The promise of escape and transformation is an essential element of glamour and the subject of chapter three of my book. The connection between glamour and escape is one reason transportation vehicles figure so prominently in its iconography.
In the 20th century, particularly during the period between the World Wars, glamour, escape, speed, modernity, and “the future” were all connected in the public imagination. I argue in chapter seven that, in fact, glamour provided a way for people to figure out what modernity meant and how they felt about it.
In the 1950s and ’60s, glamorous visions of transportation technology offered a more speculative version of “futuristic” escape that still sparks longings today.
No discussion of futuristic glamour and escapism is complete without a little Star Trek. (See this Bloomberg View column for more on the nature of Star Trek's glamour.)
All photos and quotes are from The Power of Glamour, to be published November 5 by Simon & Schuster. If you pre-order the book and email me your info at [email protected] (be sure to use this address not my DeepGlamour address), I'll send you a signed book plate.
Somehow, Halloween has become controversial. We now have rending public debates about costumes that are too risqué, trashy, insinuating, or politically incorrect. Just last week, Walmart pulled off the shelf a (disappointingly tame) "Naughty Leopard" costume for little girls just because the word "naughty" (not the costume itself) was deemed too sexualized. And UK supermarket chains Asda and Tesco have just yanked a grotesquely deranged "mental patient" costume that supposedly disparaged the mentally ill.
But I think all the easily offended critics out there fail to appreciate Halloween as a sort of one-off, wildly fantastic carnival. It's perhaps the one day of the year when everyone—not just the cosplayers or the goths or the fetishists or pick-your-subculture—gets a free pass to dress up in an insane get-up, purely for fun. Even a costume-averse frat boy can be a campy prisoner for one night. Whatever it is, you get to re-imagine yourself as something or someone else, and it's actually acceptable to walk around in that ridiculous get-up just about anywhere—in broad daylight, at night, on a train, on a plane, in a house, with a mouse....
One of my all-favorites was a Robot Vampire Dracula costume from a 2011 Halloween event I attended. Made mostly from cardboard, reflectors, and hardware store supplies! (Won the costume contest, btw.)
I, myself, did a sort of robot costume for that event. Was it too trashy/politically incorrect/dare I say, naughty? Perhaps? I don't know. (The gal next to me in the costume contest wore a suggestively arranged latex bacon-and-eggs costume.) But it was definitely FUN. And, be forewarned, I might have something questionably appropriate and certainly cheesy planned for Halloween this year. (Hint: I'll venture to guess it will bring back chagrined memories for my fellow DeepGlamour blogger, Paige Phelps. See: The Rise and Fall of Sexy Halloween)
Am I offended by overly, ridicuously sexualized costumes like "sexy Bert and Ernie"? I guess so. Do I want to see that parade by me on the street Halloween night? Absolutely. But it seems to me that Halloween costumes have long had an element of the risqué or campy politically incorrect. A quick perusal of the Internet reveals skimpy pin-up costumes, "incredibly bizarre" ones, or the simply inspired of bygone years. Semi-nude, his-n-her ... popcorn & peanuts (?), anyone?
While doing research in back issues of Vogue, I found this familiar-looking ad from 1974, three years before the debut of Star Wars. Of course, unlike Star Wars, which supposedly took place "long, long ago," Quathra is "a luxury fabric from the [oh so glamorous] 21st century." In the actual 21st century, Qathra (no u) is a coffee house in Brooklyn--an institution, not to mention a locale, not envisioned by 20th-century futurists. (The textile company appears to have canceled its trademark in 1982.)
Burlesque star Dita von Teese (née Heather Sweet) has said that she didn’t wait around to become beautiful – she remade herself to become beautiful. She transforms her facial features with pale foundation that covers never-to-be-seen freckles, red lipstick, winged eyeliner, and a tattooed beauty mark. She wears corsets that artificially constrict her waist. And, as a natural blonde, she dyes her hair an inky black and sculpts it to Veronica Lake perfection. She explicitly embraces artifice, which I deem a welcome alternative to the prevailing notion of natural-as-beautiful. As we discuss makeovers here on Deepglamour.net, I think one type of makeover deserving of attention is temporary, extreme transformation. Often the goal of a makeover is to become a prettier version of oneself, but sometimes the goal is akin to achieving an altogether different persona.
