In the November 2009 issue of Harper's Bazaar, Tina Fey trades in Liz Lemon's schlumpy cardigans for several seriously gorgeous designer cocktail dresses. They say that the clothes make the man, but in this case, I wonder.
On the subscriber cover (at left), in white Yves Saint Laurent, Fey looks pretty. But she also looks awkward, like a jockish girl all dressed up for a high school dance. Like she can't wait for the shoot to end so she can wash her face and get back into her baggy jeans. It just doesn't feel like Tina Fey. But it's a fashion magazine, so she's in a dress.
Inside, Fey admits that she's not really much for dressing up and that Liz Lemon, the character she based on her early years as a writer in NYC, "has little to no style." She also admits that Lemon's character could use a little more confidence.
This Bazaar cover just looks all wrong to me. But what I wonder is this: who's responsible for that? Should Bazaar have dialed down the glam factor, dressing Fey in something more comfortable and familiar? Or is Fey selling herself short by not totally owning that dress?
[Harper's Bazaar cover image by Alexi Lubomirski.]
Posted by Kit Pollard on October 28, 2009 in
Fashion, Magazines, Appearance, Celebrities
I met Haideh Hirmand at a dinner party given by the amazing Joan Kron (interviewed here) and was immediately impressed with her elegance and insight. A board-certified plastic surgeon in Manhattan, she is an active researcher as well as a practitioner and has a particular interest some of her field’s most precise and delicate procedures: those surrounding the eyes. (Typical research article titles: “Beyond The Tear Trough: An Anatomic Basis for Aesthetic Rejuvenation of the Peri-orbital Area,” and “Patient Safety in Eyelid Rejuvenation.”) Surgery or injections around the eyes are both medically demanding—there’s little margin for error—and aesthetically challenging, since tiny alterations can change the entire look of a person’s face. Patients come to her for her knowledge and skills, of course, but, observed Julia Reed in a 2006 Vogue profile, “it is Hirmand’s matter-of-factness that her patients prize.” We’re delighted she took the time to answer our questions.
DG: What drew you to plastic surgery as a specialty?
HH: The diversity of procedures, the rapidly evolving technology, the strong aesthetic angle, together with the emphasis on creativity and details at the same time. In addition, the possibilities to encompass international work and most importantly the fact that the psyche and the motivation of the person are just as important as the physical indications in planning and treatment.
DG: What are patients hoping for when they come to you? How realistic are they?
HH: It really depends on the patient. They are hoping to look better but in reality this means that they are hoping to feel better. Part of my job is to identify those who will not feel better even if they look better objectively.
DG: What misperceptions do patients have about plastic surgery? How about non-patients?
HH: The biggest one is that there will be “no scars.” And some think that plastic surgery is a substitute for a good attitude and can make them happy. This is a big misconception and can lead to a lot of disappointment.
“Aging gracefully” means different things to different people. To some it means never doing anything to interfere with nature’s course, and for others it means doing everything to prevent nature from taking its toll so that they age gracefully!
As for non-patients, the biggest misconception I have come across is that plastic surgery somehow preys on people’s desires to be young and beautiful.
DG: In stating your practice’s philosophy, you say, “The objective is to maintain elegance regardless of age.” What makes for elegance?
HH: Good taste, an attitude, a language
DG: What do you think of the ideal of “aging gracefully”?
HH: “Aging gracefully” means different things to different people. To some it means never doing anything to interfere with nature’s course and for others it means doing everything to prevent nature from taking its toll so that they age gracefully! I believe everyone has to find their own definition of “aging gracefully” that she or he feels comfortable with.
DG: Are there any new techniques or technologies you're particularly excited about?
HH: I am excited about the newer liposuction technologies. I am an investigator for the FDA study for a radiofrequency based liposuction device, called BodyTite, and we are evaluating its efficacy for skin tightening. There are also ultrasonic noninvasive body-contouring technologies coming down the pipeline. If we can make them work safely, it will revolutionize the field.
For the breast, we have newer tools like dermal matrices, such as Alloderm and the newer Strattice to help with secondary corrections and reconstruction.
