"Peggy Sue" And "Elegance Is Refusal"

Buddy-holly Once, listening to the radio while driving, I tired of a song in which the drummer was repeating a common ride pattern on the cymbal, and using his drum set to add other standard percussion patterns. Hoping to hear something more inventive, I put the radio on scan, deciding I would listen to the first song I found that didn't use the ride cymbal. After going around the dial twice without success, I turned the radio off.

Peggy Sue,” recorded by Bully Holly and the Crickets in 1957, has been ranked as one of the greatest songs of all time. Many critics consider it Bully Holly’s best recording (he’s seen here looking his nerdy best). Jerry Allison’s restrained drumming on the recording has been one of its most praised elements. 

In his 1987 book The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism Robert Pattison searches (with considerable sympathy) for the ideological reasons that contemporary culture has come to value music and fashions that he feels are “crude, loud, and tasteless.” He seems to enjoy rock music, but intellectually he sees it as an expression of “Romantic vulgarity.” Pattison states that “refinement is the art of making reasoned exclusions.” He writes that “A black dress with a string of pearls is timeless good taste because of the calculated exclusion of all color.” He cites a Hawaiian print shirt in which “gross, lurid colors mix without restraint” as the “epitome of vulgarity.”

Pattison’s views make it particularly interesting that rock critics have praised Allison highly for limiting himself to a single drum when recording “Peggy Sue.” They feel that by confining himself to one percussion color, he helped the song have a distinctive sound. Given similar inventiveness on other recordings, this was clearly a conscious choice. And he had the self-discipline to maintain his pared-down effect—he didn’t unthinkingly throw in other percussion sounds.

Coco-chanel-pearls Coco Chanel once said, “When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.” Potentially elegant outfits can be disastrously weakened in effect by poorly chosen or overdone accessories. Avoiding this mistake is pithily summed up in Chanel’s statement, “Elegance is refusal.” Chanel is seen here in a black dress and multiple strings of pearls. The extra touch of her earrings is superb—they’re a great size and shape for the ensemble. When well chosen, accessories can be the final touches that make an outfit stunning. But choosing well means knowing which pieces will add to an ensemble’s effect, which pieces would detract, and, crucially, when to stop adding more.

In “Peggy Sue” Allison’s restrained use of percussion allows us to better hear the colorful way that Holly uses vocal “hiccups” and playful changes in the sound of his voice. (Listen to Holly change vocally to a teenage boy near the end.) The following live performance is a bit less fascinating then Norman Petty’s recording (there Petty controlled the dynamics precisely, and Holly also adds a deep-voiced man at the end). But as a slice of history, this video reminds us that there once was a time (not that long ago) when rock and roll was a new style of music. Switching back to fashion, notice how demurely the formally-attired dancers pose themselves in the background. Seeing them, it’s hard to imagine that the twist craze would arrive just two years later.

Hidden Treasures: From Hurrell To Hats, Collectors Preserve The Arts Of Commerce

229_keaton-news-hat_©PBA-Hurrell Tonight’s DG party celebrating the glamour of hats (and our first anniversary) includes some rarely seen highlights from two museum-quality collections, both hidden away in Los Angeles-area homes.

The first is the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate, the largest privately held collection of vintage George Hurrell photographs, to which we also owe the beautiful photo of Dorothy Jordan that alternates with Rick Lee’s woman in sunglasses as our masthead. At the party, we will have an ongoing slideshow of more than 40 Hurrell photos of people in hats, including many rare treasures like this perfect-for-the-occasion shot of Buster Keaton.

The photos range from the Golden Era glamour of Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks, Greta Garbo, and Carole Lombard (and, of course, the beautiful Anita Page photo on our invitation) to portraits from the 1970s and ’80s. It's an unusual Hurrell show, where Aretha Franklin and Bianca Jagger appear more often than Joan Crawford. But Crawford will be making a special appearance, since Lou D’Elia, the collector behind the Pancho Barnes archives, is also lending us one of the large-scale, limited-edition prints recently issued by the Estate of George Hurrell.