For performers like Dita, the transformation is clearly for professional reasons as much as personal. Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Boy George, Prince Poppycock, and many other celebrities established a distinct public persona through exotic makeup, wigs, hats, and clothing. But extreme makeovers aren’t just for professional performers. In fact, anyone can achieve a dramatic transformation for the sheer enjoyment of it. And there are many subcultures and hobby interests that embrace costuming for special events. Less often, people choose an exotic look for everyday wear.
Consider Aimee Elizabeth, a young lady from the Washington, D.C. area. Currently, Aimee sells cosmetics for a living. But on her own time, she designs and sews elaborate costumes for costume play, or “cosplay,” events. Themes and inspirations include: Gothic Lolita, Disney, cyber and “perky Goth,” FX make-up, Japanese and ancient Egyptian culture, mythology, urban legends, and horror films. (For more on cosplay, see this DG Q&A with photographer Ejen Chuang about his book Cosplay in America.) Naturally a green-eyed, fair-skinned brunette, Aimee Elizabeth created a colorful cosplay persona she calls “Laydee NekoAmi Chan.” She has executed dozens of costume looks that include theatrical makeup effects, colorful horns and grand hair ornaments, doll-like Asian-inspired dresses and petticoats, and enormous platform boots.
In far-away Sweden, another creative lady, a wife and mother, has become something of a Facebook and YouTube sensation. Whatever “Adora Batbrat” might look like sans make up, one can only guess. But the self-described “Martha Stewart of Goth” regularly posts public images of her “make up of the day,” which involves sharply stenciled brows, elaborately swirled and dotted eye make up, false eyelashes, face jewels, and freaky contact lenses. Her light color hair is tinged in colors that vary from cotton candy pink to lilac to light green, and usually topped with a crown or headdress. She also sports tattoos and permanent vampire-like fangs, conjured up by her dentist.
Adora Batbrat seems to have simply decided to embrace an extreme makeover as a matter of daily life rather than profession. “I never could have figured out so many kind people wanted to be part of my life and let me share theirs but I'm very happy about it, and you are all most welcome,” she tells her Facebook fans. “For those who just think I look cute and know nothing about me, I'm a Swedish alternative model, a Goth make up guru at YouTube, loves electro music. I'm a mother of 3 kids.” (She explains her makeover philosophy over on her blog.)
What I admire about people such as Dita von Teese, Aimee Elizabeth, and Adora Batbrat is their glamorous vision for beauty and self-transformation and their will to achieve it. It’s not for everyone, nor even for most of the people most of the time. Yet it’s inspiring to see that anyone who desires to re-imagine themselves can create a delightful, fleeting illusion.
[This post is by new DG contributor Cosmo Wenman.--vp]
Virginia recently tweeted and posted on Facebook asking, "What photos should absolutely be in a book on glamour?"
While putting together this collection of recommendations from pop-culture, I sought out the two photos below, of Sean Young in Blade Runner and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. But it wasn't until I saw them side by side that I realized how similar they are. Not only do both women know how to hold the hell out of a cigarette, but the images' contexts are nearly identical.
Both are from interrogation scenes in which the women are suspected of concealing their true natures. Both characters are extremely poised and confident, and both become romantically involved with their interrogators. There are several other parallels as well. I put together a comparison:
These twin scenes are following the same formula and mix of glamorous elements: smoking (even the question of permission to smoke), composure and confidence, deception, emotional distance, and danger. Is there an older film noir scene both these movies are paying homage to?
BTW, Virginia told me she thinks the Sean Young photo "is a little too calculatedly retro for my purposes. It lacks sprezzatura. It's more like an imitation of glamorous photos from the '40s." I think it evokes glamour, but I know what Virginia means - Sean Young's character does look almost artificial...
When I went to the 2009 Anime Expo to talk to cosplayers about the appeal of dressing up as anime and manga characters, I was struck by how important posing for photographs is to that appeal. Yet most of the picture-taking at anime conventions happens with lousy lighting and lots of fans in the way—hardly the ideal way to record the costumes on which players lavish so much time and ingenuity.
