When I asked my Facebook friends to recommend photographers or stylists who could talk knowledgeably about hiding lamp cords, someone gave me a great tip: call Adam Fortner. An Austin-based stylist, Adam started on the editorial side of the profession, as the art director for Texas Architect magazine, later moving to Western Interiors & Design Magazine. In 2007, he founded Creative & Sons, which does photo styling of interiors and objects for editorial and commercial photographers, as well as art direction and production services. (He also has a cool blog, where you can find posts on subjects like decaying Victorian Lego houses and how stylists compose faux grocery lists.) We had such an interesting conversation, moving from lamp cords to other forms of styling magic, that I asked him to share some thoughts and experiences with DeepGlamour readers.
DG: How is styling interiors different from being an interior designer?
Adam Fortner: An interior designer creates spaces that are functional, and we show them off. The main difference is in the format our work takes. An interior designer creates a space that is meant to be experienced in three dimensions. The photographer and stylist’s job is to take that three-dimensional, fluid space and present it in a two-dimensional static photograph within a limited frame. Everything we do serves the photo, which can mean eliminating or moving things so they look best on camera, not necessarily so they function in the space. I tell people you can’t live in a styled room: the chairs are all at odd angles and the coffee table might be three inches from the couch; but look at the photograph and it’s magically transformed from what you see around you.
Photo by Casey Dunn
DG: How is a room different when it's been styled for a magazine photo shoot compared to the way it might look if the owner had cleaned it up for visitors?
AF: For the most part we try to leave the room as we found it, but once we’ve found the angle and framing of the final photograph, adjustments have to be made. At that point a stylist’s job becomes editing. It might be a simple tweak to accommodate the perspective of the camera and show off one detail or another, or filling spaces that might have become visual voids in the frame, or even removing or adjusting things to avoid overlaps or add the appearance of depth. In some cases the accessories or pieces that the designer or client chose just won’t work for a photo and you have to change it. A dark, rich duvet cover may look and feel luxurious in person, but it may fall flat in camera. I am careful to reassure homeowners or clients that it’s not about their personal taste, it’s about the composition and quality of the photo.
Photo by Casey Dunn
My favorite exchange about styling comes from a short-lived sitcom and goes like this:
– Who wants their room photographed anyway so everyone knows what their stuff looks like?
– They don’t photograph your stuff; they bring in their own stuff.
– Well why don’t we just have them come in and finish the room?
– Because if your stuff doesn’t look fabulous in the first place then they don’t want to come in and change it!
DG: What's the purpose of styling a room for a magazine photo? What's the effect you're trying to achieve?
AF: Styling is often called the “hidden profession.” A lot of people don’t know it is even a career, and in fact, to be good at it, that’s the whole point: not to be noticed. So you have to find a balance of studied naturalness. A lot of it is also about aspiration. You want to create a space that people want to be in, one that exemplifies the way people want to live, not necessarily the way they actually live. Honestly, how many people wake up to a vase of flowers, a cup of tea and The New York Times perfectly folded on their nightstand?
Photo by Casey Dunn
DG: How does styling for architects differ from styling for interiors magazines or advertising?
AF: The architect is creating or defining a space, so showing off their work takes a different form. Architects understand and experience spaces in a different way. For them, an open and unadorned space is beautiful in and of itself. They appreciate the clean lines, textures, and light in a room. When styling a space for an architect, you often only need minimal adornments, and what you do use really needs to highlight the architecture. That doesn’t always sell the public, though. Empty spaces can look cold and uninviting at first glance, and it takes a little more time and effort to see the details. A magazine or advertisement doesn’t have that luxury; it needs to grab a viewers’ attention in a split-second. I try to recommend this approach to architects. By creating images that capture people’s attention, they then have the opportunity to guide clients deeper into the details, and have a better chance of communicating their thoughts and ideas.
DG: You've recently done some styling work for shoots done in photo studios rather than real interiors. How is styling different when you build from scratch? What does it teach you about styling in the “real world”?
AF: I think of styling as storytelling. When you work in someone’s home, the story is already there. They’ve created their own world with their own tastes: their books, their art, their furniture; we’re mainly there to enhance and document it. When working in a studio, you’re starting with a blank slate. You have to create the entire story–start to finish–and the sky’s the limit so that allows you a lot more freedom. I’ve been working with an excellent production designer who has taught me so much about that. I’ve taken those lessons back to the houses I work on give myself a little more room to create atmosphere, especially when faced with more challenging, less engaging spaces.
