involved with their interrogators. There are several other parallels as well. I put together a comparison:

These twin scenes are following the same formula and mix of glamorous elements: smoking (even the question of permission to smoke), composure and confidence, deception, emotional distance, and danger. Is there an older film noir scene both these movies are paying homage to?

BTW, Virginia told me she thinks the Sean Young photo "is a little too calculatedly retro for my purposes. It lacks sprezzatura. It's more like an imitation of glamorous photos from the '40s." I think it evokes glamour, but I know what Virginia means - Sean Young's character does look almost artificial...

Selling Off Hollywood: The Debbie Reynolds Collection Of Costumes, Props, And Memorabilia Goes Up For Auction

Debbie Reynolds Hollywood costume memorabilia collection auction introduction
Debbie Reynolds introduces the auction

I spent Saturday at the giant auction of costumes, props, and other Hollywood memorabilia that Debbie Reynolds had collected over decades in hopes of establishing a museum. (The financial collapse of her most recent attempt led to the auction.)

The headline story was that Marilyn Monroe’s famous “subway dress” from The Seven Year Itch sold for $5.658 million—a hammer price of $4.6 million plus a 23% buyer's premium of $1.058 million, not to mention an additional $551,655 in sales tax.

That dress, however, was only one of 587 lots that included not only other iconic costumes—most notably Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress and hat from My Fair Lady, which is more important in the history of design than Marilyn’s dress and went for $4.551 million—but also props, cameras, concept drawings, posters, and an archive of W.C. Fields contracts, letters, and notes for jokes. At the auction’s end, an auction house employee reported that the total sales topped $18 million. (The final total was in fact $22.8 million.)

I'll publish something more analytical later, but I thought I’d share a few notes here. (For more detail, here’s a good report on the procedings. Silver Screen Modiste blogger Christian Esquevin, with whom I spoke as we waited for the doors to open, provides smart context and good costume photos.)

Debbie Reynolds Joseph Maddalena introduce Hollywood memorabilia auction Paley Center Beverly Hills June 2011
Joe Maddalena introduces Debbie Reynolds

On Friday, Joe Maddalena, the owner of auction house Profiles in History, was confidently predicting that the auction, which started at noon, should be over by 7:00 p.m.. Instead, it lasted until 1:20 a.m. One reason was the complexity of the setup: two websites for Internet bidding, a large phone bank taking phone bids, and a downstairs gallery for the overflow crowd that couldn’t be accommodated in the main Paley Center auditorium; gallery bids came in by phone to a representative in the auditorium.

But the main reason for the late hour was that the bidding went so high, meaning each sale took longer than usual. Even with an opening bid of $60,000 for Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat, compared to the catalog estimate of $20,000-$30,000, it took a lot of $2,500 increments to reach the final $110,000. (The delays were particularly excruciating for the 13 W.C. Fields lots early on, which sold for relatively modest amounts sometimes arrived at in $50 increments.) The auctioneer did not speed-talk, making sure instead that everyone who might bid did so. He therefore allowed not only for technical delays but for lulls while people contemplated additional bids.

Grace Kelly dresses To Catch a Thief The Swan Debbie Reynolds Collection auction
She's a princess!

When the bidding lulled, Debbie Reynolds generally piped up with a wisecrack to get things going. Her standard was, “I paid more than that.” Sometimes she pitched the lots’ qualities, QVC-style: “That's a leather seat. It’s really beautiful.” “That’s real mink.”

She touted the stars who’d worn the garments: “She's a princess.” “The great Danny Kaye.” During a series of low-interest lots from The Great Caruso, her reminder that “She was an opera star” was such a refrain that it became a joke between Reynolds and the auctioneer.

She also deployed sexual innuendo: “You know what you could do on that couch,” “You don't know what Ty Power did in there,” and the audience favorite: “Mae West didn’t even have a chest like that.”