Fortunately, L.A. photographer Ejen Chuang, whom I met at that same convention, has now given American cosplayers a worthy visual record: a beautifully produced 272-page book called Cosplay in America. The product of a year spent traveling to conventions around the country (and a maxed-out credit card), plus countless hours of selecting and retouching photos, the book features 270 cosplayers.
Naming it the Best Art Book of 2010, Deb Aoki, About.com’s Manga expert, declared that Cosplay in Ameria “captures the spirit of fun, camaraderie and creativity of the North American cosplay community.” Liz Ohanesian of the LA Weekly praised the “slick and beautiful tome,” which “showcases the diversity and creativity within the anime fandom,” later declaring on BoingBoing that “Chuang did what I hope more people will do in the future, portrayed cosplay as art.”
Ejen is still on the convention circuit, selling his book and giving cosplayers a chance to have their latest handiwork immortalized with professional polish. He’ll next be at Anime Los Angeles January 7-9. In between cons—and his regular work as a production stills photographer—he was kind enough to answer some questions about what he's learned from his experience photographing cosplayers. (To see more of his photos, including new shots and web exclusives, check out the CosplayinAmerica Flickr stream.)
See the end of the interview for information on how you can enter our Cosplay in America giveaway and have a chance to win a free copy of Ejen's book.
DG: Your book is called Cosplay in America. What is cosplay and how is it different in America?
EC: Cosplay is short for “costume-play” which is basically dressing up as characters based off anime, manga, and video games, though the term has become mainstream in the past few years and now applies to any source such as films, American cartoons, music icons, even products—I’ve seen a few Nintendo Wiis running around conventions.
From what I gathered (as I’ve never been to an event in Japan), Americans have a very do-it-yourself attitude. While there are shops in Japan to purchase cosplays, that necessarily isn't so here in the States. You almost have to be MacGyver to pull together many disciplines from sewing to prop making. Some make it from scratch, others purchase parts and put it together. It is the process of creating the outfit that is part of the fun and not necessarily just wearing the outfit.
DG: What inspired you to do a book of cosplayer portraits?
EC: I haven’t really seen a book done specifically done about American cosplay and I thought I'll tackle it myself. The culture has been growing for the past 20 years and is definitely getting larger in thanks to conventions and the internet.
DG: What’s the difference between cosplay and dressing up for Halloween?
EC: Cosplay usually refers to a specific character. For example, dressing as Capt. Jack Sparrow is cosplaying. Dressing up as a pirate is just.... dressing up as a pirate! In the broadest sense, you can say that when your father dresses up as Santa during Christmas, he is in fact, cosplaying.
DG: What’s the relationship between photography (whether professional or amateur) and cosplay?
EC: There’s an interesting relationship between the two. Obviously from a photographer’s perspective, the extravaganza of colorful costumes and makeup of the cosplayer is attractive to the lens, while on the cosplayer side, it is a chance to be in the limelight and have their work appreciated.
DG: How do cosplayers decide what characters to portray?
EC: Cosplayers generally portray characters they feel very strongly about. Talking to many, I understand they felt if they were to put that amount of work into a cosplay, they rather pick characters they feel a strong emotional response to. As many cosplayers tend to be in their teens to mid-20s, my thoughts are in addition to having fun, stretch their creative skills and hanging out with friends at cons, cosplay can be a way for them to try out different “personalities” of their source characters wherever if either male or female. Obviously it is easier for women to dress as male characters than males to dress as female characters.
DG: You took more than 1,600 photos. How did you decide on which ones to publish?
EC: In my youth I was into anime but until I embarked on my project, the last convention I visited was Anime Expo in 2000. In the years between then and 2009 when I started the project, I had been out of the scene so perhaps 90 percent of cosplayers I’ve photographed, I don’t know which series they are from. In a way, it is liberating. I have no bias or preconception about any series or character. I could choose based on their personality and pose. I specifically looked for something about that cosplayer that grabs me. From an edited collection of around 1,000 cosplayers, it took six months to narrow it down to the 260 cosplayers in the book.
