Recently I sat in a rental house on the Oregon coast watching the sun set on the Pacific in a magical array of oranges and blues. Adding to the magical aura was a girl of about 15 whom I had first noticed as we were driving back to catch the sunset. She had been running along the road in long easy strides, wearing her track-team colors.
Now, as the sun dropped to the horizon, she was sprinting up the hill on the road beside the house. Shortly past the house she turned and slowly jogged down, taking short, prancing steps to let her heart rate slow down. At the bottom of the hill she turned in a tight circle and once again sprinted up the hill in long powerful strides. I stopped counting after the eighth sprint of her solitary routine.
There was something immensely satisfying about watching this impressive display of self-discipline. Perhaps, thanks to Title IX, she hopes to compete in track all the way through college, maybe even on a scholarship. Perhaps she just loves to run, and running itself provides some kind of harmony and order to her daily routine, perhaps even to her life.
In any case, I was grateful to her for adding to the magic of a September evening. Her routine seemed nothing like some Sisyphean ordeal. Instead, watching her reminded me of seeing the exuberant exertions of a young animal discovering the physical power of its body and simply exulting in feeling that power in motion. I had felt much the same pleasure watching two small children run with their dogs on the beach that morning.
To observe someone exulting in the moment can be almost as pleasurable as feeling such exhilaration yourself. That morning my wife and I (both 60-somethings) had donned full-body wet suits, and, with the help of an expert surfer, had had our first experiences riding waves on a surf board. Making our first runs lying prone on the board, feeling the power of the ocean, even taking a few body-tumbling spills, was joyfully thrilling.
In the 19th-century, in the conclusion to his The Renaissance Walter Pater wrote (to the great displeasure of religious conservatives): “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life....Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us in the brilliancy of their gifts is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening.”
[Oregon sunset photo by Anne Hornyak. Used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]
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.]
Last week I visited the Vienna Velodrome to take some photographs, and the experience was riveting. I have watched a few bicycle road races in the U.S. and in Europe, but they hardly prepared me for this magical place.
A velodrome is a stadium-like arena, where cyclists go round and round a wooden track at incredible speeds. Both professionals (members of a team) and amateurs can ride on the track. They need only to purchase a seasonal permit and to use a track bike—which can be rented at the velodrome if a cyclist does not have their own. A track bike differs from an ordinary road bike in the geometry of its construction and in the fact that it is “fixed gear.” The cyclist cannot coast and must pedal continuously in order to keep the bike in motion. As a sport, track cycling is extremely strenuous. As a viewing experience, its unique aesthetics are mesmerising.
As I watched the bicycles fly past me, my eyes soon grew accustomed to the speed and I began to notice the beauty of the cyclists’ movements and postures. In road races, it is all about the destination, but at the track it is about repetition. And this repetition—the literal closing of a circle time and time again—creates the rhythm and grace of a choreographed dance. It is ballet, performed at 30 km/h. And it made me long to be one of the cyclists... despite that small hindrance of being athletically challenged.
With the popularity of cycling on the rise—and the urban “fixed gear” trend in particular—one might think that the romance of the velodrome should be attracting more followers than ever. But in fact the velodromes are dying. The enormous amount of endurance and self-discipline required to train to race on the track deters the urban fixed-gear enthusiasts, who prefer riding on the streets and participating in free-style “alley-cat” races. Underused, the velodrome is now perceived as an exotic indulgence—and many can no longer afford to stay operational.
This, of course, raises the larger question of what determines whether a sport is perceived as “everyman’s pastime” versus a “luxury”: So much depends of the context of the time and place. Has the velodrome’s time run out, or will it persevere? I sincerely hope the latter.
[Images taken by the author and available on flickr via Colden Studios. Top two images: Cyclists practicing. Bottom image: Rental track bikes hanging in velodrome locker.]
