Mattel's Barbie is an endlessly fascinating, big tent kind of a brand (and one we've written about a lot here on Deep Glamour). With 50 years under its pink belt and several generations of fans, it's understandable that the people behind the brand would get a little experimental from time to time, especially when it comes to the higher end, limited-edition products.
I wasn't surprised, then, that today's mail included a small catalog called "Plastic Fantastic," including a series of Barbie-themed products designed for the serious collector. The $750 "kitsch and keepsake" print featuring the original Barbie? Makes sense. A refurbished 1978 Barbie Dream House for $2,000? That's cool in a few ways and definitely resonates with the brand.
A limited edition (Only ten made! And only six of those ten are available!), $25,000 "Team Pink" foosball table? I don't get it. For one thing, "Team Pink" equals Victoria's Secret in my mind. While VS has its own brand of glamour, it's not quite the same as Barbie's (or it shouldn't be, in my opinion). Plus, foosball is as frat-housey as beer pong, which doesn't make the game itself wrong, but it doesn't fit with Barbie's wholesome + glamorous image, either.
And most importantly, aren't all those armless Barbies are creepy? Or is the appeal of this "French-designed 'objet d'art'" just going over my head?
How do you sell a bland car with a tarnished brand name? Wrap it in retro glamour, with some Mad Men style. (The young people love Mad Men.)
Instead of showing old cars, which would look jarringly different from today's styles, Toyota's Avalon commercials cleverly play with the old-fashioned glamour of streamlined trains and Jet Set-era airplanes, all done with a wink to update the attitude for the 21st century. The Avalon still looks bland, but the commercials do make the car seem roomy and, most important, its occupants seem fun.
Chrysler, by contrast, offers a study in how not to use retro glamour. Here's the text, run sideways along four pages of muddy photos whose Manhattan skyline and pretty people are supposed to spell glamour.
Whatever happened to style? Where has the glamour gone? It wasn't long ago, America had it. Looking and feeling like a million bucks was practically our birthright We didn't race from place to place. We cruised. Going for a drive was a big deal. People took notice. We turned heads. and when we arrived somewhere WE ARRIVED IN STYLE. At Chrysler we believe it's time to get it back. To regain the style, the cachet, the confidence. We say it's time to reignite the American dream. And the same design principles that got us there once will catapult us there again. Our aim is to design things that start out revolutionary and end up timeless. Beautiful and functional. It's time to put our right hand at two o'clock and our left elbow out the window. To rediscover what it feels like to drive down the street and have every kid in the neighborhood running to take a closer look. Let's turn driveways into runways. Let's design cars people want to make out in again. Cars people want their photo taken with. Because pride is a wonderful feeling And it should be available to everyone not just the privileged few. It's time, once again, for America to arrive in style.
As an internal design mandate, this statement might work. But as an ad it's all telling rather than showing, with a bathetic result. After the buildup, what do we get? An ugly Chrysler grill. The voice, while striving for glamour, comes off as crotchety and backward-looking. Chrysler, it declares, makes cars for the Get Off My Lawn crowd, the people who believe America peaked in 1955. No glamour there. (Besides, the Get Off My Lawn crowd wants its money back.)
In a minor victory for age-inappropriate hipsters everywhere, Seth Aaron Henderson took the title of reigning champion of Project Runway last night in a collection inspired by "1940s Russian-German military style." (Oh what I would have paid to see the look on Michael Kors' mother's face for that gem! You know he took hell for that one at seder in the Hamptons.) This year's finale theme was "trends that everyone else discovered a few years ago." Patent leather? Gasp! Mustard yellow and bright blue? Don't tell Mr. Jacobs. He'll never think of it.