On the eyelid and facial front, where I have always maintained a strong interest and subspecialty, it is amazing to learn more about the process of facial aging and to further evolove the techniques to nonsurgically rejuvenate the lower lid with fillers to get rid of the “sunken look.” There will be novel fillers and topicals that can intercept aging in many new ways. But the most exciting thing for me is practicing in an era where I can combine surgery and noninvasive tools in the right dose, for each person for the best results, something that was just not available to my mother’s generation years ago.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour? Glamour, to me, is a “presence” that is both stunningly attractive and inspirational. A quality that is not limited to physical appearance but encompasses attitude, behavior, and life.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon? Grace Kelly
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity? Neither
4) Favorite glamorous movie? The Thomas Crown Affair
(2nd version) and To Catch a Thief
5) What was your most glamorous moment? My wedding day in St. Bart when I walked down the aisle in a flowing chiffon dress. I was in the best shape. I was glowing and extraordinarily happy and excited. The light was magical. And I had all my friends and family there.
6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)? Antique pearl necklace and earring set given to me by my mom.
7) Most glamorous place? Paris
8) Most glamorous job? What I do. It is pretty glamorous.
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don’t. Rolls Royce
10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized. An amazing sailboat
11) Can glamour survive? Yes. Glamour makes an impact and an impression that is timeless.
12) Is glamour something you’re born with? I think it is a combination. Some qualities are inherent and some can be adopted.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Cate
2) Paris or Venice? Paris
3) New York or Los Angeles? New York
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Princess Grace
5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Kyoto
6) Boots or stilettos? Stilleto boots
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Deco
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin Martin
9) Armani or Versace? Armani
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Anna Wintour
11) Champagne or single malt? Champagne but only fine champagne
12) 1960s or 1980s? ’80s.
13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Naomi
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Sean Connery
[Photograph of Haideh Hirmand © Evan Sung, used with permission.]
Posted by Virginia Postrel on October 27, 2009 in
The striking garment shown at left was created by deconstructing a rain mackintosh, recutting the material, and then recombining the resulting pieces with extraordinary imagination. It is typical of the work produced by a London-based company called Junky Styling. The company’s name is an ironic reference to their use of second-hand clothing as their raw material. The transformed final garments are stylish, well-constructed, and finished in great detail. Vogue called their clothing “high fashion street couture.”
As teenagers Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager began taking men’s suits (bought from second hand shops) and turning them into experimental garments to wear to clubs. “We began because we wanted to dress differently. Initially, it was all about unique design, and we were able to achieve this through cutting up clothes that were second hand.” While traveling they noticed that textile recycling was already happening in cities like San Francisco and Tokyo, and their own designs drew lots of compliments. Their London friends began to commission outfits, and this led to a market stall in Kensington Market. In 1997 they launched Junky Styling, and their clothing is now stocked in shops in cities like London, Paris, and Hong Kong.
I learned of their work through the new book Junky Styling: Wardrobe Surgery. The ethos of their company is “timeless, deconstructed, re-cut, and completely transformed clothing,” and they are so committed to recycling textiles that their book contains a how-to section with basic instructions for some of their most popular designs. Intrigued, I asked them a couple of questions.
Deep Glamour: Your use of men's suits and shirts as primary sources for material is interesting. Did you do this because of the quality and quantity of the material in these items, or is there a certain provocativeness in reworking these normally staid items? Perhaps both?
Kerry Seager: Yes both! The combination of using such fine, quintessentially British fabrics that have truly stood the test of time and then transforming them into very apparent recycled styles really works for us. 'City' items that evoke a certain thought process in people tend to work really well when redesigned as there is that instant familiarity, that then provokes the next question as "Is that..." or "How did..." which is why our customers are addicted not only to the recycling aspect of our label, but the conversations they have with strangers when wearing Junky.
(The crossover top shown at right was one of their first designs, and perfectly illustrates both the sense of familiarity with the suit elements and the surprise at what was done with them.)
