Dorothy Draper: Making Entertaining Fun

Entertaining is fun

At the end of Entertaining Is Fun, her 1941 manifesto on party-throwing, famed interior decorator Dorothy Draper said:

"My conviction is that

LOVE that fulfills you,
FRIENDS who delight you,
WORK that intrigues you,
BEAUTY which enchants you,

These are the rocks to build upon for health, success and joy. These are the secret keys to making living fun."

Entertaining is Fun is less a book about glamorous living than a book about embracing life and having fun (defeating the “Will to Be Dreary,” as Mrs. Draper calls it). But her life, with its country estates, many servants, and umpteen dress-up occasions was glamorous nonetheless.

In the book, Mrs. Draper’s mission was to loosen up the stuffy early 20th-century definition of “entertaining.” “The word sounds pompous and effortful,” she opined. “I like better, ‘having your friends to the house.’”

Of course, though she said, “fussy, formal parties are definitely out of style,” much of her advice sounds fussy today. Her primary advice – that the hostess who wants to have a fun party must be fun herself – holds. But in 2012, having your butter pressed into shapes sounds quaint and, yes, fussy.

Much of Mrs. Draper’s other advice, including a very serious recommendation that hostesses provide tons of clean ashtrays and stock “emergency rations” of canned turtle soup (among other things – she loved canned goods), is charmingly old-fashioned.

But her message – work hard to make your life fun – is as relevant today as it was in 1941. Mrs. Draper’s spiritual heirs are all over the internet from the video-making Fashionably Bombed sisters to ever-rhyming glamour girl Mrs. Lilien.

Who undoubtedly would agree that Mrs. Draper was the one, who helped the World War II generation make throwing parties fun.

Taylor Swift's Time-Traveling Costume Mashup: Mr. Darcy Meets Dangerous Liaisons

Eating lunch in the mall food court the other day, I happened to see this Taylor Swift video from 2008. I was struck by the costumes. The men and women's clothes were inspired by completely different periods.

Taylor Swift Love Story male still

The man, who seems to have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel, is channeling the Regency styles of the early 19th century.

Taylor Swift Love Story female costume ballgowns

But instead of the clingy empire-waist gowns of the period, the women wear dresses that call to mind the mid-to-late 18th century--vaguely Versailles. See this picture of Madame Pompadour or this Copley painting of Mrs. Benjamin Pickman for comparison.

Taylor Swift Love Story couple dancing

The video isn't, of course, a period piece. Its imagery is meant to evoke a fairy-tale romance. Vaguely 18th-century court garb spells "princess," while a black suit with a bit of ruffle at the collar and cuffs says "olde time gentleman lover" without being too jarring to contemporary eyes. (You don't want him looking like Adam Ant or Roger Daltrey in the highwayman post below.) Plus there's the Jane Austen connection.

Taylor Swift Love Story couple costumes horse

Completing the mashup are the song's lyrics, which compare the high-school lovers not only to a prince and princess but also to Romeo and Juliet, who were from a still-earlier period. I suppose it all just proves that young love is timeless.

Drinking Like It's 1929

Aviation cocktail largeIt’s been nearly eighty years since the repeal of Prohibition. But pop into a bar in any slightly hipster neighborhood. You’ll think it’s 1920-something all over again.

I’m not talking about the handlebar mustaches, either (where I live, in Baltimore, they are – thankfully – rare). It’s the drinks. All over Baltimore, Prohibition era cocktails like the Aviation (gin, maraschino liqueur and crème de violette) and the Bee’s Knees (gin, honey and lemon) sit on menus alongside craft beers and small-batch bourbons. With the drink snobs, they’re hot.

The wild days of Prohibition have long been considered glamorous. The fabulous parties, lavish spending, and life-on-the-edge vibe of the Gatsby era have spawned numerous tributes – including a stylized (and much-publicized) film version of Fitzgerald’s famous novel, due in theaters next summer.