Posted by Albina Colden on March 31, 2010 in
One of my most glamorous memories is of my book editor hopping on her bicycle to go back to the office after a lunch with me in New York. She was wearing a skirt and heels and looked utterly graceful and sophisticated as she rode away.
With their smooth, silent progress, bicycles have great potential for glamour. We use "like riding a bicycle" to mean a physical skill that has become second nature, unforgettable even after years of disuse. We don't say, for instance, "like brushing your teeth," equally second nature but much less impressive. A bicycle can't even stand upright without support, much less move forward.
Yet unlike a car--or, for that matter, a horse--a bicycle depends only on its rider for locomotion. It represents autonomy. In my childhood, getting a bike was the first step toward independence. You could now travel reasonable distances without your parents.
But bicycles aren't on most people's short list of glamorous objects. Competitive cycling, like marathon running, never looks effortless. Kids are burdened with bicycle helmets that make them look dorky and tell them cycling is dangerous. No wonder President Obama skipped the helmet at the beach in Hawaii, after drawing laughs for his helmeted bike ride during the campaign.
As cycling has become more and more an esoteric sport, with complicated gear and lingo, buying a bike has become off-putting to outsiders. When the design firm IDEO worked with component manufacturer Shimano to develop a new bicycle concept, the two firms found were surprised at non-cyclers' attitudes. They loved their memories of biking but were put off by the attitudes and complexity of cycling shops. As Bicycling magazine explained:
"When we asked if Lance Armstrong inspired them, people would say yes, but not to ride a bike," says Shimano's [U.S. marketing manager David] Lawrence. And while all the interview subjects had positive, almost reverential memories of childhood bike rides, Sklar noted that "their feelings about the reality of the biking world are remarkably different." Their dominant image of cycling was one of exercise, speed, uniforms and competition--not of play or fun. "There are a lot of people who feel intimidated and unwelcome in that environment," Sklar says.
To teach cycling enthusiasts what it felt like to be a casual biker in one of their shops, IDEO made them shop for skin products at Sephora. As Daniel Gross recounts in Bicycling:
The Sephora staff, quickly sizing up the bike guys as outsiders and neophytes, treated them with disdain. Says Lawrence: "Everything that happened to noncyclists in a bike shop was happening to our guys in the cosmetics store."
That design collaboration produced a new category called "coasting bikes," designed for casual riders. Another concept, which incorporates more cycling glamour, is the "lovely bicycle," designed for daily, but noncompetitive, use. Here's a description of a lovely bicycle from the blog by that name:
When utility and romance coexist not despite, but because of one another, that is a Lovely Bicycle! A Lovely Bicycle does not only look beautiful in itself, but allows you to look your best while riding it.
Our notions of personal aesthetics vary, and, naturally, so will our bicycles. For the individual whose personal style consists of casual or athletic clothing, a roadbike can be a perfectly appropriate choice. For the individual whose style revolves around formal attire - including suits, skirts and high heels - an upright city bike works far better. The main idea, is that the bicycle should not require the cyclist to change their preferred way of dress or their lifestyle in order to ride it.
Recounting her yearning for a lovely bicycle untainted by the butt-up, head-down, Lycra-legged aesthetics of competitive cycling, blogger Filigree writes:
Only on vintage posters and in old art films did I see the romance that made me long for cycling again. Seeing these fictional lady cyclists of yore, the relaxed chic they exude is alluring and enticing. It makes cycling seem cool and fashionable. But can these associations exist in today's world?
They certainly do on her blog, from which these photos are taken. Although I'm a dedicated walker, she makes me want to get a bike—at least once the rain stops.
In classical music the combination of virtuosity and glamour has most often been associated with attractive opera stars, conductors, or soloists who play instruments such as piano and violin. The attire of such soloists when they perform is often extraordinarily glamorous, as I written before. Their publicity photographs often highlight their physical attractiveness. A more recent trend is to produce videos. Here is an interesting video of Korean violinist Chee-Yun in the process of being photographed for potential publicity shots. (Chee-Yun’s fabulous hair has been featured in a Korean Pantene commercial.)