At one sad moment, however, Reynolds reversed her usual plea. After the first few bids for lot 280, the pastel rainbow-hued ballgown worn by Susan Hayward in With a Song in My Heart, she said, “It’s from me—don’t bid!” (Someone else was bidding on her behalf.) No luck. Paddle-holder #247, a Korean (not, as widely reported, Japanese) man who was the dominant bidder actually present in the room, persevered and eventually bought the dress for a hammer price of $3,000. It was one of his cheaper purchases of the day.

[Photos by Virginia Postrel. Permission to use freely granted with credit and link back to]

Carolee's Style Icons: Does Michelle Obama Know They're Equating Her With Evita To Sell Jewelry?

Carolee style icons Michelle Obama Jackie Kennedy Eva Peron Wallis Simpson Walking through Bloomingdale's, I was struck by this sign in the jewelry department. The Carolee jewelry company is pitching its line of pearls with photos of four pearl-wearing style icons: two American first ladies, Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama, both Democrats, and two foreign consorts, Eva Peron and Wallis Simpson, who, to put it politely, leaned fascist. (What, no Imelda Marcos? Too famous for shoes I guess.)

Now I realize that jewelry marketers should not be confused with historians, but if I were Michelle Obama I'd be offended. And if I were managing the Obama brand I'd certainly protest. If the White House can ask a noncontroversial windbreaker-maker to remove a billboard featuring a press photo of President Obama in its jacket, surely the first lady's staff can ask Carolee not to link Mrs. O with Evita.

It is, of course, possible that this is a sanctioned use of the first lady's image. To find out, since there's no press contact listed on Carolee's site, I posted a query to @Caroleejewelry on Twitter. (If someone were paying me to write, I'd call the company and the White House.) No response.

What Makes The IPad "Magical"?

When Apple introduced the iPad last year, it added a new buzzword to technology marketing. The device, it declared, was not just "revolutionary," a tech-hype cliché, but "magical." Skeptics rolled their eyes, and one Apple fan even started an online petition against such superstitious language.

But the company stuck with the term. When Steve Jobs appeared on stage last week to unveil the iPad 2, which hit stores Friday, he said, "People laughed at us for using the word 'magical,' but, you know what, it's turned out to be magical."

Apple has long had an aura of trend-setting cool, but magic is a bolder—and more provocative— claim. In a promotional video, Jonathan Ive, the company's design chief, explains it this way: "When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical, and that's exactly what the iPad is." Mr. Ive is paraphrasing the famous pronouncement by Arthur C. Clarke, the science-fiction author and futurist, that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

So in celebrating the iPad as magical, Apple is bragging that its customers haven't the foggiest idea how the machine works. The iPad is completely opaque. It is a sealed box. You can't see the circuitry or read the software code. You can't even change the battery.

Apple has long had an aura of trend-setting cool, but magic is a bolder—and more provocative— claim. In a promotional video, Jonathan Ive, the company's design chief, explains it this way: "When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical, and that's exactly what the iPad is." Mr. Ive is paraphrasing the famous pronouncement by Arthur C. Clarke, the science-fiction author and futurist, that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

So in celebrating the iPad as magical, Apple is bragging that its customers haven't the foggiest idea how the machine works. The iPad is completely opaque. It is a sealed box. You can't see the circuitry or read the software code. You can't even change the battery.

Read the rest here.

Glamorous Materials: Satin, Lacquer, Diamonds, Fur, Feathers, And...Cellophane

Carole Lombard George Hurrell cellophane To the contemporary eye, this George Hurell photo of Carole Lombard (part of an enormous auction this Friday and Saturday) seems strange. She looks beautiful, and the lighting and pose are glamorous. But what’s with the plastic sheeting? Is that a shower curtain to her left?

Behold the glamour of cellophane. Like diamonds or crystal, cellophane has a sparkling, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t quality. Although transparent, when crinkled and lit correctly it creates a teasing mystery. In Glamour: A History, Stephen Gundle likens cellophane to “striptease, which achieved its effect by constantly making the unveiled body more remote.”Wrapped in cellophane, “products were available but untouchable and therefore inaccessible.”

