Sleek, pristine, and elegantly modern, the blades of an advanced windmill turn in an unseen wind. Windmills have become the glamorous new symbol of clean energy and, like a stylized atom or rocket ship in the 1950s, of a hopeful future made possible by technological progress. As far as I know they haven't yet shown up in upholstery textiles or restaurant decor (give it time), but images of windmills are everywhere in this season's ads, political and otherwise. Obama has them. McCain has them. Boone Pickens has them. GE has them. An ad promoting Minnesota in the new issue of Fortune has them. Bank of America ATMs have them, promoting paperless online banking. Even Turkish Honda Civic ads have them.
These images epitomize grace, one of the essential components of glamour. The blades appear to turn effortlessly, generating energy without waste. They look as autonomous as a bird in flight. Everyone, including me, leaves out the massive power lines required to carry the electricity some place where it will be useful. These are glamorized images.
Like all glamour, these images create an illusion. The grubby details of wind energy aren't as pristine as the pictures. Generating and transmitting electricity is a complicated business, requiring unglamorous, behind-the-scenes labor and expertise--not to mention huge structures that the neighbors may not like. Even wind-energy promoter Boone Pickens admits that a wind farm isn't self-sufficient as a power source: "You've got to supplement it with a gas-fired or coal-fired source so whoever buys it gets continuous 24-7 generation."
Glamour is a "magic light" that distorts perceptions. Its allure depends on obscuring some details and heightening others. Experience and close examination tend to destroy glamour, often replacing it not with sober realism but something far more negative. Once disillusioned, the once-enchanted audience can become excessively cynical, unwilling to see anything good in what it once idealized. It's dangerous to depend too much on glamour. Just ask the nuclear power industry.
Leave it to Kate to associate lipstick fads with Japanese literary musings. But it's a great reference. Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows is, in its own subtle (and intensely conservative) way, one of the great books for understanding glamour--in particular, the mystery that glamour requires. Tanizaki also offers an important historical insight into why religious and luxury objects that may seem gaudy today were glamorous and inspiring in the conditions for which they were designed.
Darkness is an indispensable element of the beauty of lacquerware. Nowadays they make even a white lacquer, but the lacquerware of the past was finished in black, brown, or red, colors built up of countless layers of darkness, the inevitable product of the darkness in which life was lived. Sometimes a superb piece of black laquerware, decorated perhaps with flecks of silver and gold—a box or a desk or a set of shelves—will seem to me unsettlingly garish and altogether vulgar. But render pitch black the void in which they stand, and light them not with the rays of the sun or electricity but rather a single lantern or candle: suddenly those garish objects turn somber, refined, dignified. Artisans of old, when they finished their works in lacquer and decorated them in sparkling patterns, must surely have had in mind dark rooms and sought to turn to good effect what feeble light there was. Their extravagant use of gold, too, I should imagine, came of understanding how it gleams forth from out of the darkness and reflects the lamplight.
Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance; it should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested. The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie. If the lacquer is taken away, much of the spell disappears from the dream world built by that strange light of candle and lamp, that wavering light beating the pulse of the night. Indeed the thin, implausible, faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself.
This insight applies not only to Japanese lacquerware and statuary but to gilded Renaissance and Medieval religious art and the excesses of crown jewels. It even applies to the flash of rhinestone cowboy and rock-star costumes, which are meant to be seen at a distance under stage lights.
The curious case of Clark Rockefeller, aka Christian Gerhartsreiter, is a textbook example of evil impersonation. He's also the living embodiment of the locker-room motto--"Go big or go home". If you're going to assume an identity, might as well assume a biggie. (He's got a certain family resemblance, as the NY Post pointed out.)
A former German exchange student, Clark made a few missteps of style while hanging around old-money Cornish, New Hampshire--ostentatious wheels, name dropping--but he had a better- than-expected art collection, and that's always useful. Previously, he'd resided in a San Marino, CA guest house where police are preparing to unleash ground-penetrating radar in hopes of finding traces of his former landlords, who haven't been seen since 1985. He moved away shortly thereafter.
He's got the opportunistic knack of meeting the right people. Turning up in Montana, he adopted a mutt from the local shelter--where Maggie McGuane, daughter of novelist Thomas McGuane and actress Margot Kidder, was volunteering. Where's Fluffy now?
And long story short, he's in custody for kidnapping his daughter off a Boston street. What a tangled web, etc.
But not all fakes are so malicious.
Back in the disco era, the DuPont Twins were everywhere they should have been, all the time. Tall, blond and sweetly 17, they left their catering jobs in Connecticut (working for some woman named Martha) and hit New York just in time to meet Andy Warhol. To be fair, Robert and Richard Lasko only decided on DuPont after getting advice from Holly Woodlawn, who told them they needed a famous name. Well, if anyone should know.....
So, they made the scene and just about everyone around ( they did drugs and Andy) and had a lot of fun. No doubt some naifs took them to be real DuPonts, but they weren't trying to fool anyone. Any day now, the twins are supposed to be played by Zac Efron.
Radar rounds up other impersonators, but of course, no one can really be sure how many are out there.
Cosmetic companies sometimes launch products that seem, at first glance, to work at cross-purposes with their mission. If makeup is intended to make women more alluring, more desirable, and to enhance whatever natural beauty exists, then what the hell is black lipstick supposed to do?
MAC has Cyber, a purplish-blackish-purple. Corpse-sque.
YSL Beaute offers Gloss Pur Black , which looks like patent leather. Good if you want to kiss boots, but hate to bend over.
Lancome has Piha Black, a sheer gloss that looks good on the eyes, too. Black eyes, black heart.
Historically, blackened teeth, rather than lips, have been considered beautiful. In Southeast Asia, teeth were lacquered as a decay preventative and also as a way of assuring others that you weren't an animal or evil spirit, with long white fangs.
In Japan, teeth were blackened (ohaguro) with a dye made of iron filings. Teeth Color as a Cultural Form, an essay by Masahiko Fukagawa, explains the history of the practice and philosophy behind it.
Novelist Junichiro Tanizaki explored traditional Japanese aesthetics In Praise of Shadows, while mourning what he saw as disappearing in the harsh light of Western culture. He wrote of middle class women, living in dark interiors, wearing dark kimono, whose whitened faces contrasted with their blackened teeth.
Does black lip gloss emphasize the gleaming white teeth of the fashionable beauty?
Robin Goldstein, a British wine and food writer, bamboozled The Wine Spectator into giving his made-up bistro, Osteria L'Intrepido di Milano, their Award of Excellence, which recognizes places with impressive wine lists. He created a website, paid the entry fee, and even went so far as to review his creation on Chowhound, a touch Perry found especially admirably inventive (of course, Chowhound deleted them.) We like that the wine director is one Augusto Crazia.
Goldstein claims it's all in the name of academic reseach. Of course, the best part was his creation of a lengthy wine list--featuring vintages that the Spectator had described as "smelling of bug spray" and as having "Just too much paint thinner and nail varnish character."
Wine Spectator was not amused, but seems to miss the point that they gave an award to a place that never existed, which raises the question, "Has this happened before?" In the trade, the WS award is considered to be handed out to anyone with the entrance fee.
Here in Los Angeles, we've got our own fake bistro--Quinoa.
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.