[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...
The beautiful bride at the window contemplating her new life is a standard trope in wedding gown ads. But this Italian ad includes an element you won't find in its American counterparts, at least not these days.
Jennine of The Coveted is calling on fashion and street blogs to stop posting “images of cool, chic people standing around casually smoking.” Such images, she argues, promote a seductively glamorous image of a gross and dangerous habit. “Even...people who hate smoking in real life, get a voyeuristic joy out of these cool people who are immune to health hazards and smelly breath.”
“Would it be too much to ask to put out the cigarette for a moment, for the sake of social responsibility?” she asks.
The problem, of course, is that these cool, chic people do smoke, particularly on the street. (The New Yorkers in these photos often look like they’re on the street precisely because they’re smokers fleeing no-smoking buildings.) But, Jennine correctly notes, such photos are always selective. Why not edit out the cigarettes? In effect, she’s arguing that fashion blogs should further glamorize their subjects by deleting their nasty habits.
In truth, these blog photos rarely glamorize smoking. Unlike images like this, this, or this, they don't emphasize the smoking. It is unimportant to the image and the emotions it evokes. Rather, these photos normalize smoking, by depicting cigarettes as no more unusual or problematic than cell phones. You have to care about cigarettes to imbibe any message about them.
Of course, that normalization is something of a change from the treatment of cigarettes in my youth, when smoking was generally viewed as a low-class habit for losers. The unrelenting campaign against it has given smoking new cachet, making it an emblem of “heroic, sexy social outlaws,” as one observer put it in British Vogue.
Still, the main pro-cigarette bias on fashion blogs isn’t overt. It’s a side effect of the photographic medium. The still image removes the smoker from time and, thus, from the long-term consequences of the smoking. In this way, the photos are indeed glamorous, offering escape into a perfect, and illusory, moment beyond entropy, age, decay, or death.
Our mystery woman didn't generate the 10 possible captions required for prizes, but eight readers did contribute some excellent ones. So we've decided to let you pick a winner anyway. Vote below.
Readers were split on whether the photo is glamorous, but a majority thought not. Seven out of 25 voted it not at all glamorous (1 out of a possible 7), with 13 out of 25 giving it a 3 or less.
Given the stylistic elements--a hat, a cigarette, and an androgynous face--this is an interesting result. These are all traditional markers of glamour. Take this photo of Marlene Dietrich, for instance, or this more feminine one. Head coverings, cigarettes, and androgyny all create an intriguing bit of mystery, drawing us to look more closely. In the right hands, a cigarette will not only produce a veil of smoke--at once concealing and calling attention to the smoker--but also amplify the smoker's grace, another essential component of glamour. So why doesn't La Femmina here appear more clearly glamorous?
One reason, I suspect, is that the photo is too calculated. It's obviously a pose and, hence, lacks the effortlessness associated with glamour. But the main reason is that it doesn't arouse projection or longing. She does not draw viewers into her world. The photo inspires humor, not desire. Longing is as essential to glamour as mystery or grace, and it cannot be created merely by assembling standard props.
In the UK, tobacco companies are panicking at the prospect of "plain packet" laws that would require cigarettes to be sold in plain boxes, without logos, graphics or color. Denis Campbell writes in The Observer:
The Health Department recently closed its consultation on a raft of measures to reduce the number of smokers even further, which has fallen to 22 per cent of the adult population. They include plain packaging, banning cigarettes from public displays in shops, outlawing packs of 10 and getting rid of vending machines.
Evidently, the packaging entices smokers to buy premium brands. But what if this legislation has a reverse effect? Jewelers might bring back the elegant cigarette case, like the Fabergé item here. You just know Bette Davis had something similar.