DG: You mention that it might have been helpful to have had more tailoring experience in starting your business. Do you think that not having conventional training in tailoring might have left you more open to thinking about design in unconventional ways?
KS: Certainly our lack of training enabled us to produce the freestyle designs that we do, as there is no doubt of the freedom that a sewing machine and cloth (with no constraints) can provide you with! I think though that training is an integral part of progression, as the skills enable you to realize your vision quicker — vision of course can't be taught, but French seams can.
Over the years the Junky crew has grown larger. The zipper elements in the dress at right were created by Eric Holah. Their website lists some locations where you might see some of their work.
As the images in their book and on their website illustrate, garments based on the same design can look remarkably different when produced from different second-hand material. These are definitely one-of-a-kind garments, and many are made to fit for individual clients. (The process is outlined here.)
Junky Styling designs garments for both men and women. In addition to shots of models wearing their clothes, their book contains photos of some of their customers wearing their favorite items. Wearing such garments draws attention. Chris Richmond, a video director and film maker wrote, “I’m not a show-off (I’m actually quite shy), but I enjoy the comments that I get when I am wearing Junky clothing.” Kurt Williams, an actor and jewelry designer, said he wears his favorite jacket when “I’m feeling a bit resigned or subdued so people can focus more on the jacket and less on me.”
In the book’s foreword fashion writer and broadcaster Caryn Franklin describes checking out Junky Styling by having them make her something, and she writes that the garment that they created out of an old Paul Smith suit jacket “frankly looks better on me than it ever did on the hanger gathering dust in my husband’s side of the wardrobe.” I cringed when she mentioned that he had “unknowingly donated” the jacket. Though it made a good story, I suspect most women would find secretly commandeering some of your husband’s upscale clothing a risky way to recycle.[All photos used by permission. The rain mac photo is by Ness Sherry. The crossover top and zipper creations photos are by Luz Martin.]
Posted by Randall Shinn on October 25, 2009 in
Ralph Lauren, who turned 70 last week, is the most successful purveyor of glamour since the golden age of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Like studio-era movies, Lauren sells dreams of transformation and escape—all those green lawns and polo fields, safari tents and Rocky Mountain ranches. His designs transport the audience out of everyday experience and make the ideal life seem palpable.
Critics may mock him as a faux WASP parvenu and dismiss his customers as “yuppie arrivistes” (as a New York Times letter writer put it in 1992), but Lauren’s work has authentic emotional power. It expresses his own “yearning for something beautiful and timeless that conjures up a world and takes you there.” His genius as a designer and businessman was to find a huge audience that shared his yearnings.
If fashion is of the moment, Lauren is an anti-fashion designer. “I’ve never designed for obsolescence,” he wrote. “I’ve designed for longevity.” Flip through the massive volume of photographs and reflections he published two years ago to mark 40 years of designing and you see what he means. Only the most subtle differences in silhouette distinguish today’s clothes from those of decades past.
A brand built on timeless glamour faces special challenges. Glamour is eternal, but its embodiment changes with the audience. Aspirations and tastes formed in one era may not suit the next. Lauren writes that the songs of Frank Sinatra “have no time.” A child of the ’60s—or the ’90s—would disagree.
And glamour is a delicate illusion. Anything discordant can break the spell. Lately, Ralph Lauren the brand seems determined to puncture its audience’s reverie.
Read the rest at Forbes.com.
Posted by Virginia Postrel on October 25, 2009 in
Fashion, Advertising, Business
In honor of glamorous Frenchwoman Catherine Deneuve’s 66th birthday (which is today), I have a question: What is it about French women that is just so glamorous? And how can I get some of it?
I ask myself that question more frequently than I should probably admit – every time I painstakingly wrap a scarf around my neck or throw on a striped, boatneck shirt in an effort to grab a little of the nonchalant chic that French women seem to be born with.
I’m hardly the first frustrated American woman to ask that question. Last January in the New York Post, writer Maureen Callahan posed the question, albeit in a snarkier tone, in her article, “French Women Can Suck It.” In an effort to uncover the roots of the myth that “French women are better than we are,” Callahan interviewed a couple of legitimately glamorous French women, both of whom hedged a little when asked about French glamour.