So it naturally follows that we celebrate the drinks that gave the era its fizz.

One of the leaders in Baltimore’s classic cocktails movement is bartender/distiller Jon Blair. Along with Brendan Dorr, Blair operates a semi-regular pop-up cocktail bar – like a speakeasy – called the Forgotten Cocktail Club.

According to Blair, Forgotten Cocktail Club members are interested in history – to an extent. While he doesn’t believe they research the era at home, on their own, Blair answers many questions about the provenance of specific cocktails – about who came up with specific drinks, and when. And a handful of people really get into the theme, dressing in Prohibition era costumes for the events.

His take on the allure of the Prohibition era:

“I think there’s some glamour from that time period because there was less technology back then. Today, some people want to take a step back. Anonymity was a lot easier to retain back in the day. Accountability was a lot harder. I think the glamour has to do with escapism. The grass is always greener on the other side.”

It’s not only that 1920’s gangsters didn’t have to worry about their friends posting embarrassing photos on Facebook. “When you look at the Prohibition era,” says Blair, “bartenders didn’t have a bottle of sour mix to open. They worked with raw sugar, lemon juice, and egg whites – what they had at their disposal. Much of the resurgence of these cocktails comes from people caring about their ingredients.”

Blair works behind the bar at RYE, a Baltimore bar with several Prohibition era cocktails on its menu. RYE’s owner, Ryan Perlberg, agrees that classic cocktails are popular thanks to their quality. But he adds that sometimes, the motivation to choose a certain drink isn’t so pure.

“It’s because either they feel deeply connected to that particular cocktail…or they want to impress a girl.”

Getting the girl. Deep down, isn’t that what it’s always about?

[Photo credit: Aviation Cocktail by Flickr user Dinner Series. Used under the Creative Commons attribution license.]

The Futuristic Glamour Of Centralized Control...And Radios That Won't Become Obsolete

Brunswick Radio of the Future Is Here Today

"It's easy to imagine better cars and homes and aircraft of the future--but it's hard to imagine a finer radio than the new Brunswick for 1931!"

In the fall of 1930, Brunswick Radio ran a striking series of ads for its new Futura radio. (Click each image to see a larger version.) The ads explicitly promised customers easy tuning and a radio that wouldn't soon be obsolete either stylistically or technically. But what they were really selling was the future, portrayed in brightly colored, highly stylized illustrations, against which the supposedly up-to-date radio cabinet looks, at least to 21st-century eyes, rather stodgy and old-fashioned.

Brunswick Radio For Lasting Enjoyment In this Changing World

At the same time that they built excitement about great things to come, the ads promised a sense of stability: "lasting enjoyment in this changing world" and a chance to experience the orderliness and predictability of a future of "simplified and centralized control." In the early 20th century, many Americans longed for what the historian John M. Jordan in his book Machine-Age Ideology: Social Engineering and American Liberalism, 1911-1939 called "kinetic change made stable." Social and political theorists offered their own glamorous visions of how that paradoxical state could be achieved. And so did advertisers pushing consumer products.

Brunswick Radio Under the Control of One Hand Highways of the Future

In the Brunswick ads, this ideal of technocratic control becomes a metaphor for a new-fangled radio dial.

"When a hundred thousand automobiles speed along the elevated highways of the City of the Future, engineers predict that the whole traffic system will operate as a single unit--under the control of one man's hand. The future of mechanism, they say, lies inevitably along the path of simplified and centralized control....

Experience the ease of centralized control by asking your Brunswick dealer to let you try the Uni-Selector."

Glamorous Outlaws: The Highwayman, Hero Of Song And Story

To travelers on dark English roads in the 17th and 18th centuries, highwaymen were dangerous criminals. But to the general public, before and after, these mysterious bandits, some of whom styled themselves as fallen gentlemen or Cavaliers, were glamorous figures. Ever since, they've been the subject of song and story.

