Travel Posters, Glamour, And Iconoclasm

Isle of man poster british railways 

This poster, up for auction next week from Swann Galleries, calls to mind a different (and possibly fictional) British tourism poster from the same era, the one in Philip Larkin's poem “Sunny Prestatyn.” The poem perfectly captures both the commercial glamour of travel posters and the urge to puncture the illusion.

Come to Sunny Prestatyn 
Laughed the girl on the poster, 
Kneeling up on the sand 
In tautened white satin. 
Behind her, a hunk of coast, a 
Hotel with palms 
Seemed to expand from her thighs and 
Spread breast-lifting arms.

She was slapped up one day in March. 
A couple of weeks, and her face 
Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed; 
Huge tits and a fissured crotch 
Were scored well in, and the space 
Between her legs held scrawls 
That set her fairly astride 
A tuberous cock and balls

Autographed Titch Thomas, while 
Someone had used a knife 
Or something to stab right through 
The moustached lips of her smile. 
She was too good for this life. 
Very soon, a great transverse tear 
Left only a hand and some blue. 
Now Fight Cancer is there.

With its aggressive cynicism, the graffiti destroys not only the model’s beauty but the poster’s promise of escape to a sunny, joyful world where satin stays taut and white. By defacing the poster, making the portrait ugly and ridiculous, the vandals remind viewers that the picture is an illusion, an image “too good for this life.”

To see more vintage travel posters, go to the Swann online catalog. To buy Philip Larkin's complete works, go to Collected Poems on Amazon.

Madame Tussauds Hollywood Opens--DG Readers Get A Break

Image002 While Madame Tussauds Hollywood (yes, the wax museum) might be daringly  close to the camp edge of glamour, it's certainly very amusing and really, you owe to yourself to go.  If you have guests in town--it's a must.

And thanks to Brandon and Stacy at Allied, DG readers can get a handsome discount (a fin! a 5-spot! 5 bucks!) off the admission price  with this code :  9011/9012   (See the fine print * below.)

Located right next door to Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd, Madame Tussauds Hollywood opens this Saturday, August 1st.  Their motto: Who Do You Want To Meet isn't just a clever catchphrase--Tony Hawk just dropped by the other day to unveil his image. Halle Berry, Beyonce, and Hugh Jackman are just some of the stars immortalized by Tussauds artisans. (They've even got the Mayor of Hollywood--Johnny Grant. )

You can read up on the real Marie Tussaud here.

*FINE PRINT: To receive this discount, you must print out this offer to be exchanged at the Madame Tussauds Box Office at time of purchase to receive $5 off up to six (6) one day admission tickets to Madame Tussauds Hollywood.  (Easiest way to print:  select comments, and hit "print screen" .)

Not valid with other discounts, online ticket sales, or other offers. Valid at Box Office Only.  Additional restrictions may apply. Not for resale. Only a printed offer will be honored. Expires 12/31/2009.

To Portray A Courtesan

Fleming-thais Two of the most glamorous roles in opera portray courtesans. One is the title character in Thaïs by Jules Massenet, and the other is Violetta in La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. This photograph of Renée Fleming as Thaïs was widely used by the Metropolitan Opera to generate ticket sales for their 2008 production of the opera.

The August 2009 issue of Opera News has an interesting article by Colleen Hill on costumes that have been designed for sopranos portraying Violetta. In article eight gowns are pictured and discussed. As one of the most glamorous sopranos, Renée Fleming is pictured twice, each time wearing a gown that was designed for her. In 2008 the New York Times had an article which showed her wearing a series of gowns commissioned for her for that season. The designers were Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, and Christian Lacroix.

Ms. Fleming is an extraordinary beauty and can be captivating when wearing such gowns. After seeing a movie theater broadcast of her performing in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion fame) wrote the following in Salon: “Miss Fleming’s bare left shoulder is more erotic than Madonna naked and when she puts her hand to her bodice, she makes my nostrils twitch.” As can be heard in the video below, Ms. Fleming’s lyric soprano voice, a rare and assiduously cultivated gift, is just as creamy and silky-smooth in sound as that curvaceous left shoulder is in shape. No wonder Keillor was enraptured. (In the video she portrays Violetta, wearing one of the gowns designed by Christian Lacroix.)