Wendy Ann Rosen hat boxes The second collection is Wendy Ann Rosen’s House of Hats, the best collection of 20th-century hats outside a museum. Wendy Ann, a makeup artist by trade, not only collects hats. She keeps them in a world-class collection of vintage hat boxes. Some of her hats are included in the V&A’s recent Hats: An Anthology exhibition, curated by Stephen Jones. Those hats are still traveling the world, but others will be on display at 5th & Spring--and available for purchase, since Wendy Ann is, as they say in the museum business, deaccessioning a few of her more than 600 chapeaux.

Wendy Ann is one of L.A.’s hidden treasures, someone only a few aficionados know about. Working on her own, mostly in the 1990s, she researched the history of 20th-century millinery and identified, bought, and preserved the best examples of the milliner’s art. (Here's a fashion spread featuring some of her hats from the 1920s, aquired through the Adamson Estate.) In addition to hats and hat boxes, she collects tools of the hat-maker's trade, signs and other ephemera, and the adorable cupcake-sized mini hats and boxes that were used as milliner's gift certificates since hats were custom-fitted. (Alas, she's not bringing any of the mini hats. Partygoers will have to make do with literal cupcakes.)

Although some of Wendy Ann's hats are from famous fashion designers, including Chanel, Dior and Schiaparelli, many are from hat specialists like Madame Georgette who were renowned in their day but are now forgotten. “I want to make sure that they're recognized and remembered. That's my main purpose,” she says.

DG's party, "You're the Top: A Celebration of Glamorous Hats & the People Who Wear Them," is free and open to the public as part of the first Downtown Fashion Walk. RSVPs are appreciated but not required. See our invitation for details on the location. Ample parking is available in the garage at 530 S. Spring for $5. The map for Downtown Fashion Walk is online here.

[Buster Keaton photo © Estate of George Hurrell, courtesy of Pancho Barnes Estate Archives]

You Say "Persimmon," I Say...

Persimmon 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.]

From The Archives: Kate Hahn's Forgotten Fashion

He convinced her to sign a contract to pose for sketches in the studio after hours. During their sessions, he gave her playful nicknames: “The Glacier,” “The Iceberg,” “Mon petit Mont Blanc,” all of which he wrote in a brushy stroke beside his drawings of her. It is from Darchez’s sketchbook that we know much about the development of the dresses, which the designer called Frigidaire Formals.

Like Kaitlyn and the appliances, the collection was white in color and grand in scale. The foundation of each gown was a fitted bodice that emphasized a woman’s hourglass silhouette. This was enhanced by design features that extended the garment’s volume in all directions: a ball-gown skirt with a twenty-foot circumference, translucent chiffon “poet” sleeves with nearly as much yardage as a parachute, stand-up raw silk collars that reached above the ears, satin trains so long they practically required a caboose.

In the drawings, Kaitlyn stands not in her popular C-curve, but regally upright, a pose surely requested by Darchez to enhance the large scale of the gowns. She is particularly fetching in earlier designs such as “La Glacière” (the Ice Box), a dress and cape combination that reveals the impact of appliances on Darchez’s work. The floor-length porcine cape clasps at the neck with a silver lever modeled after a Frigidaire door handle. Beneath it is a ball gown, the warm ivory moiré silk glowing like the light from inside a refrigerator. Kaitlyn smiles slyly at the artist, one hand touched to the cape’s upturned collar.

But the gigantic scale of the gowns relied on more than generous swaths of fabric modeled by a statuesque goddess. For all the drawing and fitting sessions, “The Iceberg” wore five-inch pumps. Sketches show that Darchez began with three-inch heels and modified them to increase the height. He gave much thought to the engineering, reinforcing the shoes with a steel shank so they would not snap and send his muse tumbling. One might assume that this footwear was the cause of the pinched look that began to appear on Kaitlyn’s face one-third of the way through the sketchbook. But one would be wrong.


After many weeks of the boardlike posture, Kaitlyn was having difficulty forming her trademark C-curve when she posed for the appliance illustrations, which were her main source of income. Art directors complained. One can find fewer representations of her russet-haired presence in magazine advertisements from this period, and it can be assumed Kaitlyn was probably suffering financially as a result. But she was trapped in her contract with Darchez, and in his dresses, which just got bigger and bigger. In the sketch for “Le Gaz,” which drew its name and shape from the white-hot flame flickering from gas stove burners, her face is nearly lost amid a flurry of ostrich feathers built up around her as if she is the center of a blaze. Even in Darchez’s stylized hand, one notices her visage sports a scowl, and her pale skin is slightly pink.

