Metropolitan Glamour


And New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there.... Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will. 

--Ezra Pound, "Patria Mia," New Age, September 18, 1912

Taken in 1932, Berenice Abbott's "Nightview" is one of 60 iconic New York photos in this exhibition at the Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe. (Check out the link to see more.)

The exhibit's most glamorous shots are from the 1930s and '40s, when New York was the symbol of American modernity, and many of them are night views, with windows bright with promise. These aren't realistic photos of city streets but abstracted, suggestive portraits that spark the imagination.

In his brilliant book Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies James Sanders points out that the New York of classic movies--the city of penthouses and jazz clubs--was a glamorous composite created by homesick New York writers exiled in Hollywood:

The city they were creating was not just the one they were remembering, however romantically. The writers were, after all, professional imaginers, and it was an imaginary city they were bringing into being. It would be animated not only by the memory of what once had happened there, but by all the things that could have happened, or should have happened. To memory was added imagination, and it would be these two potent faculties that would animate the dream city and give it special force and flavor....
If the real New York had many tall buildings, it had plenty of low ones as well, especially in its outer boroughs and residential districts. But the dream city would seem to be all vertical, every scene playing in a penthouse, on a terrace, in a rooftop nightclub, every window looking onto a view of rising towers.

Every scene. The mythic city, the dream city, the city of imagination is less a place of stories than a series of scenes--static shots into which the audience members can project their own longings. The glamour of the setting lingers in memory after the particulars of plots and characters fade, encouraging the audience to imagine their own stories in that glamorous version of Metropolis.

Wizard of Oz Emerald City

The most powerful cinematic image of the mythic city, Sanders suggests, is thus not a glamorized version of the real New York but a fully imaginary shot: the Emerald City of Oz.

Dorothy and her friends indeed stand transfixed—but not by aesthetic pleasure. In that gleaming skyline, they see the fulfillment of their dreams. In that place, perhaps only in that place, will each find the special thing he or she is looking for. These towers will somehow change their lives.
This is what makes the view so powerful, so moving. From a distance, the skyline is everything they could have imagined, and more. Soaring, glistening, grand but comprehensible, its upward leap precisely mirrors the feeling in their hearts. Its very improbability—all those slender, dizzying towers, bundled tightly together, cresting ad the center—simply adds to its impact. For how could their lives be truly transformed, after all, in a place of ordinary appearance? Magical events call for magical settings.
Through a kind of urban grace, the skyline of New York—in one sense simply the overscaled product of technology and real estate—became the locus of one of the most potent collective emotional experiences in the life of America. Into Manhattan’s towers were focused the hopes and dreams of millions, until the very girders and facades were permeated and charged with a sense of human possibility, as the skyline’s own skyward aspirations became fused with the personal yearnings of millions. The dream city, even in this most unworldly of guises, lets us share that transactive spark.

Does This Barbie Make Me Look Fat?

Thumb6 Happy birthday, Barbie! The hot, plastic blonde has turned 50 and was feted with her own fashion show at NY Fashion Week. (It took me a minute or two, but I do believe that is a real human model in the link's photo, not a giant Barbie doll. Uncanny, though!)

Ah yes, but if you watched the vid of the fashion show and thought, those dresses are great but Barbie was much more buxom than the runway models, maybe you need to be introduced to the newest Barbie... Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie.

The cheerleader has smaller bosoms, skinnier legs, a more vapid stare (perhaps hunger?), and hip bones that portrude from her frame. In other words--she's just like a real model! AT LAST!

Unfortunately, the wet rags over at Commercial Free Childhood don't agree. They have given the   new Barbie their TOADY award saying:

"The Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Doll teaches girls Barbiecheer  to focus on their appearance, to aspire to an eating-disordered body, and to play at being sexy before they’re even capable of understanding what sexy means."

Look guys, I think we all need to see the silver lining on this new cheerleader Barbie. A) She's obviously overcome a lot of physical limitations to be able to stand--let alone dance!-- on those bird legs, so good for her! and B) she's somehow still got energy even after the tape worm has ravaged her once hourglass figure. Poor girl. She's obviously in the special needs category, let's leave her alone.

