One of my most glamorous memories is of my book editor hopping on her bicycle to go back to the office after a lunch with me in New York. She was wearing a skirt and heels and looked utterly graceful and sophisticated as she rode away.
With their smooth, silent progress, bicycles have great potential for glamour. We use "like riding a bicycle" to mean a physical skill that has become second nature, unforgettable even after years of disuse. We don't say, for instance, "like brushing your teeth," equally second nature but much less impressive. A bicycle can't even stand upright without support, much less move forward.
Yet unlike a car--or, for that matter, a horse--a bicycle depends only on its rider for locomotion. It represents autonomy. In my childhood, getting a bike was the first step toward independence. You could now travel reasonable distances without your parents.
But bicycles aren't on most people's short list of glamorous objects. Competitive cycling, like marathon running, never looks effortless. Kids are burdened with bicycle helmets that make them look dorky and tell them cycling is dangerous. No wonder President Obama skipped the helmet at the beach in Hawaii, after drawing laughs for his helmeted bike ride during the campaign.
As cycling has become more and more an esoteric sport, with complicated gear and lingo, buying a bike has become off-putting to outsiders. When the design firm IDEO worked with component manufacturer Shimano to develop a new bicycle concept, the two firms found were surprised at non-cyclers' attitudes. They loved their memories of biking but were put off by the attitudes and complexity of cycling shops. As Bicycling magazine explained:
"When we asked if Lance Armstrong inspired them, people would say yes, but not to ride a bike," says Shimano's [U.S. marketing manager David] Lawrence. And while all the interview subjects had positive, almost reverential memories of childhood bike rides, Sklar noted that "their feelings about the reality of the biking world are remarkably different." Their dominant image of cycling was one of exercise, speed, uniforms and competition--not of play or fun. "There are a lot of people who feel intimidated and unwelcome in that environment," Sklar says.
To teach cycling enthusiasts what it felt like to be a casual biker in one of their shops, IDEO made them shop for skin products at Sephora. As Daniel Gross recounts in Bicycling:
The Sephora staff, quickly sizing up the bike guys as outsiders and neophytes, treated them with disdain. Says Lawrence: "Everything that happened to noncyclists in a bike shop was happening to our guys in the cosmetics store."
That design collaboration produced a new category called "coasting bikes," designed for casual riders. Another concept, which incorporates more cycling glamour, is the "lovely bicycle," designed for daily, but noncompetitive, use. Here's a description of a lovely bicycle from the blog by that name:
When utility and romance coexist not despite, but because of one another, that is a Lovely Bicycle! A Lovely Bicycle does not only look beautiful in itself, but allows you to look your best while riding it.
Our notions of personal aesthetics vary, and, naturally, so will our bicycles. For the individual whose personal style consists of casual or athletic clothing, a roadbike can be a perfectly appropriate choice. For the individual whose style revolves around formal attire - including suits, skirts and high heels - an upright city bike works far better. The main idea, is that the bicycle should not require the cyclist to change their preferred way of dress or their lifestyle in order to ride it.
Recounting her yearning for a lovely bicycle untainted by the butt-up, head-down, Lycra-legged aesthetics of competitive cycling, blogger Filigree writes:
Only on vintage posters and in old art films did I see the romance that made me long for cycling again. Seeing these fictional lady cyclists of yore, the relaxed chic they exude is alluring and enticing. It makes cycling seem cool and fashionable. But can these associations exist in today's world?
They certainly do on her blog, from which these photos are taken. Although I'm a dedicated walker, she makes me want to get a bike—at least once the rain stops.
[Vintage poster from Swann Galleries and up for auction February 4.]
In How Buildings Learn author Stewart Brand quotes Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” While remodeling the home we purchased in Colorado, my wife and I had bookshelves built into one room, and had swing-arm lamps attached to the walls near two easy chairs. During construction we called this room our “library,” and now when we want to read and relax, this room has become a haven that beckons to us.
One small appliance in the remodeled kitchen has also reshaped my daily life. The graceful device shown in the photograph is an InstaHot, which, through a small electrical heater located under the counter, delivers filtered, near-boiling water with the touch of a lever. This small convenience has transformed me into a tea drinker.