DG: When you see a photo of a room in a catalog or interiors magazine, do you think about how it’s been styled? What do you notice that a layperson wouldn’t?
AF: I can’t look at magazines or catalogs without noticing how they’re styled. I hardly look at the products in catalogs. In fact, I’m usually looking at the objects that aren’t for sale. Similarly, in magazines, I’m looking for those small touches that give the space personality. I also look at not only what is in the photo, but also how it’s placed, and why that composition works.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour?
Glamour is a magic combination of confidence, beauty, and ease that create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The word always conjures a flash of light in my mind’s eye… whether it be flashbulbs, the sparkle of a diamond, the sheen of beautiful fabric, or just that glint in the eye of someone at ease with themselves. But I also think that glamour is something ascribed, not inherent. Things are only glamorous because someone else thinks they are.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon?
Alexander McQueen. A very good friend of mine gave me a book of his work for my birthday, and while I knew of him and some of his work, I was impressed/amazed by the range and drama and sophistication of what I saw from start to finish.
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?
For basic survival glamour is a luxury, but like the fine arts, it’s an unknown quantity that can’t be measured or explained, yet somehow makes life more enjoyable.
4) Favorite glamorous movie?
Auntie Mame. The interiors of her apartment are just amazing. In fact, it was those sets that got me interested in interior design. If I could pick just a scene from a movie, it would be the “Ascot Gavotte” scene from My Fair Lady. The amazing black-and-white dresses and hats against the simple, white, paper-like buildings (all dreamed up by Cecil Beaton) along with the stilted movements and poses are just brilliant.
5) What was your most glamorous moment?
When I was working for a magazine in Los Angeles we hosted a tour of the Case Study houses in Pacific Palisades, which was amazing enough, but in the evening they opened up the Eames house and lit up the lawn with strings of lights. I stood there taking in the crisp night air coming in off the ocean and thinking that I never could have dreamed I’d be there, yet there I was.
6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?
A Cartier Tank Américaine Flying Tourbillon watch. With a name like that, how can it not be glamorous?
7) Most glamorous place?
Not any one specifically, but an old house filled with lots of history.
8) Most glamorous job?
Is there a glamorous job? I think there are a lot of jobs that seem glamorous, but that’s because we don’t do them. If something looks easy and glamorous, it’s probably because there’s a lot of hard work behind it.
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't
Working in the publishing industry. Like before, it often gets glorified in movies and on TV, and really it’s mostly hard work. Yes, there are moments of fun and excitement—that happens anywhere when you love what you’re doing—but there’s also the other 90 percent of the time that you are working and planning and coordinating to make that moment happen. But even I forget that sometimes.
10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized.
Space. Not the final frontier, but the absence of stuff. Space to do whatever you want: an empty room, an open field. It can be anything and everything.
11) Can glamour survive?
I didn’t know it was in danger! I think the world needs glamour, whether to embrace or rail against, depending on the mood, so it will be around for quite some time.
12) Is glamour something you're born with?
I don’t think so. It’s something that you achieve, intentionally or otherwise.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?
Cate Blanchett, no question.
2) Paris or Venice?
3) New York or Los Angeles?
New York (but LA for the lifestyle)
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace?
5) Tokyo or Kyoto?
6) Boots or stilettos?
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau?
8) Jaguar or Aston Martin?
9) Armani or Versace?
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?
11) Champagne or single malt?
Champagne, it makes anything a celebration
12) 1960s or 1980s?
13) Diamonds or pearls?
Diamonds. Can’t beat the sparkle.
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell?
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?
In her delightful memoir, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House (which I reviewed here), Meghan Daum pokes loving fun at herself, her mother, and everyone else smitten with house glamour and the redecorating and relocation it inspires. Among her insights is that:
In home ownership there are two realms: the visible and the invisible, the fun and the unfun, the parts for which there are paint chips and plant nurseries and catalogs filled with doorknobs and drawer pulls and reproductions of Art Deco light fixtures and the parts for which the only gratification is that your water is running and your lights are on.
Even if you find the perfect house, you eventually have no more space for new furniture or no more money (or time) for redecorating. The fun part is over and you're just fighting entropy.