DG Top 10: Glamorous Pop Divas

This week's Top 10 comes from our semi-mysterious blogger DMC, a.k.a. Groomzilla, who most recently wrote about Michael Jackson.—VP

America does not have royalty in the traditional sense, but what we lack in kings and queens we make up for in the glamorous pop divas that fill our tabloids with gowns, glitter, and goss. Pop divas not only define “the look” of any moment in time, but they also provide its rhythm—the pulsing backbeat that is in the background of our shopping trips, our car rides, our cocktail hours, and our nights on the town. We even derive some of our most-overused idiomatic expressions from pop songs, as evidenced by the gross misuse of “bootylicious” when Beyoncé unleased the word upon the unsuspecting masses which, clearly, were “not ready for her jelly.” But which pop divas have this author’s heart at this moment? The answer might surprise you.

Miley-cyrus-elle-magazine-cover 10. Miley Cyrus. Yes, she’s annoying. Her dad was (and remains) even more annoying, and can never be forgiven for my six-week line dancing unit in co-ed Freshman year PE set to “Achy Breaky Heart.” Her horse teeth alone give me nightmares. You cannot deny, however, the power that “Hannah Montana” has over the tween set. She sells out concerts in seconds and sends parents scrambling for overpriced tickets. Her bare shoulder turned a single Annie Leibovitz portrait into a public referendum on pedophilia. And maybe, just maybe, I have belted out “See You Again” or “The Climb” while racing down the 101.

9. Kylie Minogue. She’s been around forever, but we really stood up and took notice when her ultrasexy “Fever” album had everyone singing “la la la / la la la la la” on a loop in 2002. Secretly, you wanted to wear the dress from the “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” video, because druid hood + no bra + mini-skirt = fashion, dahling! Ms. Minogue brings her concert spectacle to North America for the first time this Fall, just as she launches her new cologne for men in Europe and Australia. Will I smell like Kylie while watching Kylie and singing Kylie in the car afterwards? Of course!

8. Taylor Swift. Tall, willowy and fresh-faced, this new young country star makes the insipid lyrics of “Love Story” oddly charming and believable. It’s rare to see such Siren-like beauty on the red carpet at the age of 19, and rarer still to hear a heterosexual male co-worker openly admit to having attended a “really great” concert where the average attendee was still in driver’s ed.

Beyonce silhouette Pavilhão Atlântico 7. Beyoncé Knowles. Just add water, and she makes her own parody. Her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, wears a mechanical hand and sunglasses with fringe. Her mother makes the world’s ugliest clothes for the House of Deréon. She rose to stardom writing songs about her bills, who paid for her shoes, and how she and her sisters in matching camo-print booty shorts were ”survivors” in a video of an undisclosed jungle near Beverly Hills. But her lyrical hooks burn into your skull, from “Crazy in Love” to “Single Ladies.” She seems to have worn every gown, every wig, and every Thierry Mugler shoulder pad concept ever conceived. At her best, she is a fashion icon. At her worst, you still want to talk about what she’s wearing. Yet for all of her unapologetic, over-the-top divadom, she comes across as that nice girl next to door who just happens to be rich, talented, and married to Jay-Z.

6. Carrie Underwood. In one song, she made it cool for you to vandalize your cheating boyfriend’s car while still keeping your teased blond hair looking fierce. The first “American Idol” winner to find success in country music, Underwood presents amazing outfit after amazing outfit in concert and on the red carpet. Her legs alone are enough to want to be her for a day.

5. Justin Timberlake. The only male “pop diva” on this list, there is something a little feminine about J.T. even when he’s at his man-candy best. Perhaps its his attention to the William Rast clothing line that he co-designs, or maybe its his carefully calculated (almost overly-perfect) image as a ladies’ man. Regardless, if you ask any subset of young males which celebrity they want to be, Timberlake’s name is likely to be at the top of the list.

