Why Deep Glamour?

Glamour is...not a matter of style but of psychology. It is not a physical property but an imaginative quality that creates a specific, emotional response: a mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It is this emotional experience, this pang-filled pleasure, that we hope to recapture once "glamour is back."

Like humor, glamour is universal, but its manifestations vary from person to person, culture to culture, and era to era. To equate jewel tones or mirrored furniture with glamour is like treating a pratfall or a Monty Python routine as the definition of humor. Calling a particular style "glamour" is, at best, a form of synecdoche. "There are as many definitions of glamour as there are people who aspire to attain it, and each age brings its own spin on glamorous lifestyles, clothing, and settings," writes Phyllis Magidson of the Museum of the City of New York, introducing an exhibition on New York glamour. Specific objects, lifestyles, or aesthetic elements become glamorous only when beheld by the right audience, for whom, say, skyscrapers or goddess gowns represent a yearned-for way of life. Some people find glamour in Zen-like restraint, others in baroque excess. Some glamorize a whirl of parties, others the solitude of a mountain retreat.

Just as different eras produce different forms of humor, what audiences find glamorous changes over time. The decline of one kind of glamour, whether of nineteenth-century Parisian grandes dames or of the mid-century Rat Pack, often presages the rise of another kind, representing different values or aspirations: the glamour of bohemian cafés or of rock stars. A geisha's glamour meant one thing in the nineteenth century, when geisha were chic style setters, and another after the 1920s, when they became custodians of tradition. The themes that unify the many forms of glamour are not formal elements but imaginative qualities--grace, mystery, and the promise of escape and transformation.