DG: One of the cosplayers you interviewed called cosplay “a chance to escape that which binds us, holds us down in our everyday lives, and [it] gives us chance to let our imaginary spirits soar high above all that makes us feel weak. We can shed our everyday lives and feel free to express ourselves.” Another one said it’s “just a dorky little hobby where people play dress up.” What would you say is the appeal of cosplay?
EC: For the younger attendees, it is a chance to let loose and have fun, another layer to add to the convention experience. As a teenager, the need to fit in is strong and so in a way, this allows them to join a community.
For those older ones, it is just a release mechanism. Obviously in life we have our jobs, relationships, school and so forth and to take a vacation from that for one weekend is to take a moment out of the worries of bills, and other adult concerns. I spoke to several cosplayers who have graduated college and move to their working life—and use conventions as a chance to meet up with old friends—similar to a reunion.
For others, it is a chance to test out their abilities to create and personalize to their own individual tastes. For example, at one convention in Florida, I noticed a character whose outfit was filled with beads. The original character’s outfit did not include that large amount of beads but because the cosplayer so loved beads, she weaved her passion into it. In the end it still worked—the character is identifiable and the cosplayer has a chance to personalized the work.
DG: You’re still taking photos as you go to conventions to sell your book. Do you have any favorites to share with our readers?
EC: Truthfully, my favorite photos are the ones where I’m interacting with the cosplayer. So many folks have photos of themselves standing next to a cosplayer. For me, I like it if they point their weapon at me, or they are jabbing me, or something of that nature. Here I am at AnimeFest in Texas getting hammered by the gals of Street Fighter.
This was taken at Otakon, the largest anime con on the East Coast where Bender from Futurama chokes me—I didn’t have any beer with me and you know Bender loves beer!
Despite all the work that goes into the book and the tour, it is definitely a life-changing experience! I plan to be at another 20 conventions next year and after that start working on other books related to cosplay but not necessarily about cosplay. Thanks for the interview!
We're happy to offer a free copy of Cosplay in America to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment telling us a character you'd like to dress up as and why. (Don't worry about practical considerations; we won't make you model the costume.) The contest deadline is midnight Pacific Time on January 10, and the winner will be selected using Random.org. Contest open to U.S. residents only.
[All photos copyright Ejen Chuang and used by permission.]
As readers who read my DoubleX piece on Amelia (and Amelia) know, I think the movie deservedly bombed, largely because Amelia Earhart is an intrinsically difficult subject for a biopic. As a glamorous icon, she is not a person but a persona, someone we “know” from the outside, for what she represents rather than who she actually is. Her distance and mystery are a big part of her allure. A movie preserves that appeal inevitably tends to be boring, while a movie that portrayed her as flawed (perhaps not such a great pilot) would lose its audience.
While I was writing that piece, I thought whether you could write a script about Earhart that preserved her glamour but wasn't emotionally flat. One idea would be to tell a story not about her but about someone who observes and is inspired by her. Another would be to emphasize the challenges and hazards of early aviation, something that Amelia did in its best moments but downplayed in favor of a flattened soap opera.
Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean, a graphic novel aimed at tweens, does both. And while the book, written by Sarah Stewart Taylor and drawn by Ben Towle, doesn't have enough plot to make a movie, it demonstrates that the way to portray Earhart is, in fact, to use a sympathetic protagonist who admires her. The graphic novel makes the wise choice to show us Earhart through the eyes of an admirer, a girl who lives in the seafaring community of Trepassy, Newfoundland, and aspires to be a newspaper reporter. Located on the far eastern edge of North America, Trepassy is the point from which Earhart and other aviation pioneers took off for Europe. It's also a shipwreck-strewn place whose name essentially means "the dead."
In June of 1928, tweener Grace, the dubious townspeople and a mob of impatient newsmen wait for Earhart to finally get her plane in the air for a transatlantic flight. Grace yearns to leave the little village and to become a newspaper woman, so she observes the commotion and manages to get the aviator's personal encouragement in an interview before her successful departure. Taylor's lean script leaves much of Grace's feelings understated but easy to imagine. Towle's art is also emotionally restrained, but panels showing the bleak landscape—especially double-page spreads of what Earhart called “this broad ocean”—emphasize the courage of people willing to take ultimate risks. Astronaut Eileen Collins's introduction, which describes the inspiration she drew from Earhart's example, carries the theme to the present.