Rihanna Good Girl Gone Bad 4. Rihanna. I have more current information on Rihanna’s haircuts than I do the Obama health care plan. Rihanna simply oozes modern fashion, whether arriving at the Costume Institute Gala in a Dolce pantsuit or emerging from a restaurant in a sea of pearls and chains over a sassy mini-dress. Not only a style icon-in-training, Rihanna single-handedly caused the entire world population to develop a stuttering problem for any word ending in “ella” for over a year.

3. Cher. It’s Cher. Does this require explanation? Who else can put on a Bob Mackie headdress and a gown with a neckline plunging down to her naughty bits and not come across as completely ridiculous?

2. Madonna. The original MTV-era provocateur, Madonna is ground zero for almost any major concept in the modern day music video, arena concert, or pop diva marketing strategy. She has also built her empire on an ever-changing repetoire of glamorous looks. Now 50, the concept of “Madonna glamour” is less about sex and more about pure power: the life of a globe-trotting tastemaker who dabbles in film, philanthropy, and religious exploration to find meaning outside of the discotheque. Secretly everyone wants to be her, even if they don’t necessarily want to recreate her last “look” or tone their arms to a frightening degree.

Lady gaga 1. Lady GaGa. Masks encrusted with disco balls? Check. Spacesuit-like leotards with stiletto heels? Check. Smokey eye make-up that resembles a zipper? Check. Cone bras that shoot out fire? Hell, even Madge didn’t think of that one. No one is pushing the iconographic envelope like Lady GaGa, who draws inspiration from everyone from Helmut Newton to Britney Spears to create the kind of pop spectacle that would make Warhol grin. Her song “Paparazzi” might best describe her modus operandi: “Baby, there’s no other superstar / You know that I’ll be / Your papa, paparazzi.”

[Beyoncé ©Pavilhão Atlântico, 18 Maio 2009. JOSÉ SENA GOULÃO/LUSA. / CC BY-SA 2.0. Rihanna by Flick user MiKeARB / CC BY 2.0]

Mad Men Yourself


They didn't have Diet Coke back then, but I still imagined myself as a boss. Create your own Mad Men persona here.

Glamour & Transformation: Who Do You Want To Be Today?

Lord&Taylor window beaded dress

“The right dress,” said MGM star Norma Shearer in 1934, “can triumph over any situation, build any mood, create any illusion, and make any woman into the sort of person which she most desires to be.” Every store display and shop window beckons with some version of the same promise: Buy this and become the person you want to be.

There’s a difference, however, between spotting the perfect office outfit in Banana Republic and imagining yourself bedecked in a beaded evening dress with chandelier earrings. One represents an attractive solution to a practical need, the other (for most of us, anyway) the allure of transformation: a new and better self in a new and better setting. One is appealing, the other glamorous. We want the dress for the very reason that it doesn’t suit our real life. It makes us imagine a different one.

“I fall for the awesome four-inch heels every time, hoping to strut around like an archetypal fashion girl,” said Joanna Jeffreys, fashion manager at Harvey Nichols, a couple of years ago in British Vogue. “But then morning comes, and the idea of running for the number 10 bus in my Alaïa stingray-skin platforms doesn’t seem so appealing.” She buys the shoes that reflect who she wants to be, only to find them inappropriate to who she really is. That’s glamour: a beautiful illusion promising escape and transformation.

Clothing and accessories aren't the only products that rely on such glamorous salesmanship. I’ve written elsewhere about the glamour of wireless technology, with its illusory pledge to set users free from desks, cubicles, electrical outlets, and, by implication, from bosses and deadlines. Nowadays, wireless technologies are quotidian essentials, but not so long ago they were glamorous.

Moleskine display

Here’s another store display that traffics in glamour. (“AAH! i’d go so broke if i lived by there,” says a Flickr commenter.) To take notes, you can pick up a cheap pad at Staples. To imagine yourself an artist, however, you may prefer to buy one of the “legendary notebooks” of Moleskine. It's not just a tool. It's a promise, an emblem of the creative life. (Check out this shot of a Moleskine with other icons of the glamorous writerly life.)