Or not:

"In collaboration with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Mattel created a Barbie Doll that makes standard Barbie look like a clerk at Wal-Mart. Complete with toothpick legs and shorts that don’t qualify as shorts on several levels, Cowboy cheerleader Barbie will surely inspire thousands – perhaps millions – of little girls to vomit their cafeteria pizza so they’re still sexy in their P.E. shorts."

Well, there's one thing she's good at-- Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie made the real NY fashion models look fat, for that alone she definitely deserves an award!  Congrats!


How Old Am I In Department Store Years?

Having just celebrated a birthday, I started thinking about how people measure the passage of time.  Some Great Plains tribes referred to certain periods by natural phenomena--the Year of the Falling Stars or the Year of the Spotted Sickness. When I lived in the District of Columbia, people thought in terms of the Carter administration or the first Reagan term. I mark the passage of time by the existence of department stores. Bullocks-Wilshire-5.preview

 When I first moved to Los Angeles, I. Magnin, Bullocks, the Broadway, Robinson's, the May Co., Neiman-Marcus, and Saks were bustling. There was even an Orbachs. Federated Department Stores owned Magnins and Bullocks, but ran them as separate enterprises, with Bullocks Wilshire as the flagship store.  I favored it for china, linens and baby clothes.  The Broadway and the May Co. stores featured mass market merchandise, but were good for staples, and Robinson's was somewhere slightly higher on the retail ladder. Most chains also had outlet stores, and Robinson's had an especially good furniture sale.

In Pasadena, the I. Magnin store was a tiny jewel box, and the halls by the ladies room were lined with portraits of the Rose Queens and their Courts. The Bullocks store on Lake boasted a tea room, a children's hair salon, and classic MCM style--when it opened in 1947, it was The Store of Tomorrow.


Seemingly overnight, these stores got bought and sold and closed and reopened as Robinson-May or  Macy's. Bullocks Wilshire was looted in the Rodney King riots, and never recovered--I went to the close-out sales and saw Hancock Park matrons in tears. Bloomingdales moved into Southern California, Nordstom and Barneys New York opened nationally, and the old familiar names and stores vanished. 

May In some cases, the actual buildings were adapted for other uses--the May Co. on Wilshire is part of LACMA, Bullocks Wilshire's art deco masterpiece now houses the Southwestern School of Law (and you can buy a model here), the Pasadena BW is Macy's, and Target inhabits Robinson's old digs on Colorado Blvd. Macy's just shut their downtown store at Citicorp Plaza.

These stores were part of my past--where I ordered my wedding invitations (Neimans, employee discount), bought my son's layette (Robinsons),  took my  children for haircuts (Pasadena Bullocks), scored sale rack coups (Armani suit marked down 75% at  Magnins), and returned fashion errors (all of the above). But even though I'd spent many hours wandering through their floors, I've ceased to mourn these former friends. Now, I just don't let myself get attached to any retailer--I shop online.

(Thanks to reader Kit Pollard, whose comment inspired this post.)

Open Letter To Mary Schapiro, Chair Of The SEC

0c00989784342ebb08a46b5633bdd247-grande I'd been struck by a story about the new chair of the SEC --Mary Schapiro, a DC lawyer who's been the head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, not because I'm so fascinated by finance but because I used to date her husband. I read the piece out loud at the breakfast table, and my ever-practical husband pointed out that even if I'd managed to snag the guy, it would have been highly unlikely that I'd have her job today. He was right-- I did have a little Walter-ette Mitty vision of myself in a Prada suit and an Hermes bag, swearing to keep stockbrokers honest

I'd gone out with Chas a long time ago in DC, but going out is a euphemism as we never went anywhere. I worked at the Smithsonian, in a job that was well suited for someone with a generous trust fund (i.e., not me), and he was in law school and clerking for a tiny stipend. He favored a retro preppy style, had deep blue eyes and a slight stammer. I favored tequila over white wine coolers, high heeled slingbacks over Jacques Cohen espadrilles, and having late-night fun over everything else. My southern housemate, Margaret, once remarked that she couldn't imagine what he saw in me. Her boyfriend, a recent Annapolis grad, gave me a sidelong glance--he knew exactly what the guy saw in me.  In Washington, in the late 70s, I could have been considered a walk on the wild side.