Grace's point of view preserves Amelia as a glamorous, somewhat mysterious figure who represents a different life. You can get a sense from this spread. (As always, click the images to see a larger version.)
Anime Expo, the largest anime and manga fan convention in the U.S., took place in L.A over the long holiday weekend. As TV trucks from seemingly every network in the world staked out spots across the street, anticipating Michael Jackson's memorial service, anime enthusiasts played out a different sort of celebrity inside the L.A. Convention Center.
In Japan cosplay, or dressing up in costume as characters from anime and manga, is a form of acting. Cosplayers interact in character. At American gatherings, the rules are more flexible, with cosplayers dropping in and out of character, depending on circumstances (a good thing for reporters who want to interview the players, not the characters). According to the Wikipedia entry for cosplay, “By the late 1980s, rather than cosplay being a chance to roleplay as a favourite character, it was a chance to be seen. A new kind of cosplayer emerged — a cosplayer who attended events not to participate, but to be photographed.”
Posing for and taking photos is indeed a big part of the appeal of cosplay. Interviewing a group of friends dressed as Vocaloids, characters who represent voice synthesis software components, I was constantly interrupted as they posed for group photos. “It’s like you’re a celebrity for a day,” said one. “You get to be special,” said another. The promise of feeling special is one of the most powerful appeals of glamour. (Here's a video of a Vocaloid character. Here's a video using Vocaloid software to create the soundtrack for original characters.)
“Participation” versus “being photographed” is a false dichotomy, however. Making, wearing, and being seen in special clothes is an important form of participation in fan culture, and in culture in general. As Anne Hollander observed in Seeing Through Clothes:
Since the seventeenth century most theater has been produced by professionals for nonparticipating spectators, but the ritual origins of theater have never been lost. The theatrical impulse to dress up and participate in special occasions has deeply affected people’s lives. The wearing of special clothing in the sight of other people has in fact often been arranged to constitute a complete theatrical event in itself. To make a show with clothes, without the demands of song or dance or spoken text, is a way of permitting ordinary citizens to be spectacular performers without any talent whatsoever. Physical beauty is not necessary, either. A simple public procession of specially dressed-up ordinary people is one of the oldest kinds of shows in the world; it has probably continued to exist because it never fails to satisfy both those who watch and those who walk.
With fewer and fewer places to wear special clothes—even Sunday best has largely disappeared—it’s no wonder that so many young cosplayers have eagerly adopted elaborate fantasy fashions that are the antithesis of regular streetwear. Cosplay does demand talent, however, though not necessarily of the singing-dancing-acting type. Cosplayers take pride in the creativity and precision of their costumes, which are mostly do-it-yourself affairs. The hobby can lead to formal training in costume or fashion design, as it has for Renata Lindroos and Sarah Franchello, shown above as the Black Butler and Undertaker of the Kuroshisuji (Black Butler) series. Even cosplayers with no intention of pursuing design careers often enroll in fashion design courses. One young woman I spoke with had even taken a course in wig design.
Like Renata, many cosplayers are women dressed as men or boys. “A lot of male anime characters are just too pretty to be played by men,” says Stephanie, 20, shown here dressed as the Black Butler’s master, the 12-year-old orphan and business whiz Ciel Phantomhive, who lives in Victorian England. Ciel’s costume includes a dramatic bustle and train, which are appropriate for the period but not for a young boy. No matter. Stephanie, like many cosplayers, finds these exotic styles irresistible. She would, she says, wear them every day, comfort be damned.
L.A. photographer Ejen Chuang is documenting cosplay in America, with an eye toward a book to supplement the existing ones on cosplay in Japan. (Attention publishers: This is a great project with an enthusiastic built-in-audience and obvious promotion and distribution system.) He has a show of his cosplay photos opening at the Annex L.A. on July 14.