Mireille Giuliano, author of the French Women Don't Get Fat books and president and CEO of Veuve Cliquot, Inc., says that it’s not really all French women who appear so glamorous, it’s just the Parisians. And they’ve got American counterparts in New York. (Full FTC-approved disclosure: I once received a signed copy of one of the French Women books, along with a very nice handwritten note from Ms. Giuliano, thanking me for something complimentary I’d written about the books. Glamour or no, I was charmed.)
Callahan also spoke with Garance Dore, a Paris-based street style photographer-blogger (and girlfriend to Scott “The Sartorialist” Schuman). Dore said, “For me, the French woman is a nice and beautiful myth.”
Both Giuliano and Dore seemed eager to assure their American fans that the “French” thing can be overcome. That there’s no glamour gene that exists only in French DNA. The thing is, while both praise the confidence, style, and attitude of American women (especially New Yorkers), I’m pretty sure they both believe that French women have something special in the glamour department.
At the beginning of her second book, French Women for All Seasons, Giuliano writes about the reaction the first book generated among her French female friends. In short, they were outraged. She quotes one, who said, “How dare you give away OUR secrets to the world?” This was specifically said with respect to “not getting fat,” but the books are really about the way of life that keeps French women famously trim – and glamorous. Somebody in Giuliano’s circle, at least, believes that French women have a corner on the fabulous market.
Garance Dore’s story is similarly murky. Just a few weeks before the NY Post article ran, Dore was interviewed by New York-based writer Joanna Goddard. The subject? How Goddard could stick to her New Year’s resolution to “dress like a French woman.” Dore gave a real, and thorough, answer, involving stripes, scarves, “unconcious layering,” an aversion to color, laziness, and an appreciation for the “sexy detail” (though it seems to me that “sexy detail” is pretty vague…and probably where a lot of American women get caught up). Gore also shared this:
The French woman doesn’t take any resolutions. The French woman is. The present is her sole religion. In fact, the mystery behind the French woman is that she has confidence in herself, despite all the nonsense she says. There’s the secret to her indestructible Frenchitude.
So there it is. French women – from Deneuve to Dore – do share a secret. And, unfortunately for us Yanks, even when it’s spelled out, it’s vague. Guess it’s back to scarf-tying class for me.
[Photo of the Eiffel Tower at dusk, the ultimate glamorous building, by Flickr user stevenvanwel. Used under the Creative Commons license.]
Posted by Kit Pollard on October 21, 2009 in
This Japanese vision in pink and white is engaged in cosplay (costume play) in Tokyo near Harajuku station. Virginia wrote about cosplay and the glamour of dressing up in July. In Tokyo many girls and young women engage in cosplay on Sundays, and are happy to pose for photographs. This Little Bo Peep costume has some interesting details: she is wearing a crown necklace and a giant costume jewelry ring. This has historical implications because Western royalty also used to masquerade. She is referencing not just a nursery rhyme, but also the history of costume play.
One of the most famous costume players was Marie Antoinette, whose husband Louis XVI gave her a fake hamlet called Hameau de la Reine within the park of Versailles. There Marie gained a fantasy setting for her costume play, complete with docile, well-cleaned livestock, and porcelain milk pails. Here the Queen and her attendants could play at being elaborately dressed shepherdesses and milkmaids.
In 18th-century England nobles loved to attend balls masquerading as sumptuously costumed rural characters. Anti-masquerade clergymen felt that no moral woman should attend one. Nonetheless, the masquerades became so popular that conservatives warned that suggesting that the difference between nobles and peasants was a matter of appearance was a danger to the established social order. As Terry Castle writes in Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction :
The anti-masquerade rhetoric of the period offered a clue to the masquerade’s ultimate demise when it exposed the masquerade as a threat to bourgeois decorum and rationalist taxonomies. Mask and costume, the signs of a joyful exchange between self and other, had to be laid aside, and more sober pursuits embraced.