Another violinist, Vanessa-Mae (of Thai-Chinese heritage, born in Singapore, and raised in London) began to study piano at three and violin at five. She amassed her hours of practice early, and was recording professionally by age thirteen. In her teenage years she began to combine her virtuoso skills as a violinist with her interest in pop music. She took full advantage of her exceptionally beautiful face and figure by using glamorous makeup and provocative costumes, and launched a popular music career that has made her one of the wealthiest young entertainers in Britain.
She is a controversial performer because some of her hit recordings are arrangements of well-known classical works combined with a techno-style dance background. There is an example of this below, in which her live-performance version of Vivaldi includes a dance-beat, an electric violin, a sexy costume, and bodily movements that are anything but “classical.” (In the video she inadvertently demonstrates how to slip gracefully in high-heels. Another example of her mix of classical, techno, and sexy presentation is her version of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” Whether it is fun and exciting or a tawdry bastardization is a matter of debate and taste.)
Whatever one thinks of how Vanessa-Mae has used her virtuosity as a violinist, there is no question she earned her skills through thousands of hours of arduous practice. In some of her music videos Vanessa-Mae portrays a young woman in peril, or operating in a mobster world, or isolated in cold, remote locations. These videos evoke the long-standing theme that a person can become a prisoner of their extraordinary skills, partly because these skills become ties that bind others to the person that possesses these skills, and vice versa. At left is one of the many Renaissance representations of Hercules Gallicus in which he conquers not by brunt strength, but by eloquence. And as a skilled rhetorician there are chains running from his tongue which bind his audience to him, and vice versa.
The virtuoso performer is also bound to the continued hours of practice that are necessary to maintain those skills. In the 1970s young Czech violinist Václav Hudeček become so famous in his country that he attained rock-star-like status. But in his own words, he didn’t have time to lead a wild lifestyle. “Violin is a very difficult instrument…if you want to play Brahms’ violin concerto, Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, very beautifully, you have to practice, you know. Not all day long, but five, six, seven hours a day.”
When you hear stories of virtuoso performers burning out or losing their edge, you have to imagine not only the thousands of hours spent building their skills, but also the ongoing hours of practice required to continue to perform at a virtuoso level. Fame might give you the opportunity to party in high style (especially if you are strikingly attractive), but to actually do so could soon lead to decreased performance ability. We can all think of cases in which the achievements of an athlete or performer thrust them into the limelight, and then they spent so much time enjoying their new found fame that their skills rapidly declined.
An perfect example of this was 1960s British soccer star George Best. Many people consider Best the most brilliant soccer player Britain ever produced, but he is just as well known for having squandered his talent by living a playboy lifestyle. Best’s bio reveals his obsessive pursuit of soccer skills as a child, but it also reads as a cautionary tale for anyone whose virtuoso skills bring sudden fame. His career at the top lasted only six years before his pursuit of “birds” and booze eroded his skills. Best himself understood that fame and his good looks had played a part in undermining his career, providing him with opportunities to party and drink that he was unable to resist. He joked ironically, “If I’d been born ugly, you’d never have heard of Pelé.”
George Best was one of the first celebrity footballers, and women threw themselves at him. As he joked, “I used to go missing quite a lot... Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.” (He was not exaggerating.) At times he didn’t seem to regret his escapades, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” Because he could not discipline himself to stay in shape for soccer, or to stay away from alcohol, he became a difficult, less productive teammate who was soon out of the sport. He died at age 59 of complications after a liver transplant.