The Beggar's Opera, featuring a love story surrounding the condemned highwayman Macheath, was a mega-hit when it debuted in 1728 and continues to be performed. (This video is from the 1983 version, featuring Roger Daltrey as Macheath.)

With all due respect to Adam Ant and Roger Daltrey, to me the highwayman will always be the romantic title character of Alfred Noyes' 1906 poem "The Highwayman," here set to music by Loreena Mckennitt.

Glamour, however, always conceals something, and in the case of glamorous outlaws, that something is often neither particularly attractive nor even impressive--as this debunking of Dick Turpin, one of Britain's most famous highwaymen, demonstrates.

Renaissance Portraits At The Met: Self-Image And The Public Face

Botticelli Simonetta Vespucci portraits

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has mounted an extraordinary exhibit called The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, which includes paintings, sculptures, medals, and preparatory drawings that are rarely if ever seen together. I was lured to the December press preview by the chance to see Botticelli's idealized portraits of Simonetta Vespucci (above) without a trip to Berlin. (I've previously discussed the right-facing portrait's resemblance to a certain contemporary star.) They are indeed spectacular.

 Filippo Strozzi by Benedetto da Maiano terracotta bust

But the most impressive display was the side-by-side comparison of two busts of Filippo Strozzi by Benedetto da Maiano: the terracotta study done from life, above, and the final marble version, below.

 Filippo Strozzi by Benedetto da Maiano marble bust

The two busts are the same, yet different: a portrait before and after subtle retouching. In the marble bust, da Maiano not only makes Strozzi looks less tired and absent but also changes the tilt of his head, giving him a nobler mien. He looks like a leader.

Ghirlandaio_Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy_Louvre

We've gotten so used to thinking about retouching as something done with pixels and Photoshop that we often forget not only how important it was to early glamour photographers like George Hurrell but also how unusual the ideal of non-idealized images was throughout most of western history. Until the rise of what historians of science Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison call the ideal of "mechanical objectivity," there would have been no question that a portrait should follow the Aristotelian ideal of producing a “likeness which is true to life and yet more beautiful.”

This dictum applied more universally than we tend to think. In The Patron's Payoff, Jonathan Nelson and Richard Zeckhauser note that “though many praise Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of an Old Man for its 'realism,' the bulbous growth on the patron’s nose was even more prominent in the preparatory drawing.” You can see the final, glamorized version, which is in the Met exhibit, to the left.

As traditionally conceived, portraits are not like snapshots (most of which aren't that candid either). They're are designed to present a public face. Within the constraints of likeness, they represent the persona the subject wishes to appear--assuming that the subject is the one commissioning the portrait. In The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century, John Brewer discusses some of the dilemmas facing 18th-century portrait painters, whose clients could refuse to pay if they didn't like the results.“The trick,” writes Brewer, “was to understand how the portrait should be presented. Usually the client had a sense of how he wanted the sitter to appear. Part of a good portraitist's skill lay in discerning this; otherwise the commission could go disastrously wrong.”

For instance, Jean-Étienne Liotard, who specialized in miniatures, was too realistic for his clients' tastes. (Here's a nice example of his work.) “His likenesses were very strong,” a contemporary said, “and too like [i.e., accurate] to please those who sat for him; thus he had great employment the first year and very little the second.” Ozias Humphry ran into a different sort of conflict when he was hired by a man who wanted a portrait of his wife. The wife, naturally, wanted to look young and attractive. Humphry complied--and infuriated his paying customer. “You have forgot that she is between 30 and 40,” he wrote to Humphry, “and that I am 70, and that the character of a smirking Girl is very unfit for her situation, as I should have liked to have made her of more Importance, and I find some of my friends ridicule me upon it.”