In Japan another popular cosplay character is Lolita, and she is often costumed in Goth black. The young woman shown here blowing bubbles evokes both childhood innocence and a seductive nymphet. The bow on her head seems girlish, but the Goth clothing and the black-cross necklace seem more witch-like. Perhaps the iridescent bubbles she is conjuring are charmed, and have the power to bewitch.
Nabokov’s novel provides no more basis that Lolita should wear black than the nursery rhyme does that Little Bo Peep would dress in pinks and whites. And, clearly, no real-life shepherdess wore fancy clothes while tramping about with her sheep. But this is costume play, and so it is rightfully playful. The cosplay characters sometimes overlap. A parasol is usually part of the Little Bo Peep costume, but this young woman glancing back from beneath her black parasol suggests a combination of shepherdess, Goth, and Lolita. Her features are still somewhat child-like, but the costume and makeup are grown up and provocative. This unexpected mixture is part of the charm of the costume, and, with her appraising gaze, this Little Bo Peep/Lolita looks dangerously sexually precocious.
These elaborate costumes involve significant expenditures of time and money. And, as all of these photos show, these young women act the roles they are portraying. As Virginia has written, the chance to participate in cosplay, to be noticed, to stand out, and to be photographed is a social activity these young ladies find richly rewarding.
I imagine that these young women gain poise from cosplay that carries over into their everyday lives. Playing someone other than themselves may genuinely expand their sense of self. Terry Castle wrote that the 18th-century masquerades were “a profound mingling of opposites, an absorptive, endlessly satisfying embrace of self and other.” (The "Harajuku girl" photo is by jaybergesen, and is used under the Flickr Creative Commons license. The "Lolita" photograph is by Bryan Campbell, and is used by permission. The "Glance" photo is by Tommy Cuellar and is used by permission.)
Posted by Randall Shinn on October 15, 2009 in
Fashion, Escape, Appearance
Glamour is hard. Wedding glamour, thanks to all the tension and emotions tied up in the big event, is harder. And the wedding dress often bears the brunt of the responsibility for communicating that glamour – to the bride, at least.
About a year ago, Deep Glamour ran a series called, “Diary of a Groomzilla,” about the trials and tribulations of a DG contributor planning a gay wedding in San Francisco in the weeks just before the election. There were floral arguments and Vera Wang invitation discussions, and dramatic moments involving Safeway wedding balloons – all the little things that are mostly funny in the rearview of wedding planning (it takes a special groom to laugh at them during). There were sartorial issues, too, since Groomzilla’s fiance was “cheap” (Groomzilla’s words, not mine), though he eventually came around, purchasing a really nice suit for the occasion.
The Groomzilla was just lucky he didn’t have to convince his fiance to embark on a search for the “perfect wedding dress.” The mythical garment that combines sweetness and glamour and just the right amount of sexy (“church sexy,” if you will) – and takes off three inches around the waist without constricting breathing.
That’s the Western ideal, anyway. Every culture has developed traditions around wedding attire to help visually convey the solemnity and specialness of the event, and the social status of the bride and her family. In the West, the white wedding dress that most brides choose today was made popular by Queen Victoria in 1840.
The wedding dress is indelibly ingrained in my mind as a symbol of love, commitment, tradition, and coming-of-age ritual. When I see a bride – even on TV – I find myself sighing and getting a little teary-eyed. It’s Pavlovian.
But underneath all that lace and crinoline and symbolism, there’s some very hearty construction. Creating a wedding dress isn’t much less complicated than designing and building an actual building. From the outside, it’s the looks that count, but on the interior, the construction better be good enough to hold it together.
This past weekend, my brother got married. Standing in the church just following the ceremony, I got a major case of the post-wedding giggles, and it was all thanks to the wedding dress. There I was, bridesmaid dress on, bouquet in hand, standing in front of the altar holding the bride’s dress straight up in the air while the maid of honor and another bridesmaid figured out how to bustle the big, gorgeous thing. Underneath the dress, there was a collection of color-coded strings that, when tied together, pulled the train up underneath.