Digital Dollhouse offers an escape: all the fun, visible stuff with none of the entropy fighting. (The room above is the office in my beach house.) Sounding a bit like Daum, founder and CEO Jesyca Durchin writes on the company's blog:
Are there 12 step programs for people addicted to design magazines? My heart races when I rush to my mail box just looking for the bright catalogues from which I will buy nothing. I love to dream about redecorating my kitchen (not that I am much of a cook.) Or even just arranging my dishes (and in my imagination they are always clean and matching) just so in their perfectly nestled cupboards. Currently we have a serious pot problem (not that kind) in our kitchen. The pots are lurking in a dark corner cabinet, piled incorrectly and ready to snap at an unsuspecting hand should you want to umm…boil an egg.
But in my dream dollhouse I can have glorious dishes and pottery and pots that won’t bite. In playing digital dollhouse I can arrange and re-arrange to my little hearts content. I don’t think about things like general contractors or the fact that our plumbing doesn’t allow for more than an intermittent drip in our kitchen should the sprinklers start going. In my dream kitchen, dishes are always new and glasses are always clean.
Digital Dollhouse, which has 289,000 members, is child-friendly--it hit big last October, when Mattel added it to Barbie.com's online game network--but its most adept and obsessed designers are adults.
Below is a room called "Glamorous", by Debbie McLaney, one of my favorite DDH designers. Those valances are made of pillows, illustrating one of the common themes of the best rooms: repurposing the rather limited elements available in DDH space to create the effects you want. (Here's an article about the technology behind the site.)
Here's another room, by designer nounoir, that not only uses the pillows-as-valance trick but also turns plates into recessed lighting and another pillow, on the bureau, into what I take to be a mirror or picture frame.
The physical laws governing DDH are different from those in the real world. Objects can only rotate on their vertical axes. Some can levitate while others stick to the walls or floor. You can hang a mirror on a window, for instance, but you can't put it on the ceiling. In this room, I used the levitation option to suggest wire plant holders.no cords on the lamps.
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, the photos on the MOMA site, still omit cords. (There are exceptions, 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.
Last week my wife and I visited two high-end bathroom show rooms in Denver. We are preparing to remodel our guest bathroom and basement bathroom, the only rooms in the house that haven’t been redone since we moved in three and half years ago. We took along an artist friend who also wants to redo one of her bathrooms.
Both women are visual artists who love contemporary design, so it was fun to see their reactions to the displays. An upscale bathroom showroom is a dream world, a place to see possibilities that seem like fantasies. There are sinks where the water magically disappears through barely visible slots, faucets that descend from the ceiling, toilets with built-in bidet functions that open when they sense you approach (my wife found this creepy), and tubs that can stimulate your skin with air bubbles or massage your muscles with water jets.
The Italian Bandini sinks shown above were photographed in a design space that makes them look like sculptures, and the water falls into them from faucets placed in the wall. The black floor and wall and the white Moon stone sinks are ultra chic, and the photograph suggests a bathroom of grand scale. Since we’re remodeling a small guest bathroom, many such possibilities seemed too large for our space.
In one room there was a large monitor that displayed dozens of extraordinary bathroom designs. Many of them were photographed from the interior of the bathroom, and a few had a bathtub next to a picture window that overlooked the sea or a verdant forest scene. These were bathrooms to envy, as Kohler makes clear in this video, which shows a tub designed to overflow the rim.
The woman who dies in the video ad has clearly enjoyed life, something many Italians seem to excel at doing. Her bedroom is traditional, but sumptuous and rich with memorabilia. She is surrounded by children and grandchildren. The photographs show that she had been a champion athlete, a traveler, a pilot, and in her younger years, an artist’s muse. A glamorous life indeed.
Then through a open window she sees another woman open her bathroom window to reveal a bathtub is has been filled by water coming down from a fixture in the ceiling. Already full, the water is spilling over the edges to be magically drained away. She imagines the decadent luxury of stepping into that tub, displacing more water over the edge, and letting the water continue to run, keeping the temperature perfect. And imagining what a bath like that would feel like, she glimpses a glamorous experience that she wishes she could have. Who can blame her?
My first response is yuck. Only the generous use of white saves the bed from looking tacky. It reminds me of the beds 19th-century French concubines used to impress their clients.
I far prefer the Zen-modern aesthetic of the bed on the right, which Grace Peng calls “the most beautiful bed in the world.” Like ads for organized closets, she notes, its allure lies not just in its clean lines but in “the fetish of empty space in a land where so few possess it.” (Grace commented on the Container Store post below.)