The final straw was “La Lave,” a dress-within-a dress clearly inspired by the era’s top-loading dishwashers, in which cups and plates were placed in a cylindrical wire basket and submerged in a tube beneath the kitchen counter. The innermost gown was a tightly fitted sheath, made of fabric Darchez designed, white silk embroidered in silver thread that formed an abstract pattern suggesting the wire cage. Over this was a layer of suds-inspired translucent chiffon. This was topped by a porcelain white evening coat in a tubular shape, which appeared to transform Kaitlyn into a Doric column.

Around the figure of Kaitlyn, Darchez has limned the Parthenon, complete with the row of massive white columns lining its façade. Kaitlyn, in the dress, becomes one of them. Her face atop it is like that of an angry goddess.

It is the last dress in the portfolio of the Frigidaire Formals collection. Tucked behind it is half of a torn contract – the one Darchez had with Kaitlyn. It is obvious the designer could not go on without his muse. If his dresses were ever actually produced, there is no record of them. His Frigidaire Formals drifted into oblivion, as did he. 

But it was not his mammoth and towering creations that could have made his fortune, it was what lay beneath them: his carefully engineered footwear. In 1952, the term “stiletto” was coined to describe the high-heeled shoe with the spiky heel bolstered by a metal shank.  Its popularity was attributed mainly to Roger Vivier, who worked for the designer Darchez had so envied: Christian Dior.


If you couldn’t come to the party, you can still get a signed copy of the book for $9.95 plus shipping. Order it here no later than Labor Day, September 7.

Name to sign book to

Mystery, Mad Men, And Prom Season Success

Mad men unique vintage dresses Long before American went Mad Men mad, Katie Echeverry was a pharmaceutical sales rep with a passion for vintage fashion and a workaholic boyfriend. Instead of nagging him to spend more time with her, she decided to develop a hobby that would generate a little spending money—finding cool vintage pieces and selling them online.

That was nine years ago. Katie and her boyfriend are now married and expecting their second child. And what started as a hobby has become a real business, with 12 employees and sales that are thriving even in the midst of the recession. When you Google "vintage dresses,” the first site that pops up is her store, Unique Vintage, which opened a bricks-and-mortar shop in Burbank a year ago and expanded last December.

These days, few of the shop's wares are true vintage items. When she turned her sideline into a true business three and a half years ago, after her daughter was born, Katie switched from vintage to “vintage-inspired”—contemporary designs based on styles from the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s. Other vintage lovers may cringe, but the switch was essential to the store's success.

When she was selling true vintage, she says, “I just had so many people request a dress in a different size. They obviously didn’t understand that it was one-of-a-kind vintage." Plus, she says, “Vintage is so small, and most people are not size double-zero. I’d feel really lucky if I found a size six in anything cute.” The switch allowed her to offer a full range of sizes and keep popular items in stock.

Red marilyn halter dress unique vintageIts high Google rankings, a result of being an online pioneer, are a major reason for Unique Vintage's success. They not only drive traffic but provide market research. When “vintage wedding dresses” searches kept sending people to the store, Katie decided she'd better add a wedding line. The same thing happened with flapper dresses, which are some of the store's most impressive wares. The meticulous beading is done in India by a company whose proprietor found Katie online.

Beaded flapper dress detail
Beading detail.
Click for larger view.

Despite its history-based styles, Unique Vintage isn't catering primarily to nostalgia buffs. Rather, the store's wiggle dresses and Marilyn Monroe-style halter styles appeal to young women looking for something that can be hard to find at the mall: dresses that are sexy but don't show too much skin. It does its biggest business during prom season, when Monday sales reach 500 dresses a day. These customers, says Katie, “want something unique without being too revealing.” Glamour, after all, requires a little mystery.

Beyond Clarity And Efficiency

Reading-on-the-platform With the widespread availability of books on tape and CD, we can, if we choose, hear many novels read to us by experienced readers, some of whom are excellent. In her post about the power of the written word, Kit Pollard muses that “sometimes it’s nice, as a reader, to do a little interpretation.” Her thoughts remind us that when someone performs words they inevitably interpret them, and that other interpretations, including our own, are possible.