Ah, to return to those halcyon days when Wendy Pepper was sending gowns down the runway to the dramatic strains of "A L'Infini," or to have but one glimpse of another ombre feathered creation by Christian Siriano. Drama! Music! Sizzle! At certain fabulous workplaces, fashionistas would scramble to the water cooler the morning after a Runway finale to dissect every last button on the final collections and defend their designers to the death. But Season 7 not only failed to inspire, but it may have achieved the unthinkable: to de-glam the notion of showing at Fashion Week. This season's collections were, to quote one of Padma Lakshmi's best lines of all time from reality television, "pedestrian at best." This is saying a lot after Season 6, where the unlikeable Irina Shabayeva proved that one really can escape the doldrums of bad taste with a rescue ladder made of pleather and fur, and Season 5, where the milk-toasty Leanne Marshall designed a collection so forgettable that I had to Bing it to remember the signature piece.
So how did Project Runway jump the sharkskin pump and lose its glamour? DG offers 3 reasons:
1. The move to Lifetime. Notwithstanding the great strides that "Television for Women (and Gay Men)" has made over the past few years, this used to be the network that considered re-runs of Supermarket Sweep and The Golden Girls to be its anchor programing. Watching Runway in high definition on Bravo gave the show an air of cool, current relevance, but Runway on Lifetime feels like wearing a Dior gown for a coffee date at Wal-Mart. I can't see a commercial break for Drop Dead Diva and then return to a program purporting to show me haute couture.
2. The heavy hand of the marketing department. Frankly, the Bluefly.com accessories wall, even when used thoughftfully under the watchful eye of Uncle Tim, is an eyesore. (Remember when Kara Saun got into a throw-down with the producers in Season 1 over those fantastic shoes that may have put her over-budget? Can you imagine telling Kara, "but look at those lovely metallic flats on the Bluefly.com accessories wall!") Models on the Runway was another misstep. Does Lifetime not watch the CW? An ANTM rip-off may have been timely a few years ago, but not when Tyra's girls are now just as likely to end up in (or under) the Rock of Love tourbus with Bret Michaels. But perhaps the lowest point of Season 7 was watching Vivienne Tam hawk an HP TouchSmart PC in somewhat broken English as part of the "fashion meets technology" challenge. Even the designers were visibly unethusiastic about such gross product placement.
3. Judging fatigue. Could Nina Garcia possibly be any more bored with the show? We used to live for Nina's caustic critique, but after career demotion and new motherhood, Nina seems to lack the energy to muster much more than a raised eyebrow for an unfinished hem. Inspired by Michael Kors, I live for an opportunity to describe an outfit as looking "like a dinner napkin just crumpled up" or "a paper brioche." Where were the zingers for this season that brought bitchy fun to the last 10 minutes of the show?
What could bring back the glamour to Season 8? Give us your thoughts in the comments.
Muses are an ancient concept. For millennia creative artists have appealed to the Muses to grant them eloquence beyond their normal grasp. The nine mythological Greeks Muses are depicted dancing at left. Classical Greek writers typically began their longer works with an appeal to the muses for inspiration. In this vein Shakespeare, in the prologue of Henry V, has the chorus wish, “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention….” The play that follows contains some of the most vibrant speeches ever written in the English language.
From our psychologically aware perspective we might quickly dismiss Shakespeare’s appeal for a “Muse of fire” as an Elizabethan conceit, a fanciful metaphor of no consequence. But perhaps the imaginative process of conjuring up fanciful imagery (a fiery Muse) can sometimes inspire creative artists to go beyond the boundaries of their “normal” imagination. And perhaps the magical power of muses to inspire comes in part from the power of images to spark our imagination.
The concept of muses is still current. The TV show Project Runway has fashion designers compete against each other, and their models are frequently referred to as their muses. In some episodes the designers are challenged to design for specific women, who are referred to as their muses for that week.
The traditional nine Greek muses were all goddesses, and, as symbols of artistic fertility and grace, this seems logical. Real women have served as muses as well. Dante Alighieri met Beatrice Portinari when he was nine. He fell instantly in love, and she became his muse for the rest of his life. Dante was obliged by parental contract to marry another woman, and when Beatrice died at age 24, much of Dante’s later work was inspired by and dedicated to the memory of Beatrice. Hector Berlioz was twelve when he met eighteen-year-old Estelle Dubeuf, and he was so smitten with her that she became a life-long ideal to him. In each case a relationship existed with the muse, but the romantic relationship the artist desired was only possible as an act of imagination.