At that moment, all I could think about was hot-wiring a car. That’s what we were doing – making the dress work on the fly, by putting like colors together. It wasn't easy. But after a few minutes – a few dramatic, tense minutes – the bustle came together and my new sister-in-law was able to walk down the steps without worrying (so much) about tripping over her dress.
Talk about symbolism. Not tripping on a wedding day, in a wedding dress, thanks to its complicated, but hidden, construction, is a great metaphor for glamorous living itself. Nobody – not even Coco herself – wakes up glamorous every day. But sometimes, thanks to careful design (of a dress, a car, a building) – and a willingness to squabble with Safeway balloon-section employees just before the ceremony – the glamour ends up looking effortless.
[London Wedding Dress, circa 1870, by Flickr user the wee pixie, used under the Creative Commons license.]
Posted by Kit Pollard on October 14, 2009 in
Sitting in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport I observed a young husband and wife who were each engrossed in their own reading material. He was big, country-looking, and was studying JP Magazine, an off-road vehicle magazine. The vehicle on its cover had tires so large it looked as if it could drive over any car that happened to park in its way. I found it more monstrous than glamorous, but I had no doubt that it was a dream vehicle for him.
At one point he tried to explain to his wife why the differential axle on one particular vehicle was so desirable. She glanced up from her novel and feigned enough interest to keep him happy.She was petite, dressed in more urban clothes, and was reading Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Lucky One. I’ve never read a Nicholas Sparks novel, nor JP Magazine. But judging from the novel’s on-line description (“a passionate and all-consuming love affair”… “filled with tender romance and terrific suspense”), I feel sure it didn’t describe differential axles and over-sized tires.
Separate desires then: one for bigger and more powerful macho toys, and the other for all-consuming romance. Hopefully he will get to have some kind of off-road vehicle, and she will get to have some romance in her life. Perhaps he will always dream of bigger tires and she will always dream of more romance. Clearly, each had found reading material that was helping them imagine greater and elusive possibilities (a wide-angled lens was used to create an exaggerated sense of scale in the photograph above).Watching them, I was left with questions. Is the old adage true, do opposites attract? If so, can couples remain close without some shared interests? And can you read a romance novel while buckled up in a vehicle that is climbing over giant boulders?
Posted by Randall Shinn on October 14, 2009 in
Shopping in the Renaissance: Consumer Cultures in Italy, 1400-1600 by Evelyn Welch (read a review here)
Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays by Joel Waldfogel (read chapter one in PDF form)
Posted by Virginia Postrel on October 14, 2009 in
“I have very expensive wallpaper.” So said Philip Johnson, architect of the modernist masterpiece Glass House, which he designed as his own residence in 1947 and inhabited until his death in 2005. Beyond its expense, Johnson’s glass walls create a glamorous atmosphere unique for a small suburban residence. Undoubtedly his lifestyle did much to enhance this feeling. The house was a setting for frequent salons and parties, hosting many luminaries of modern art and design. Johnson was so devoted to entertaining he had a hob in his kitchenette island removed so he could add an extra ice maker.
But the glamour of the house isn’t just about what happened inside; it emanates from the structure itself. Similarly, countless other glass buildings, from the Crystal Palace to the Burj Dubai (which contains a breathtaking 20 acres of glass) transcend the idea of buildings, becoming surreal settings of fascination and desire. Something about glass captures our imagination and creates glamour like no other architectural material.
Glass’s glamour arises from its physical properties: fragility, luminosity, and transparency. Rigid but delicate, glass is notoriously difficult to work with. It first appeared in architecture in ancient Rome around 100 AD, adorning only the most important buildings and expensive private homes. It remained a luxury through the middle ages, typically found in palaces and churches. Though glass is now ubiquitous, its use at large scale still feels lavish, and it wasn’t until the middle of the last century that technology allowed for the construction of multi-story glass facades such as those on Bunshaft’s Lever House and Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, and the many other glass skyscrapers that comprise the Manhattan skyline.