In Hurrell’s photo, the shimmering plastic catches the light, creating a cool, translucent contrast to the soft opacity of Lombard’s feathered dress and the warmth of her skin. If you don’t associate plastic with cheapness, cellophane makes perfect sense as a glamorous material. Like glamour itself, it is alluringly artificial.In the 1920s and ’30s, cellophane’s appeal went beyond these intrinsic aesthetic properties. This new material epitomized high-tech modernity: “You’re the purple light of a summer night in Spain / You’re the National Gallery / You’re Garbo’s salary / You’re cellophane!” sang Cole Porter in "You're the Top!"

Judith Brown in Glamour in Six Dimensions: Modernism and the Radiance of Form, which I reviewed along with the Gundle book here, devotes an entire chapter to cellophane. She is interested, she writes, in the material as “pure surface...a protective veneer from dusty reality.” And she notes its ubiquity in the popular culture of the 1920s and ’30s:

Joan Crawford Dancing Lady negative cellophane

Cellophane tablecloths glitter in an upscale nightclub in the Astaire-Rogers blockbuster Swing Time (1936); cellophane also appears in an earlier Joan Crawford film, Dancing Lady (1933), in the transparent swags at the back of a dance set, and again in the Broadway musical staged within the film. in this film, the cellophane also appears in costume form: a group of black-attired old women, complete with bonnets, lace collars, wire glasses, and bent-over backs make their way into a futuristic beauty parlor and emerge as modern bombshells, perfectly artificial with cellophane outfits and what might be plastic hair. Cellophane similarly appears in a swanky Chinese nightclub as the “The Girls in Cellophane” take the stage in W. C. Fields’s International House (1933). The pages of Vogue magazine also mark cellophane as haute couture, here as the “cellophane toque” that makes a “deceptively simple” garment cutting edge by newly framing the model’s face in the most artificial of head covers; and again, as an arresting sight in this newspaper photograph of an urban street. Cellophane fashion staked out a turning point: cellophane was chic and, above all, now.

This Hurrell photo of Joan Crawford, whose negative is in the auction, is from Dancing Lady. Although Crawford is not literally wearing cellophane, her dress has a similar sparkling, translucent quality. It makes her look like a star.

[Photographs courtesy of Profiles in History.] 

DG Q&A: Artist Ria Brodell On Heroes And Self Portraits

Rbrodell-palmsBoston-based artist Ria Brodell doesn’t think of her work as glamorous, but when I happened upon her “Self Portraits” exhibit at the Kopeikin Gallery in West Hollywood, her drawings struck me as perfectly expressing the way glamour works as an imaginative process. Her drawings capture how she projected her ideal self onto slightly mysterious, impossibly graceful figures—in this case, male icons ranging from classic movie stars like Gene Kelly and Cary Grant to Catholic saints and children’s toys. Like her very different “Distant Lands” drawings, which depict strange and whimsical animals, the portraits are at once charming, sweet, and slightly subversive. (This YouTube video shows Ria at work on her Distant Lands creatures.) Her exhibit will be open until March 6.

DG: How did you select the figures you depicted yourself as in “Self-Portraits”? Why these particular men?

Ria Brodell: The figures I chose were all men I connected with in some way as a kid. If I could have grown up to be a man, I would have been a man like them. Sometimes it was their style, the way they dressed, their hair, the way they carried themselves. Sometimes it was their über masculinity. Of course, in regards to the movie stars, all of this came from their depictions in the movies and not necessarily their real selves.

Ria Brodell 3 self-portraits
Self-Portrait as a Mountain Man (2008), Self-Portrait in a Fedora (2009), Self-Portrait as a Coastal Man (2009)
© Ria Brodell, used with permission of the artist

As far as the more general portraits, such as “Self-Portrait as a Mountain Man” or “Self-Portrait in a Fedora,” I am connecting with a type or style of masculinity, the rugged outdoorsman or the dapper gentleman.