Compared to words in print, a performed rendition adds tone and inflection. Imagine reading that three women are sitting together in a restaurant when a fourth woman enters. One of the seated women (I’ll call her Stephanie) remarks, “Doesn’t she look pretty?” Without more information we have to guess whether Stephanie’s remark is a sincere compliment or a snide insult. But if we heard the tone and inflection of her remark, or if we knew Stephanie better, we would likely know her intent.

The absence of tone makes writing dialogue in fiction challenging. Playwrights and screenwriters sometimes use parenthetical remarks to suggest a performance tone to actors. Within the film trade these are sometimes called “wrylies” because “(wryly)” has been a much used parenthetical instruction. Experts on writing plays and screenplays advise eliminating wrylies as much as possible. (Shakespeare’s plays contain almost no interpretive instructions.) If script writers insert numerous wrylies, professional actors often respond by going through the script and marking them out. Actors often feel that the way that a line should be performed will vary depending on how they as actors choose to portray the characters. As one website advises, “Try to cut out all the wrylies you can. Actors hate 'em. Directors hate 'em. They think you're trying to do their job.”

Authors of novels frequently provide information about various characters’ thoughts or the tone of the dialogue. Thus a novelist might write: “ ‘Doesn’t she look pretty,’ Stephanie said wryly.” But editors often advise novelists to avoid adding too much interpretive information. Doing too much of this can rob readers of the chance to interpret for themselves what a character’s behavior reveals about them. Thus the frequent admonition to writers to “Show, don’t tell.” But “telling” can be useful and efficient. Finding a successful balance between showing and telling is one of the challenges of writing.

Sitting-reading This discussion raises the question of whether written prose can be glamorous without some special means of presentation. In my experience prose itself can be glamorous, but the vast majority of prose clearly is not. To be glamorous, prose has to move beyond clarity, efficiency, and grammatical correctness. Glamour in language requires paying attention to subtle nuances of meaning. It also requires paying close attention to the sound and rhythm of words and word groups. Most writing within legal, government, scientific, and academic communities reveals a deaf ear for the sound of language, as Kit remarked of the typical writing of economists. Some fiction and non-fiction writing is glamorous, but most is not.

Even when we read silently, we tend to hear the sound and rhythm of what we are reading in our minds. I suspect that some form of sensuous perception or imagination is likely to be a factor in everything that we find glamorous. Certainly, if a passage of prose would fail to resonate if read aloud, it will fail to resonate in the mind when read silently. It is far easier for language to be informative, meaningful, and even exciting than it is for it to seem to cast a spell. Achieving the latter is rare. Yet, when language is alluring, we can often recognize this immediately. When starting to read a novel, for example, if the writing has been done with extraordinary care and imagination, we may find ourselves falling under the spell of the author’s captivating use of language as soon as the first sentence, paragraph, and page.

["Reading on the platform" photo by Flickr user Moriza. "Sitting reading" photo by db*photography. Both used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]

The Transformational Power Of Hats

Xiu-Ling When I went over to Gary Leonard's gallery yesterday to get my photo taken for this Downtown News piece on our party, I was carrying a bunch of hats. As I unpacked them, Gary’s daughter Xiu-Ling was enchanted.

“Did you make those hats?” she asked. I could have immediately become a style goddess in her eyes, but instead I explained who the hat designers were. Making up for my lowly writer status, I offered to let her try them on. Here she is, striking a pose in Arturos Rios's cocktail hat. (Arturo's hat got the attention, but Louise Green's red straw fedora had people ready to buy.)

All fashion makes a promise of transformation, but with hats that promise is especially potent. The face and head represent the self, so by framing, concealing, or decorating them a hat can change who we appear to be. It's not surprising, then, that hats are used in uniforms and religious dress or that hats went out of style in the let-it-all-hang-out period in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

At our party next Thursday, Wendy Ann Rosen will be showing some hats and hat boxes from her stunning collection—one of the best in the world. (I'll have a post on Wendy Ann later this week.) We'll also be showing a film short featuring Wendy Ann’s hats and the theme of transformation. Here’s a QuickTime clip.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The DeepGlamour party has been moved to the Spring Arts Tower at 453 S. Spring Street (enter at 201 W. 5th). Parking $5 at 530 S. Spring Street garage. Great space, just down from fantastic art-book store Polyester.