I’m personally susceptible to the glamour of any display of narrow-lined notepads, whether generic office supplies or leather-bound versions with ties to Picasso and Hemingway. But, then, I really am a writer. I’m not looking to transform myself into a Lost Generation heroine, only to transform my thoughts and words into something more organized and permanent. I don’t want an emblem. I want a magic tool. So I have an office full of notebooks, every one a promise of transformation.

[Lord & Taylor window by Flickr user mannequindisplay, used with permission. Moleskine display by Flickr user mylifestory / CC BY 2.0]

The Pleasure Of Double Entendres

While driving recently I heard The Who’s Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box on the radio and began reflecting on the pleasures of double entendres. This song has long been controversial. Some feel that the lyrics are straight-forward (about an accordion), while others feel it can be read two ways (the second involves sex). (There is also controversy about whether Peter Townshend wrote the song, or recorded a song that had been around for many years.) The live performance shown below argues for the double meaning.

We rely a great deal on double entendres in everyday communication. Understanding puns, irony, sarcasm, and much risqué humor depends on catching the double meaning or interpretation, and, when we do, we derive pleasure not only from “getting it,” but also from being an insider, someone capable of enjoying the double meaning.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that the meaning of a statement or a work of can be contingent on how it is interpreted. In The Scandal of Pleasure Wendy Steiner writes that:

Artistic meaning, like all meaning, is a matter of interpretation....Conservatives wrongly believe that a work of art has one universal, unmistakable meaning, which they are certain they understand.

Yet, for most of us, catching double entendres can be one of the great joys of language. In one sense, the poem by Robert Herrick given below can be read as simply being about seeing Julia wearing an attractive hairnet, and his desire to see her let her hair down.

Hairnet-b17-worker Upon Julia's hair, bundled up in a golden net.

Tell me, what needs those rich deceits,
These golden toils, and trammel-nets,
To take thine hairs when they are known
Already tame, and all thine own?
’Tis I am wild, and more then hairs
Deserve these meshes and those snares.
Set free thy tresses, let them flow
As airs do breathe, or winds do blow:
And let such curious net-works be
Less set for them, then spread for me.

Herrick was a 17th-century Anglican cleric, so Alfred T. Palmer’s glamorous WWII photograph of a woman working on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber in Long Beach, CA is obviously anachronistic. But seeing how pretty she looks, with her hairnet matching her jacket, it is easy to understand Herrick’s desire to see Julia set her tresses free. Seeing her hair bundled up makes him long to see her let it down.

With Herrick, things are complicated. Julia was just one of Herrick’s many imaginary mistresses, though she was his favorite. Whether there was a real woman that inspired his Julia poems has long been debated. If Herrick saw a woman wearing a hairnet, it would have most likely been a snood, a hair covering that she perhaps wore to his church for modesty. The factory worker in the photograph is wearing a hairnet for safety, but the choice of color is clearly for adornment. And hair coverings can be both religiously modest and attractive. As Devorah declares about her head coverings, “modesty does not mean frumpy!”

Elaborate-snood Indeed. Elaborate snoods such as this one from Melanie Moore Designs are sometimes worn with wedding gowns and other formal gowns.

Herrick was one of the Cavalier poets, a division that roughly divides the worldly poets from the metaphysical poets of 17th-century England. Herrick wrote religious poems, but they are far fewer in number and much less esteemed than his secular poems. Cavalier poems often made use of double coding.

“Hair” was one of these possibilities. Herrick’s contemporaries would likely have assumed that the above poem might also make sense if “hair” was sometimes taken to mean something more likely to be viewed in private than in public. In this case, doing so radically transforms the meaning of the final line. Which is the correct reading? Likewise, what is the purpose of the snood pictured here: modesty or adornment? Half the pleasure of double entrendres is going back and forth between the two possible readings.

[Bombardier worker photo from Library of Congress 1930s-40s in Color collection on Flickr Commons.]

Is California Still Glamorous?

With the state’s never-ending budget crises, jammed freeways, and high cost of living, California dreamin’ is out of style. “We are now the state that can’t,” Stephen Levy, the go-to guy for quotes about the California economy, told the NYT earlier this week. Calling the state “increasingly ungovernable,” the WaPost's Dan Balz writes:

The rest of the country has long looked to California as the future. It was once a leader in developing public infrastructure, and it created the most enviable system of public universities in the nation. Now the nation sees California and worries that its economic and political troubles will infect other states.