As a kid I desperately wanted a fedora, but growing up in Idaho, the closest thing I could ever find was an “outback” hat. Which is not very close at all. He-Man and St. Michael Find They Have a Lot in Common

DG: Icons like Cary Grant and Gene Kelly—and even Ken and your “Miami Vice Dude”—have an obvious Hollywood sort of glamour. But you also draw on traditional images of Catholic saints. In last year's exhibit, “The Handsome & the Holy,” one of the most charming drawings was called “He-Man and St. Michael Find They Have A Lot in Common.” What do they have in common? What unites movie stars, saints, and toys like G.I. Joe and He-Man?

RB: When I began this series I remembered a drawing I made for my First Reconciliation book in second grade (I went to Catholic school). I had drawn a picture of St. Michael that I was very proud of and I showed it to my Grandma. She told me he looked more like He-Man. I remember feeling ashamed for some reason, perhaps knowing I should have shown St. Michael more reverence. I used to draw He-Man all the time, practicing over and over until his muscles looked right. Looking back now, He-Man and St. Michael had a similar appeal to me, strong warriors, fighting for good. As far as what unites movie stars, saints, and toys like G.I. Joe and He-Man, for me they all represented an ideal, whether it was physical aesthetics or moral values. In combining them all for “The Handsome & The Holy” I was hoping to unite my “queer side” with my religious background because they are equally present in my life. DG: Your drawings have been described as “achingly sincere,” “both earnest and humorous,” and “intently self-aware schmaltz.” Their humor is gentle and sweet, not ironic—juxtaposing He-Man and St. Michael is funny, but you are, at the same time, owning up to your desires to be like them. Is it hard for a contemporary artist to portray desire and identification without using irony to maintain your cool? Does glamour risk condemnation as kitsch? Self-Portrait as Miami Vice Dude  RB: I don’t think I’m intentionally trying to be funny in all the drawings. I’m trying to be completely honest, but I think the juxtaposition of some of these subjects is just naturally odd and therefore funny. Sexuality, gender identity, and religion can be very serious, often complicated subjects. I want to create work that deals with these subjects in a simple and not heavy-handed way. Of course there is always a risk of the work having unintended consequences, such as being deemed “kitsch.” With this work there is a bit of background information needed. On the surface they can appear to be just glamorous self-portraits or “dress-up” but my hope is that people look further than that and begin to think about gender identity and sexuality outside of our society’s strict definitions.

DG: One of your drawings is called “A Picnic With Audrey Hepburn.” It shows Audrey from the back, but there is no one with her. A critic described it as “a picture of mythic femininity, here elusive.” But the title suggests the perspective not of Audrey but of her unseen date, inviting viewers to project themselves into the scene. What inspired this drawing? What does Audrey Hepburn mean to you?

RB: As a teenager I became slightly obsessed with Audrey Hepburn after seeing her in “My Fair Lady.” She was not only beautiful and glamorous but also a humanitarian. For me, this drawing represents the complexity of figuring out ones sexuality, especially queer sexuality, the desire and simultaneous shame I felt. How could I possibly desire a woman and not just any woman, but Audrey Hepburn? Feeling unworthy of her, I chicken-out on our date.

A Picnic with Audrey Hepburn
A Picnic with Audrey Hepburn, 2009, gouache on paper
© Ria Brodell and used with permission

DG: For The Superheroes Project to promote Boston-based artists, you chose The Flash (one of my favorites) as your alter ego. Why did you pick him? RB: I picked The Flash, both because of his awesome costume and because he’s so simplified. It’s just him. He doesn’t need any weapons or a tool belt or gadgets. There’s something nice about that. No extra baggage. Brodell_FreddievsMagnum  DG: When Freddie and Magnum arm-wrestle, who wins? RB: I’m not sure if either of them “wins.” I think of this drawing as sort of a back and forth. Both Freddie and Magnum as male icons flirting with the signifiers of heterosexuality and homosexuality at the same time. But, if I had to pick someone to root for it would be Freddie. [All images © Ria Brodell and used with permission.]