Choreographer George Balanchine was noted for finding his muses in flesh-and-blood ballerinas, and he married a number of them. But when he fixated on Suzanne Farrell, there was an age gap of more than 40 years. He created some of his greatest roles for her, and though she was happy to dance them, she resisted his desire to marry her. The relationship between them seems symbolized by his choreographing of Don Quixote. He cast Farrell as Dulcinea and himself as Don Quixote, as seen in this photograph.
Terpsichore was the Greek muse of dance, and this personification seems more apt and inspiring to me than an abstract noun like “Dance.” “Dance” seems inadequate, too generic, to represent the in-the-flesh experience we might have watching a physically beautiful person dance. “Terpsichore” seems closer to creating a image that symbolizes a thrill that touches both mind and body. Real-world sensuous beauty can trigger a frisson of excitement that is unforgettable, as expressed in these lines by poet Wallace Stevens:
Beauty is momentary in the mind— The fitful tracing of a portal;— But in the flesh it is immortal.
Stunned by encountering real-world beauty that must for some reason always remain beyond their grasp, artists sometimes respond by making their desire incarnate in their art form. And—as with Dante’s poetry, Berlioz’s music, and Balanchine’s choreography—when that desire is masterfully fashioned into an integral aspect of a sensible form, the resulting art can itself inspire a sense of awe, magic and glamour.
[The Italian Renaissance painting of Parnassus which shows the Muses dancing is by Andrea Mantegna.]
I was in the young adults’ section of Barnes & Noble the other day (looking for the third Percy Jackson and the Olympians book – they’re no Harry Potter, but they’re entertaining) and I noticed something funny. Well over half the books in the section had to do with some sort of dark magic.
The observation that vampires (and shapeshifters and wizards and various otherwordly creatures) are hot right now isn’t exactly original. It’s been made – and made again. Last fall, Slate even put together a helpful timeline to remind us that, like sex and drugs, this generation didn’t invent fascination with vampires.
What struck me, though, wasn’t so much the prevalence of vampire-type books, but the absence of glamorous, positive, characters that see the sun. As a kid growing up in the 80’s, I amassed quite a collection of young adult series: The Girls of Canby Hall books by Emily Chase, the racy Seniors series by Eileen Goudge (including a character named Kit), and of course, the Sweet Valley Highbooks by Francine Pascal, featuring SoCal’s own sparkly blonde twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.
The Wakefield twins – one bookish, the other wild, both beautiful – provided glamorous, yet (mostly) wholesome role models for tween girls. They were anti-Bellas – they suffered their fair share of teen girl angst, but were more prone to action than brooding.
Starting tomorrow, the Victoria & Albert Museum will display the celebrated wardrobe of Hollywood/royal glamour icon Grace Kelly. Kelly, with her icy blonde good looks (shown here photographed by Howell Conant), was a proto-Wakefield twin – all California beauty. The buzz surrounding the exhibition suggests that there still is room in our glamour banks for the pristine-blonde-and-put-together icon.
The question is: is there room on our bookshelves?
Needing a new pair of glasses, I drove an hour to visit an eye wear store in Denver. I was told they had 4,000 “products” to choose from, with designs from all over the world. To help me narrow down the possibilities, I was meeting with Paige, the salesperson who had helped me choose my last pair of glasses. While working in a local shop, Paige had put me in a pair of glasses I would never have tried without her help. I knew she had done well because many people, including strangers, had subsequently commented on how much they liked my glasses.
I called a few hours early to let her know I was coming, and when I arrived she said she had been thinking about what eye wear she would like me to try ever since I had called. I sat in a chair while she walked around the store putting glasses on a tray, and she came back with about ten pairs to try. As soon as I tried some she would say “no,” and before long we were down to two choices that she felt looked great. Finding it hard to choose, we called another salesperson over, and that woman voted for the pair that she felt had more “edge.” So the choice became the Danish-designed Orgreen pair shown in the photograph.