So the answer to the question at the top of this post would seem to be NO WAY!

But consider the Ferrari California, released last year. Why would Ferrari name its hot new car the California if California symbolizes traffic jams and screwed-up government? (For a higher-resolution version of the video, directed by Michael Mann, see the Ferrari California site.)

And why would Apple label all its products “Designed by Apple in California”? (This unaffiliated Apple reference site even adopted the slogan as its domain name.) Ferraris and iPods are both glamorous products. Why connect them to an unglamorous place?

In a post from 2007, Joel Spolsky gets the psychology exactly right:

Designed by Apple in California

You think of California, not the actual state, with its endless dismal boulevards full of muffler shops and donut stores, but the California of memory: the Beach Boys, the Summer of Love, and the beatniks, a utopian land of opportunity, an escape, where you go when you leave behind the cold winters and your conservative parents back in Cleveland.

And “Apple” in California is, of course, on the literal level, a computer company, and not a very nice one, but put those words together and you think of apple orchards, and the Beatles, and you think of how Forrest Gump got rich off of Apple stock. And “designed in California...” It's not made. It's designed. In California. Like a surfboard. Or a Lockheed XP-80.

And, of course, it might distract your attention from the fact that we no longer make things like this in America. We design them, but they pretty much have to be made in China.
Either way, the iPod slogan Designed by Apple in California triggers a flood of emotional responses that just make you happy to have selected this MP3 player.

I think there’s something else operating as well. California may seem too familiar and troubled to Americans in other states, but it still has glamour abroad. The UCLA student store attracts Asian tourists stocking up on souvenirs. The Ferrari California is aimed particularly at buyers in China and Russia. Is the Golden State still glamorous when seen from afar? And, if so, does distance explain the glamour, or is there something more?

[Designed by Apple photo from iPod Nano by Flickr user ume-y under Creative Commons license / CC BY-SA 2.0]

DG Top 10: Glamorous Foods

Editor's Note: With this post, Kit Pollard, who doubles as a food blogger and columnist, kicks off a new DeepGlamour feature. Got ideas for other Top 10 lists you'd like to see? Want to guest blog one of your own? Email me at

Cheetos, grilled chicken breasts, the handfuls of nuts we grab to get through the workday - most food is forgettable at best.

But not all of it. Food, like clothing, can rise above its role as something that's simply necessary for survival. Fabulous food can elevate an event from run-of-the-mill to glamorous.

And what makes a food glamorous? According to a quick, and completely unscientific, poll of several glamour-loving food bloggers, it's all about decadence and degree of difficulty. If it's hard to find, has a short season, or is especially rich in flavor, it's probably glamorous.

Here, in declining order, are the top ten most glamorous foods:

Caviar 10. Chocolate ganache. Decadence defined.

9. Asparagus with hollandaise. When a seasonal vegetable is topped with a rich sauce, it’s always glamorous.

8. Chocolate-covered strawberries. The sweet version of asparagus in hollandaise.

7. A piping hot, chewy, crusty baguette. Preferably from Poilane in Paris.

6. A perfect tomato, just from the vine. Juicy and ephemeral.

5. Butter-poached lobster. So hard to cook perfectly, and so amazing when it’s just right.

4. Foie gras. Rich and controversial.

3. Oysters – dressed up (Rockefeller) or down (on the half shell with mignonette sauce). Not-so-pretty, and certainly an acquired taste, but special nonetheless.

2. Truffles. Heady, hard to find, and outrageously expensive and exclusive.

1. Caviar. With or without blinis (but preferably with champagne), these tiny bubbles are foodie shorthand for glamour.

What do you think? Anything missing? Misplaced? What's your idea of a perfectly glamorous meal?

Thanks to fabulous food and design bloggers Meg, Dara, Julie, and Kathy for their help with the list.

["Russian Black Caviar" by Flickr user Cavin used under the Creative Commons license.]