Paramount recently released the poster for the new Star Trek movie, opening May 8. The black and white composition and almost abstract suggestion of speed make an interesting contrast to the clear forms and primary colors of the original show.
Long-time DG readers may remember this quotation, comparing James Bond and Mr. Spock, from Jeff Greenwald's 1999 book Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth. Like Ayn Rand's novels, Star Trek traffics in glamour that appeals to people who generally think they're immune to such frivolous nonsense (and, conversely, whose obsessions seem decidedly unglamorous to most of the fashion crowd). Greenwald's book has a number of good passages that deal with Star Trek's glamour, without using the word. Here's one of the best, which follows his girlfriend's insight that the book "is about longing," the subject of all glamour:
When I began this book, I naively imagined that everyone I spoke to would echo my own intuition: that Star Trek has become successful because it awakens a collective human yearning to get out into space and explore the “final frontier” in earnest. A number of people on my list did indeed feel this way—but they were in the minority. Star Trek, I learned, inspires longings of many kinds. It’s a mirror that people tune like a radio, focusing on the aspects that attract them most.
Star Trek invokes an almost primal wanderlust—a hardwired compulsion to break away from the familiar, and plumb the depths of outer and inner space. It inspires a desire to build a society where technology is partnered with conscience. It evokes a yearning for family and friendship, which is played out in a thousand different fan clubs and Web sites around the world. And it fulfills a deep and eternal need for something to believe in: something vast and powerful, yet rational and contemporary. Something that makes sense.
One of the trailers for the new Star Trek movie features someone’s voice telling young Jim Kirk, “You’ve always had a hard time finding a place in this world, haven’t you? Never knowing your true worth. You can settle for something less, an ordinary life. Or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special.” In the trailer, that enticing suggestion accompanies this evocative shot, which beautifully captures both the centrality of the individual and the longing to belong to something larger than oneself:
The promise of becoming someone special is at the heart of much glamour, from the allure of beautiful dresses to the appeal of the U.S. Marine Corps. Particularly for people who feel out of place in their surrounding community, the idea of belonging to an ideal fellowship (Camelot's Round Table, Ayn Rand's Galt's Gulch, the Enterprise crew) is particularly powerful—and, as Greenwald documents, able to sustain real-world fellowship among devotees who share the same enthusiasm.
Dave Gibbons, the graphic novel's illustrator, was at Borders in Century City yesterday. After the long line of fans had cleared, I asked him a few questions about the glamour of superheroes. He talked enthusiastically about the transformation represented by superheroes' costumes and gear and about the glamour of heroism himself. But, most emphatically, he disagreed with my use of the word debunk to describe Watchmen's relation to superhero glamour.
"Alan Moore and I loved superheroes," he said.
The original Watchmen, like most comic books (or Dickens novels), came out in installments. Whenever an issue ended on a particularly bleak or revisionist note, Gibbons said, they'd start the next one with a glimpse of the wonder of being a superhero.
In an interview with Adam Rogers of Wired, Gibbons praised the Watchmen movie for capturing the geek glamour of superheroes:
"I think because Dan Dreiberg, Nite Owl, is kind of the geek superhero. He's the one that—well, he's the one that I would be, perhaps the one that you would be as well. I just love all of those gadgets and the car, and the whole feeling of that underground lair I thought they captured beautifully in the movie. And the whole, you know, glamour of being a superhero. As much as Watchmen is set in a real, kind of gritty world, there is that wonder of being a superhero, that joy you must feel when you sail off into the night in your wonderful machine and your cool costume. I think that's been captured wonderfully."
Not to mention Silk Spectre's perfect hair, which is as impractical as the capes Edna Mode banned in The Incredibles, but somehow never gets in the way.
Win Watchmen tickets: I have two tickets to the 12:15 a.m. show on Friday (just after midnight Thursday) at the Arclight in Hollywood for the first DG reader to send an email telling me which superhero you think is most glamorous and why. The tickets are in the regular theater, not the dome, in the middle of the 2nd row, seats B-16 and B-17. To enter, send your email to Virginia-at-DeepGlamour.net. Entries may be published in a future DG post.