Glass’s precarious nature, combined with its scintillating reflective surfaces, give it a jewel-like quality at any scale. Cinderella’s slipper was glass, embodying hope, fantasy, and royalty in one fragile token. The glass structures of the world are like Cinderella’s slipper writ large, containers of dreams that always feel a little bit impossible. I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre, and the cube above the Fifth Avenue Apple Store that references it, have this gem-like presence. The same can’t be said for structures made with transparent plastics like acrylic or polycarbonate; poor cousins, too optically inert to stir our emotions.
Like all truly glamorous things, glass eludes us. It moves in a perpetual dance between two kinds of ephemerality. Lit from outside, it is luminous and reflective, taking on the character of what surrounds it. Johnson’s Glass House feels alive, an ever-shifting pattern of trees shimmering across its surfaces. Glass skyscrapers literally become pieces of sky, translucent blue by day and inky black at night. In this state, glass is like a mirror, restless and mysterious.
But light a glass structure from within, and it vanishes in another way, revealing its contents to the world. This glass is deceptively sheer. It yields to what’s behind it, inviting us to peer inside. It’s this invitation — to admiration and to voyeurism — that makes glass so special.
Inscribed in any glamorous object is the gaze which makes it so. Pull back from the object. Zoom out, and there is always someone watching and wanting, infusing it with the desire that is glamour’s driving force. Without a viewer through which fantasy can be filtered, there may be elegance or sophistication, but there can be no glamour.
Glass, with its tantalizing non-presence, creates the illusion that inside and outside are one. But not so fast. As anyone who has accidentally walked into a freshly-washed glass door will tell you, it’s a formidable barrier. This impenetrability is also part of its glamour. Glamour is an expression of a paradox: a fantasy so close you can feel yourself inside it, but so distant you must admire from afar. Glass facilitates this illusion better than any other material. Think of shop windows, museum exhibits, and jewelry display cases. Glass says look but don’t touch. It beckons to you to lose yourself in fantasy at the same time as it precludes you from making it a reality.
Playing directly with this paradox, the Standard Hotel has captured the essence of glass’s glamour in its 18-story New York tower. The hotel touts the spectacular views of the Hudson River from the picture windows in each room, but the real story is guests’ exhibitionist behavior, encouraged (and sometimes engaged in) by staff and management. Ostensibly about looking out, the allure is really about looking in. The glamour is in feeling admired and coveted inside the glass box — exposed, yet protected.
Johnson supposedly prized his house for its outward views. A nature-lover, he lit the house with the intention of making the natural surroundings visible rather than calling attention to the architecture, and he slept facing out towards his favorite view. But the house is also undeniably about looking in. Johnson considered the threshold to be outside the house, at the first point when you get a full view of it just past the stone wall that runs alongside the driveway. In the foyer of a typical home, you acclimate to the new environment whilst inside it; in Johnson’s schema, you are welcomed first by standing outside looking in. You must appreciate before you enter.
Glass is not a comfortable material, and Johnson was well aware of this. He never aspired to comfort in his home, but to an aesthetic purity. The Glass House existed not to coddle his senses, but to stimulate them. He has said:
...Comfort is not a function of beauty... purpose is not necessary to make a building beautiful...sooner or later we will fit our buildings so that they can be used...where form comes from I don't know, but it has nothing at all to do with the functional or sociological aspects of our architecture.
Glamour, like glass, is beautiful but rigid. It doesn’t bend to our convenience; rather, it offers a fantasy, and if we desire it, we conform ourselves to its standards. In this way, glass it like countless other tools of glamour — corsets, stilettos, sportscars — enforcing an uncomfortable, even painful transformation. It is not easy to be glamorous, just as it is not easy to live in a glass house. But it is beautiful. And for some, it’s well worth it.
[Images: Glass House images, © Ingrid Fetell. Crystal Palace, Wikimedia Commons. All others via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license: Burj Dubai by Paolo Rosa, Seagram building by gmpicket, Louvre Pyramid by carlos_seo, and Standard Hotel by laurenatclemson.]
Posted by Ingrid Fetell on October 13, 2009 in
Architecture, Icons, Everyday Glamour, Glamour Defined, Masters Of Design