The Power Of The Written Word

Words Earlier this week, Randall Shinn wrote about the impact of voice. He writes of patterned language, saying, “Hearing such language performed by a great vocal interpreter remains a magical experience.”

It’s true that some voices and some styles of delivery make words more powerful. It doesn’t stop, though, with the spoken word. Graphic novelists, especially, understand this, creating images and deliberately drawing words to convey a certain mood. Artist Maira Kalman tells stories (most notably in The New York Times) using simple drawings, bright colors and incredibly expressive handwriting that is one part childlike, one part sophisticated and completely distinctive.

The majority of us, though, don’t have the artistic ability to communicate like Kalman, or any graphic novelist. But we do have Microsoft Word, which offers us hundreds of different fonts to choose from, plus the ability to easily manipulate font size, to make our words bold, and to italicize. With just a little effort, we can download a font to convey most every mood or concept (including glamour, which has a “font family” of its own, plus an additional “glamour girl” iteration).

This makes me wonder: just because we can manipulate the look of our words to convey extra emotion, should we? There’s something relaxing about reading books and websites that, out of necessity, rely on a single, simple font with a minimum of fuss, and sometimes it’s nice, as a reader, to do a little interpretation. But, then, are we missing out on something the author might share?

[Photo "Words" by Flickr user Emborg, under the Creative Commons license.]

Party With DeepGlamour On August 20

You're the Top 

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As reflected in this revised invitation, the DeepGlamour party has been moved from its original location to the Spring Arts Tower at 453 S. Spring Street (enter at 201 W. 5th). Parking $5 at 530 S. Spring Street garage. Great space, just down from fantastic art-book store Polyester.

Download a PDF of the invitation here.

The Mystery & Magic Of Hats—and A DeepGlamour Birthday Party

Anita page hat polka dots hurrellThis is Anita Page, as photographed by George Hurrell in an extraordinary hat. (Page is a fascinating character: a long-lived Golden Age star who made only one movie between 1936 and 1996, then re-emerged in cheapo horror flicks as well as documentary interviews about studio-era Hollywood. She died last September at 98 but still has a movie in post-production.) This hat is presumably a costume, but women used to take as much pride and interest in their hats as they do today in shoes and It bags. Alas, the informality of the 1960s killed off hats. They became functional—a way of protecting yourself from sun or cold—rather than expressive.

Hats are now enjoying something of a resurgence among hipsters and fashionistas, with fedoras, cloches, and fascinators showing up on people in the business of being noticed. The paradox of a hat is that it simultaneously conceals and calls attention to the wearer—the very definition of a glamorous accessory. (Think also of sunglasses, fans, and cigarettes.)

Next Thursday, August 20, DG is curating an event—and throwing ourselves a birthday party—as part of the inaugural L.A. Downtown Fashion Walk. Our theme is the glamour of hats, with creations on display (and in some cases for sale) from local designers Louise Green, Arturo Rios, and Stella Dottir as well as collector Wendy Ann Rosen's renowned "House of Hats." (Some of Wendy Ann's hats are featured in this amazing V&A exhibit, curated by Stephen Jones, which is now on a two-year world tour.)

Plus, Project Runway's Andraé Gonzalo will join our friend Kate Hahn to sign their book Forgotten Fashion, excerpted in one of our very first posts, which includes some of Andraé's illustrations. The party starts at 6:00 p.m., giving Project Runway fans plenty of time to come by before taking off for premiere viewing parties (which is exactly what Kate and Andraé are doing).

Here are the particulars:

August 20, 2009
6 p.m. to 10 p.m. 
Farmers & Merchants Bank lobby 
Southwest corner of 4th & Main Streets
Spring Arts Tower, 453 S. Spring Street (enter at 201 W. 5th)
(Ample parking available at 530 S. Spring Street garage) 
Information & RSVPs: virginia-at-deepglamour.net

Dress glamorously, and wear a hat. You could win a prize.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The DeepGlamour party has been moved to the Spring Arts Tower at 453 S. Spring Street (enter at 201 W. 5th). Parking $5 at 530 S. Spring Street garage. Great space, just down from fantastic art-book store Polyester.

[Anita Page photo © Estate of George Hurrell and courtesy of Pancho Barnes Trust Estate.]