GQ magazine named George Best one of the 50 most stylish men of the last 50 years, but there is no question that the temptations of a playboy lifestyle destroyed his talent. If his virtuosity had been some evidence of virtue, then he lost that virtue when he neglected to continue to hone his skills. As the biography posted at the International Footballer Hall of Fame notes “George Best had squandered one of the rarest and most precious football talents ever seen in favour of a self-indulgent merry-go-round of birds and booze.” After describing some of the amazing goals that he scored in his few years at his prime, the bio ends, “the only tragedy George Best has to confront is that he will never know how good he could have been.”
[Photo of Maria Sharapova by Chris Gampat used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]
During the recent PGA golf tournament the male commentators expressed their tongue-in-cheek appreciation to the woman who phoned in to let them know that they should have identified the color of a golfer’s shirt as “persimmon.” The commentators readily acknowledged they would never have come up with that term themselves.
A friend who is an artist told me a story of walking with her husband and two of his friends. The men began talking about the great looking red car parked up ahead. The artist couldn’t understand what red car they were talking about. The men grew frustrated with her, and one of them walked up to the car, put his hand on it, and said, “This car.” Equally exasperated, she said, “That’s not red, it’s burgundy!”
In 1987 linguist George Lakoff published a book titled Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. (The first part of the title refers to one of the four noun classes used in the Australian aboriginal language of Dyirbal.) One of the things he discusses in the book is the number of color terms that children are taught in various languages around the world. This varies from as few as two to as many as twelve. The colors black and white are always taught, and if a language contains more than two basic colors, red is always present. Beyond that, which other colors are taught varies from language to language.
“Persimmon” and “burgundy” are not basic color terms, but for people in art and design fields, restricting themselves to a dozen color terms would severely impoverish their vocabulary. People with a strong interest in a subject develop a rich vocabulary relative to that field. The relationship between color terms and how we perceive colors is a hotly debated topic.
The names for fashion colors seem to change with changing fashions. To my eye, the fashion color persimmon seems to range from a slightly reddish-orange to the fashion color “persimmon red.” “Persimmon” was an apt description for the color of the golfer’s shirt, but only someone with an interest in fashion would have been likely to use it. The commentators, on the other hand, could have discussed at length the differences between a 3 wood, 3 iron, and 3 hybrid. (Incidentally, tournament winner Y. E. Yang used the latter to make a shot so spectacular that the commentators felt a plaque would be placed in the fairway to commemorate it.)
[Photo of persimmons by pizzodisevo. Used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]
Posted by Randall Shinn on August 18, 2009 in
With shoppers in a frenzy preparing for DG's four-month anniversary on December 25, we asked a number of contributors to recommend glamorous gifts that don't require braving the malls. Save gas and aggravation. Let your broadband do the walking.
Carmindy I am obsessed with Ippolita jewelry. Just one plain gold hammered bangle is so fabulous and the gift of gold these days is a safer investment than anything else! This is for any women with expensive taste who likes chic simplicity instead of over-the-top bling.
The other gift I would recommend is a stocking stuffer and it's Plumeria Blossom incense by Maui Lani Incense. This is my favorite flower and I have never seen this scent anywhere else.
Mauviel Copper: Nothing says "serious cook" like French copper. It's the kitchen equivalent of mine-cut diamonds--everything else looks more expensive. I think the jam pan is actually the most useful--centerpiece, drinks cooler, logs for the fireplace.....
Jackie Danicki, who was interviewed by DG here, is the director of marketing for Qik and blogs, with Hillary Johnson, at Jack & Hill.
Tom Ford for Men cologne. Tom Ford has been unstoppable this year, both at the helm of his eponymous high-end clothing and accessories line and at the center of his full-court press both behind and in front of the camera. One of the most sensual (and arguably glamorous) images of the past year was the sight of a Tom Ford cologne bottle pressed invitingly into the recesses of a woman's pelvis by her red lacquered nails (Jungle Red, no doubt). Sex sells, and for that reason alone, this cologne should go flying off the shelf. But more importantly, it actually smells wonderful. With just a few strategic squirts, you can undo one more button on your shirt, bare your immaculately-manscaped chest, and begin a Holiday party filled with models and bottles.