When I read that I thought of my official Bloomberg portrait. In real life, I look more or less like the photo on the left, which is a candid of me accepting the Bastiat Prize. (I'm well lit and well coiffed.) The middle photo is the one I use most of the time as my “official” portrait and is, except for reversing the hands, a characteristic post. (My hair no longer has those post-chemo curls.) The one on the right is my Bloomberg photo, for which I had professional hair and makeup and unknown amounts of retouching. But, most important, the photographer refused to let me smile. No “smirking Girls” at Bloomberg View! (For another contrast, check out Amity Shlaes at Bloomberg View, in a candid lecture shot, and on her own website.) The expression isn't my resting or serious face either; it's more attractive. So the picture looks like I'm an actress playing someone else--the same physiognomy but a different personality.

Virginia Postrel portraits

For more on Nelson and Zeckhauser's work on image building by Florentine patrons, including Strozzi, see my article here. The Met exhibit will be on through March 18. If you can't make it in person, you might want to get the gorgeous catalog.

[Botticelli's Ideal Portrait of a Lady (right-facing image) and Ghirlandaio's Portrait of an Old Man courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other exhibit photos by Virginia Postrel and permission is granted to reproduce these photos with a link back to this post.]

A Beautiful Stretch: Image Building In Renaissance Florence

Filippino_Lippi_-_St_Philip_Driving_the_Dragon_from_the_Temple_of_Hieropolis_-_WGA13146 Florentine authorities and residents were appalled when the cast of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” invaded the Tuscan capital for the show’s fourth season, which will debut Aug. 4. What were Snooki and The Situation doing associating themselves with the refined city of Dante and Botticelli (not to mention Ferragamo)? Even New Jersey won’t claim these louts.

The ostensible idea was to pay homage to the cast members’ Italian heritage. But these hyper-American descendants of peasants from Italy’s far southern regions hardly represent the Florentine heritage of art, humanism and elegant style. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Jennifer “JWoww” Farley aren’t even of Italian descent. The cast’s Florence connection is quite a stretch.

But stretching, it turns out, puts them in a great Florentine tradition. Brand-building through misleading images wasn’t invented on Madison Avenue or Hollywood. Many of Florence’s Renaissance treasures are monuments to exaggeration for the purposes of self-promotion. The medium may have changed, but the motives haven’t. It’s a bit of history that today’s Wall Street billionaires, who have a bit of a collective image problem, might want to study.

The Renaissance patrons who paid for all those frescoes, paintings, altar pieces and sculptures weren’t generally funding beauty for its own sake. They were buying status -- building their brands, we’d say today. Their patronage showed off their wealth and piety and, in many cases, advertised their supposed links to the prestigious and powerful. In the process, these patrons often shaded the truth, leaving out unflattering facts and suggesting associations they didn’t in fact have.

Know what to look for and Florentine artworks reveal secret messages that, while not as sexy as Dan Brown’s Mona Lisa fantasies, have the advantage of actually existing.

Take the boys shown walking up the stairs behind their tutor in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresco in the Santa Trinita church. What could these kids have to do with the “Confirmation of the Rule of Saint Francis,” the official subject of the fresco? They aren’t friars or church officials.

Sandro_Botticelli_085 In fact, their portraits are just good public relations. The patron, a banker named Francesco Sassetti, included them to butter up their father, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and to let the churchgoing public know that he and Lorenzo were tight.

But the painting doesn’t tell the whole story. It “conveniently omits a crucial fact about the patron’s relationship with the Medici,” write art historian Jonathan K. Nelson and economist Richard Zeckhauser in their book, The Patron's Payoff, which uses economic signaling theory to analyze Renaissance patrons’ motivations and techniques. That fact: “By the time he commissioned the fresco, Sassetti had nearly run the Geneva branch of the Medici bank into bankruptcy.” Oops. Maybe the portraits were meant as a distraction or damage control. How could you fire (or worse) a man who had sponsored such fine pictures of your kids?