The only real date-date that I recall was an evening that should have clued me in to how wildly unsuited I was to the life of a Beltway lawyer. He asked me to go to the Messiah Singalong at the Kennedy Center--an annual event attended by people I considered to be older than dirt. Little did I realize that the senior partners of his firm were very keen on the activity. At 22, I had few ambitions besides a pair of suede boots at Garfinkels.

I managed to costume myself as a kindergarten teacher in a grey jumper, and we went, we sang, and then we went to an egg-nog party at a fellow clerk's apartment. The hostess, who had a raging crush on Chas,  was too polite to be bitchy to me, so instead tried to engage me in conversation about what she thought would be a favorite subject--Chas. Perversely, I opted to talk to a silver-haired guy who'd brought a bottle of scotch. We got on like a house afire.

On the way home, Chas was raving about my hither-to-unseen social skills. He'd been very impressed that I had managed to hold the attention of a big-deal Undersecretary of Something or Other. Too tipsy to be tactful, I pointed out that the Undersecretary was chiefly interested in getting into my underthings. Why else does anyone talk to a 22 year old girl?  He was a little shocked. He hoped I hadn't been inappropriate.  I pointed out that inappropriate seemed pretty interesting to him. He stopped calling soon after.

The last time I saw him , Chas was recovering from surgery. He'd had a bout of testicular cancer, and naturally, I wanted to see the scar. "Don't be so prissy," I told him. "I've seen you naked about 1,000 times."  So he dropped trou, I made sympathetic noises, and as he zipped up, he said "Don't tell Mary."

And I didn't. Until now.

Does The Same Rule Apply To Furniture?

P020909JB-0191_Shawl_Laughter Cathy Horyn thinks it's bad that Michelle Obama works with a mere retailer, rather than individual designers, to develop her wardrobe as first lady:

Designers should have direct access to the first lady, and not have their work and ideas put through the filter of a retailer.

Yes, I'm sure they'd love direct access--as would a lot of other people. But there's a tradeoff: You can either have one or two designers with direct access or a lot of different designers edited by a specialist who isn't also trying to be a public figure.

Besides, nobody applies that standard to furniture designers or upholstery fabric designers. Everyone thinks it's perfectly normal for the Obamas to employ an interior designer to make the White House suit their style. Maybe we need a "designer" term for stylists--costume designers for playing yourself.

As for the photo, that's no stylist. That's an Interior Department official, wrapping the first lady in an Indian shawl.

Can Buses Be Glamorous After All?

I've always said that every form of transportation has been glamorous, except buses. But Todd Lappin at Telstar Logistics has posted this image, scanned from The Big Book of Real Trucks (1950), and made me reconsider the bus exception to the glamorous transportation rule.


Valentines, Schmalentines--Celebrate Come To Your Senses Day!

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. Heartscandyflowersinappropriatelingerie.  Or lack thereof.

Come to Your Senses Day is February 15th, and could possibly be the most important date in the history of human romantic interaction. The brainchild of writers Liz Dubelman and Barbara Davilman, CYSD events include readings from their new anthology, What Was I Thinking?: 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories at bookstores around the country. 61E+qSYvrGL._SL500_AA240_

My own essay (page 41) isn't about a boyfriend, but an even more intimate relationship--my hair colorist. Ex.

Contributers include Maira Kalman, Francesca Lia Block, Carrie Fisher, Claudia Handler, Rachel Resnick, Bonnie Bruckheimer and a bunch of other top-drawer women writers.

For my money, Patricia Marx has the best essay, but I won't spoil the surprise.

In Los Angeles, join us at 2 pm at the Borders at 1360 Westwood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90024.