In fact, both beds are glamorous, but to different audiences. Carefully styled for the camera, they stoke different desires. The French-style version, like the concubines’ beds it alludes to, offers the promise of abundance and indulgence—luxury in a world of scarcity. The Zen-modern bed, by contrast, is all about escape from stimulation and stuff—luxury in a world of plenty.
Which do you prefer? Or is your idea of a “glamorous bed” something different altogether?
To kick off the New Year—and because the shelves lining the walls are completely full and the floor has become an obstacle course of piled-up books and magazines—I am reorganizing my home office and adding more bookshelves in the closet. So I've been spending a lot of time exposed to the surprising but palpable glamour of The Container Store.
For those unfortunates who haven't experienced it, The Container Store is, in the words of Bernard-Henri Levi on his Tocquevillian visit to Dallas, un magasin des boÃ®tes: a big store devoted entirely to boxes (and folders, hangers, shelves, and other tools for wrangling your stuff).
With its open shelves, aproned staff, and fluorescent lights, the Container Store will never be mistaken for a luxury boutique. It features no movie stars, no sunny beaches, no sparkles or perfumed air. Although aesthetically appealing, it is not what people think of when they hear the word glamour.
But it creates a similar seductive effect. Like a glamorous travel ad, it heightens customers' longing for escape and transformation—in this case, to a more orderly home and, with it, a more peaceful life—while suggesting that this ideal can, in fact, be achieved. The “inspirational spaces” on its website do more than demonstrate how you might apply its tools. They encourage you to project yourself into a new, more graceful and desirable life.
The Container Store’s glamour is particularly paradoxical, because, by deliberate strategy, the store lacks mystery, distance, and exclusivity. It is friendly and accessible and down-to-earth. Even its carefully styled photo vignettes tend toward the overt. (If I were advising the company, I’d suggest adding more dimension—doorways, windows, and other suggestions of a life outside the frame—while playing up the use of translucent materials.) How can it create the same feeling as more recognizably glamorous icons or environments?
There are two reasons, I think. The first is that the promise it offers is of something that always remains slightly out of reach: an escape from entropy. And the second, as we know from Monty Hall, is that you never can be sure what's in the box.
Virginia's post about the hotel industry’s perpetual promises to “bring glamour back” reminded me of my recent trip to Miami—a city that was originally built, and then renovated, with glamour in mind.
To my eye, though, the city is full of reminders that glamour is often only skin-deep. At first glance, Miami is gorgeous. The people are fabulous, wearing dramatic (and tiny) clothes that would never fly in most American cities, and the architecture harkens back to a long-ago era when cocktail hour started promptly at 5 p.m. and jeans weren’t considered acceptable dinner attire.
Look closer, though, and the glamour fades away. As I walked around the city, I kept thinking of that line from Clueless, “She’s a full-on Monet. From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it's a big old mess.” “Big old mess” might be an exaggeration, but looking closely at glamorous people and places often reveals the flaws and strain under the façade.
The photo above was taken by my friend (and future sister-in-law), Marcail, during our trip—it’s one of the banquettes at LIV, the nightclub at the Fontainebleu hotel. Marcail took the shot to remember the club's “atmosphere,” but I think it tells a bigger story about Miami and about a lot of what we perceive as “glamorous.” Glamour is often shiny on the surface, but marred with rips and tears that expose the rough underneath.
On a banquette, the tears are literal and in a building, they might be dingy paint or scuffed floors—all easily fixed. But when it’s a glamorous persona that comes under scrutiny, the discrepancy between the surface and what’s beneath is sometimes more serious—think Marilyn Monroe or Britney Spears a few years ago. In those cases, maintaining the glamorous image adds strain that widens the gap between façade and reality even more.
[Photo credit: Marcail Moran, who says that she and her stilettos are at least partially responsible for one of those rips.]
Take the subject of this 2005 ad, the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the World Trade Center, the curved façade takes a good photo. But as a lived experience, the hotel offers little more than any other nice Hyatt. It does not inspire longing. Remodeling and a new spa did not change the hotel’s cultural resonance.
In fact, preservationists are now fighting plans to demolish the Century Plaza to make way for a complex that would include two mixed-use towers and make Century City more pedestrian-friendly. The arguments for preservation implicitly acknowledge that the hotel has little emotional or aesthetic importance today. “It is among the purest representations of 1960s Los Angeles planning and architectural philosophy we have left,” writes the LAT's Christopher Hawthorne--a back-handed compliment. The WaPost's Philip Kennicott called it “a hard building to love.”