Ren Mayblossom and Blue Cypress Balancing Facial Cleansing Gel. I love ridiculous products for my skin, and the more outrageous the claims (unicorn horn! chirically correct molecules! fair-trade alpha-hydroxy!), the more excited I become. In the case of Ren's wonderfully-effective cleanser, I can delight in the absurd ingredients (mayblossom? blue cypress? I'm sure these foods promote proper unicorn horn growth!) and experience noticably cleaner, fresher skin. Also, I can torture my husband that I spent $32 on "soap" that can only be used on one part of my body.
Groomzilla is the nom de plume of a newlywed Los Angeles attorney who chronicled his adventures in gay wedding planning in a series of DG posts.
Another movie with glamorous Art Deco sets is the original version of The Women, starring Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell--especially the fashion show scene. I've been playing both these films on a big screen without the sound, and they are like art installations.
Sigerson Morrison for Target Lustra D'Orsay Pumps: Siegerson Morrison is a terrifically expensive, wonderful shoe brand that I usually drool over but can't afford. If you're not giving this to yourself, consider it for your hip sister or sis-in-law. It's funky and fun and can be dressed up or down. And for those who think these capsule brand promos don't offer the goods, think again. Everytime I've worn my Lela Rose for Payless or Target's International Go collection clothes, I've gotten compliments, so they do deliver.
Also for your friend/sister type, a fun cocktail ring that screams FAKE is fun for the holidays (and don't limit yourself to wearing it on the traditional ring finger). Try this Zirconite enamel ring: great with the little black dress or even jeans and a cute top. If they're not into rings, this can be a fun stocking stuffer:
For your more erudite friend, boy or girl, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster is one of the best fashion books I've read in a long while. But warning to glamourpusses: it breaks down the myths behind the magic. Trust, after reading this, you'll NEVER scoff at Target capsule collections--in fact you might think of them as just as good as high-end brands.
Paige Phelps is a Dallas-based writer and regular DG correspondent.
With all due respect to the lure of perfume and jewels, some of us spend most of our glamour budget on books. Here are some favorites.
Woman in the Mirror: 1945-2004: A book of Richard Avedon's iconic photography is appealing enough, but this one has the bonus of a lengthy essay by the brilliant fashion critic and art historian Anne Hollander. Not just a coffee-table book.
Athlete: Some people think great athletes can't be glamorous, because they too obviously work hard. Walter Iooss's photography finds glamour as well as grit: great faces, great bodies, great moves. (With a four-figure budget, you can buy a signed print of his magnificent Blue Dunk photo of Michael Jordan through the New York Times store. Hence the NYT logo marring the illustration here.) For the lover of sports, photography, or both.
For travelers, art lovers, and people who wish they traveled more or knew more about art, Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel is an entertaining read that smuggles in a remarkable amount of cultural education. After discovering it in London, I bought copies for several family members.
Finally, I never miss an opportunity to plug my favorite book about glamour (though I'm not sure anyone else thinks of it that way): Michael Chabon's Great American Novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
For people who want to counter the "Do you have an iPhone?" question with a "No, but I pack a M8" answer: the Leica M8. Nothing makes me wonder "Just who is that person" more than a Leica M8. Tucked discretely under one's arm, or brandished boldly across a chest, the M8 is a soft-spoken yet potent beacon of technological glamour.
TAG Heuer Men's Monaco Automatic Chronograph Watch: If the names 911, R8, M3, or GT-R make your heart race, this is your timepiece. McQueen wore one, and it's named after the most glamorous kingdom left in the world. Royalty, speed, sex, adrenaline, and crisp, elegant aesthetics, all together on your wrist.
Diego Rodriguez is a partner at IDEO, a professor at the Stanford d-school, and a regular DG contributor.