I’ve described this satisfying shopping experience to illustrate why we go back repeatedly to work with good salespeople. Sadly, finding a salesperson with a good eye whose opinion you trust can be difficult. So when you locate such a salesperson, they become a valuable asset. In this case, when Paige changed where she worked, I followed her to her new location. Paige has helped several people I know choose their eye wear. Some friends told my wife and me about her, and I send people to her whenever they comment on my glasses or my wife’s.
All too often you find yourself dealing with salespeople who don’t seem to hear what you’re telling them—they seem to ignore or not understand what you’ve said about the look you are hoping to find, the situation you need it for it, and so on. Sometimes they don’t even know the store’s merchandise well enough to help you narrow down your choices, whereas a good salesperson whose opinion you trust can save you a lot of time, and save you grief in other ways.
Last fall my wife was headed to an event in London. After she had the rest of her outfit picked out, she went to a shoe store that had a bewildering array of choices. She knew the look she wanted, so she picked out seven pairs of shoes to try on. With both arms full of samples, she showed a young salesperson her choices. My wife explained that the event would be in a huge exhibition center, and that she might be walking and standing for most of a day. To my wife’s surprise the young woman started taking shoes away from her, explaining that she was taking away any shoes that she felt would be uncomfortable after a few hours. My wife was left with only two choices, one of which was the pair of Dansko Sally suede clogs pictured at right.
Though my wife loved them, she doubted they would remain comfortable for a full day. The salesperson assured her they would, and thankfully it turned out she was right.
A friend of ours was going to the same event and purchased a pair of shoes without asking about comfort. He decided to test his purchase by spending an hour on his feet in them, after which he pronounced them “posing” shoes, not “wearing” shoes. He had to go shopping again to buy shoes he could wear all day.
Finding a salesperson who will tell you when something you are trying on doesn’t work well on you is a good start. Finding one who tells you that something “looks great on you” when it fits terribly is a signal to shop elsewhere. We once had artist residencies at Montalvo in California, with second-story rooms. The villa grounds were often used for elaborate weddings. I got to know the wedding planner, and looking down on one of those wedding ceremonies I commented to her that the strangely layered dress that the mother-of-the-bride was wearing looked as if her slip were showing. The wedding planner’s comment was, “Someone lied to her.”
Notice anything missing from the lamps on this page of a recent Crate & Barrel catalog? Of course you do. You read the headline. With one exception (top left), the lights glow without benefit of electric power. They have no cords.
Whether through careful styling or the handy use of Photoshop, the catalog’s designers have removed the unsightly evidence that these wares require external support. Or maybe the photographers just clipped off the cords.
There’s high-brow precedent for such editing. Paola Antonelli, the Museum of Modern Art’s delightful design curator, tells me that when she arrived at the museum she discovered that all the cords had been removed from the collection’s lamps. Some unknown museum employee had apparently thought trailing cords spoiled the designs—authenticity be damned. Paola had the lamps rewired. After all, modernity includes electricity. Like the Crate & Barrel catalog, however, thephotosonthe MOMAsite, stillomitcords. (Thereareexceptions, but they’re rare and recent.)
Erasing a lamp's cord makes the photo not only neater but more alluring. The viewer isn't distracted by thoughts of where the cord would need to go in the room or by fears of tripping on it. And such wireless autonomy is itself glamorous, suggesting a beauty and function independent of the unromantic infrastructure of power plants and the annoying expense of electric bills. Like the glamorous protagonists of escapist Golden Age movies, who had plenty of money but never seemed to work, lamps without cords need no outside support.
In an unexpected example of one Cultural Revolution borrowing visual cues from another, the Chinese co-opted some of the best, and some of the worst, American poster design concepts. A cross between a Velvet Elvis, a black light poster and Red Army propaganda, the result is as kitschy as its Western counterpart; a Velvet Mao!
Posted by Virginia Postrel on April 10, 2010 in