Hotel glamour isn’t about what celebrities or presidents have frequented the building. It’s about the yearnings the hotel conjures in its audience, the escape and transformation a visit promises to provide. No one understood that better than Morris Lapidus, the architect best known for designing the Fountainebleu and Eden Roc hotels in Miami Beach. He wrote:
I was convinced that just as a store had to be designed to make people want to buy what the merchant had to sell, so a hotel had something to sell also. What was that something? A home away from home? Absolutely not! Who wants a homey feeling on a vacation? The guests want to find a new experience—forget the office, the house, the kids, the bills. Anything but that good old homey feeling that the old hotels used to see with a comfortable bed, a nice rocker on the veranda, a good solid nourishing meal. Not on your life! We were coming out of the war and the postwar period. People wanted fun, excitement, and all of it against a background that was colorful, unexpected; in short, the visual excitement that made people want to buy—in this case, to buy the tropic luxury of a wonderful vacation of fun in the sun. A sense of freedom from the humdrum lives the guests had. A feeling of getting away from it all.
Lapidus was famous for features like the “stairway to nowhere,” designed to give guests a platform from which to show off their finery. He made guests feel like stars. “Lapidus understood that a hotel lobby is a theater for amateur narcissists,” writes Tom Austin in Travel & Leisure. Though critics denounced them as tacky, to their intended audience, Lapidus’s hotels epitomized glamour. (For an excellent analysis of glamour in mid-century Miami Beach, see architectural historian Alice T. Friedman’s 2000 Harvard Design Magazine article, “Glamour, Class, and Architecture in Miami Beach”.)
In succeeding decades, that glamour dissipated. (The Fountainebleu’s builder went bankrupt in 1977.) The nouveau riche for whom the hotels were designed got old. Younger generations had different aspirations and ideals of luxury. But, after a $1 billion renovation, the Fountainebleu reopened last November. “The glamour is back at the Fontainebleau,” declared the announcer at the hotel's opening celebration, which doubled as last year’s Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
Is the glamour really back? Unfortunately, I haven’t persuaded any editors to fund a reporting trip to decide for myself. Matt Rudd of the London Times makes a good case that the hotel is just too big for glamour: “In order to fill anything like 1,500 rooms, you need thousands of people, and they can’t all be Frank Sinatra.” Glamour requires mystery and exclusivity--and a lot fewer truck-parts conventions.
It is possible to bring glamour back to a hotel that has lost it, but “glamour” can’t just mean luxury or a history of association with dead celebrities. I thought the Palmer House in Chicago might have made it work, by playing up its architectural appeal, but complaints about small rooms and mini-beds suggest that modern standards may conflict with historic floor plans. (I have no first-hand experience.)
The Riviera in Palm Springs has had more success. It’s got the luxury and dead celebs, plus the Hollywood Regency decor that sometimes gets called “modern glamour.” But what makes the Riviera’s glamour convincing is the hotel’s intimacy, which makes guests feel like they’ve entered a special world. and, most important to me, the occasion of my stay there: the (simulcast of the) 2009 TED Conference, which features (as one blogger put it) “the glamour of intellectual power wrapped in exclusivity.” Plus, you can’t beat the Riviera’s restroom signs.
[“Stairway to nowhere” photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., public domain Library of Congress collection. Riviera restroom sign photo by Virginia Postrel.]
As Kit Pollard pointed out in her April 8th post on “Potty Glamour,” bathroom fixtures and glamour might at first glance seem an odd pairing. Yet Brizo has combined fashion and faucet design in a way that is truly remarkable. They have partnered with designer Jason Wu to create a fashion line (he designed Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown and was recently mentioned on DG as a doll designer). Their ad campaigns feature images of women in flowing gowns photographed as they move underwater. You can see a video of such images moving across the screen here, along with faucets that magically flow into existence on sinks and bathtubs. The models’ flowing arms and arched feet reveal some level of ballet training, evoking another glamorous world.
But beyond these fantasy underwater images, you can buy gowns designed by Jason Wu that seem to flow like water as you walk. To see his outfits in action, go here. Many of the dresses for this show use translucent material. (The red gown shown in the photograph is last in the video.)
I am reminded of 17th-century poet Robert Herrick’s lines:
WHENAS in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.