Nelson and Zeckhauser’s work demonstrates that Renaissance art is full of status signals and calculated image-building -- once-obvious messages that today’s tourists never notice. Nelson, who is the art history coordinator at Syracuse University’s campus in Florence, showed me some examples at Santa Maria Novella, the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary that stands near Florence’s train station. (It was novella, or new, in the 13th century.)

Read the rest at Bloomberg View.

[Strozzi chapel fresco by Filippino Lippi and Del Lama Adoration by Sandro Botticelli from Wikicommons.]

Glamour And Economic Dynamism: Does Growth Depend On Delusion?

"An illusion that is known to be false but felt to be true"--a good (partial) definition of glamour. Is it also the source of economic growth?

At the Kauffman Foundation's annual economic bloggers conference, I gave a talk on Colin Campbell's The Romantic Ethic And The Spirit Of Modern Consumerism, an extremely interesting and provocative book that ties glamour (my word, not his) to the origins of the consumer society and the puzzle of open-ended economic growth. Here's the video:

Hearing Jackie (and Where To See Her Smoking)

After being dumped by the History Channel and scorned by other skittish networks, The Kennedys miniseries has found a home after all, on the little-known ReelzChannel. The WaPo's Lisa de Moraes has an amusing report.

Buried in The Hollywood Reporter's original article on History's decision to scuttle the show was the news that, in exchange for its discretion, one of the network's parent companies might get access to rare recordings of Jackie Kennedy's voice.

Caroline Kennedy has a book deal with Disney's Hyperion publishing division, which announced in April 2010 that it will publish a collection of previously unreleased interviews with the late Jackie Kennedy timed to the 50th anniversary of the first year of JFK's presidency this fall.

Caroline has agreed to edit the untitled book, write an introduction and to help promote it, including making an appearance on Disney/ABC's Good Morning America, among other outlets. As part of the promotion for the book, Caroline is expected to reveal some of the 6.5 hours of previously unheard audiotapes of the former First Lady that form the basis of the book.

MSNBC's snarkier BLTWY fills in some background:

Had the History Channel not bowed to her influence, their mother company would have likely lost out on an another Kennedy venture; a volume containing six and a half hours of hitherto-secret interviews that her mother, Jacqueline, did with worshipful historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1964. The audio book, due out in September, will let you hear Jackie speak in her breathy, Vassar voice about her husband's early campaigns, the Cuban Missile Crisis and “married life in the White House,” according to Hyperion Books.

Considering that Jackie once forbade hagiographer William Manchester from even revealing that she smoked, you have to wonder how much she'll spill. “I seriously doubt that she would open her heart,” says Kennedy biographer Edward Klein. “And, if there's anything remotely embarrassing, I think Caroline would expunge it.”

The Kennedys' glamour is an important income-generating asset, so I, too, doubt we'll be hearing anything revealing. But we will hear something, which in itself is unusual.

One of the world's most photographed women, Jackie mostly let her carefully crafted image speak for her. (Here's a rare photo of Jackie smoking.) Only a few public traces of her voice remain, most of them from the 1960 campaign or White House years. And unlike the graceful photos, they seem dated, calculated, and a little strange.

The most famous, featured at the top of this post, is her White House tour, broadcast on CBS. There she speaks in ingratiatingly tones, masking the fact that she's didactically instructing both her interviewer and the general public, who don't share her high-end taste or her knowledge of decorative arts. By contrast, when interrogating Dr. Benjamin Spock in a 1960 campaign ad, she plays a subtly flirtatious, slightly dim student. In another campaign video, introduced by Myrna Loy, she acts the normal American wife and mother, just like the women watching. "Now I think politics is one of the most rewarding lives a woman can have--to be married to a politician," she affirms.

New recorded interviews promise to undercut Jackie's mystery. Because the recordings date from 1964, when she was still playing the perfect husband's perfect widow, they also threaten the new post-feminist image crafted for her in the recent booksfocusing on her publishing career.