Salvador Dali perfumes The Dalissime [Nancy's husband] Din and I originally bought for Hillary [Johnson, his sister] back in 1997. When I literally could not keep my nose out of her neck, I bought myself some. It's very feminine, as in, men go gaga for it.
I also really, really like the Laguna, which is "fresher," faster, and always make me feel very racy and ready. Also, can you beat these bottles? No, you cannot.
The stationery set: This is the perfect fashionable gift for young romantics, or for glamour gals who still remember when Casablanca was first released. Because there’s nothing more glamorous than sending a goodbye forever note to a lover on your own stationary, except maybe sending the next note…
The personalized child's calling card: A super-cute stocking stuffer for those just initiated to the world of glamour (or for their fashionable moms). Personalized children’s calling cards are a chic way to make introductions and organize play dates. Stylish, convenient, and they make you feel all grown up, in a good way.
Anne Stewart is a Cleveland-based writer and graphic designer who recently wrote a DG post on the cover art of hip-hop mixtapes.
I like to give people very pretty mother-of-pearl Korean business card holders like this one on Ebay. Here is a similar product on Amazon by Swarovski - pave crystals. They don't seem to have a lot in stock so maybe it's last season's. There is a zebra print one and a leopard print one. You need to exercise caution with animal prints, but I think these cases hit glamour and not tacky.
I've got a theme: I like pretty card holders that aren't just these plain boring things. I've even attached a pic of the one I carry.
Also, I'm big on nice pens. I use Waterman fountain pens exclusively (I've been a fountain pen fiend since middle school and cut my teach on how to use them when they made the cheap ones with colored ink). Anyway, I know Amazon has a good selection of those. For those who are scared of ink leaks there is always a nice fountain pen. Either way, a nice pen is distinguished, stylish and definitely glamourous. This is the one I use now. But, yeah, I've got a few of them.
David Thompson, writing in the Guardian, argues that the late Paul Newman was best in those roles that expressed his own ambivalence about the movies. Playing Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler, Newman got an Oscar nomination
The film was done with grit and no glamour, as well as a lot of hard-learned pool, and Felson was a knife to scrape away Newman's jammy smile.
But Thompson tries too hard to convince us that Newman was immune to glamour and its trappings, writing:
He was absurdly popular as a young man, and then waited or endured until that had worn off, and he could face all the abiding tests of honesty without glamour or celebrity to divert him.
Newman was never more honest than when driving Indy cars, and open wheel racing is about a glamorous as it gets. He was 70 when he won at Daytona. Lime Rock Park owner Skip Barber said of him:
He liked to win. He thought of himself as an uncoordinated guy, a stumbler a little bit, but in a car he was really graceful. 'Graceful' is not a word that a lot of people associate with car racing, but there sure are guys that are more fluid and smoother than others, and he was good.
(photo from Michael Manning)
Posted by KateC on September 29, 2008 in
Daniel Hernandez, who's living in Mexico while writing a book, alerts us to design greatness: the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The Museum of Modern Art there is hosting an exhibit on the design and graphics, and Hernandez writes:
The exhibit is a look at the extraordinary task the organizers had of convincing the world through the power of graphic design that Mexico was capable of hosting the '68 Games -- the first held in Latin America, the first held in a developing country, and first held in the Spanish-speaking world.
The Op-Art logo, which also referenced Huichol design, grew out of the entire design team effort. Graphic artist Ed Fladung points out the contributions of Lance Wyman, who was responsible for the graphics. Wyman says
It was designed by integrating the official five ring Olympic symbol into the number 68 to create a parallel ine typography that suggested imagery found in Mexican preHispanic art and Mexican folk art. The logotype powerfully expressed a sense of place and culture and visually exclaimed the Games were in Mexico.
That sophisticated, abstract graphic identity was repeated by signage, publications, posters, tickets costumes and even the torch.
Today, we're accustomed to omnipresent corporate branding, and ignore it as visual noise. The Mexico '68 logo reminds us to respond to an exciting design.