My wife starts her day with coffee, then moves on to dark teas, and then herbal teas. But coffee bothers my stomach and makes me nervous. So I have never been able to enjoy coffee.
And I had never become a tea drinker. I realize that many people find putting on a pot of water for tea a special pleasure, but to me it always seemed a bother. But now I had access to a beautiful object that magically delivered super-hot water when you pulled it’s red-tipped lever. It cried out to be used, and I began to try various green teas, and then herbal teas. Soon we filled two cabinet drawers with a wide variety of black, green, and herbal teas.
Now each morning, afternoon, and evening I hear the seductive call of the InstaHot, urging me to enjoy the pleasure of some fragrant tea. And, especially as the weather cools, I have learned that sitting in the library with a good book and a cup of hot tea can create a feeling of priceless luxury and relaxation. When the house was being remodeled, neither of us realized just how much we would learn to enjoy this quiet retreat, or that I would learn to love tea.
“I have very expensive wallpaper.” So said Philip Johnson, architect of the modernist masterpiece Glass House, which he designed as his own residence in 1947 and inhabited until his death in 2005. Beyond its expense, Johnson’s glass walls create a glamorous atmosphere unique for a small suburban residence. Undoubtedly his lifestyle did much to enhance this feeling. The house was a setting for frequent salons and parties, hosting many luminaries of modern art and design. Johnson was so devoted to entertaining he had a hob in his kitchenette island removed so he could add an extra ice maker.
But the glamour of the house isn’t just about what happened inside; it emanates from the structure itself. Similarly, countless other glass buildings, from the Crystal Palace to the Burj Dubai (which contains a breathtaking 20 acres of glass) transcend the idea of buildings, becoming surreal settings of fascination and desire. Something about glass captures our imagination and creates glamour like no other architectural material.
Glass’s glamour arises from its physical properties: fragility, luminosity, and transparency. Rigid but delicate, glass is notoriously difficult to work with. It first appeared in architecture in ancient Rome around 100 AD, adorning only the most important buildings and expensive private homes. It remained a luxury through the middle ages, typically found in palaces and churches. Though glass is now ubiquitous, its use at large scale still feels lavish, and it wasn’t until the middle of the last century that technology allowed for the construction of multi-story glass facades such as those on Bunshaft’s Lever House and Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, and the many other glass skyscrapers that comprise the Manhattan skyline.
Glass’s precarious nature, combined with its scintillating reflective surfaces, give it a jewel-like quality at any scale. Cinderella’s slipper was glass, embodying hope, fantasy, and royalty in one fragile token. The glass structures of the world are like Cinderella’s slipper writ large, containers of dreams that always feel a little bit impossible. I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre, and the cube above the Fifth Avenue Apple Store that references it, have this gem-like presence. The same can’t be said for structures made with transparent plastics like acrylic or polycarbonate; poor cousins, too optically inert to stir our emotions.
Like all truly glamorous things, glass eludes us. It moves in a perpetual dance between two kinds of ephemerality. Lit from outside, it is luminous and reflective, taking on the character of what surrounds it. Johnson’s Glass House feels alive, an ever-shifting pattern of trees shimmering across its surfaces. Glass skyscrapers literally become pieces of sky, translucent blue by day and inky black at night. In this state, glass is like a mirror, restless and mysterious.
But light a glass structure from within, and it vanishes in another way, revealing its contents to the world. This glass is deceptively sheer. It yields to what’s behind it, inviting us to peer inside. It’s this invitation — to admiration and to voyeurism — that makes glass so special.
Inscribed in any glamorous object is the gaze which makes it so. Pull back from the object. Zoom out, and there is always someone watching and wanting, infusing it with the desire that is glamour’s driving force. Without a viewer through which fantasy can be filtered, there may be elegance or sophistication, but there can be no glamour.
Glass, with its tantalizing non-presence, creates the illusion that inside and outside are one. But not so fast. As anyone who has accidentally walked into a freshly-washed glass door will tell you, it’s a formidable barrier. This impenetrability is also part of its glamour. Glamour is an expression of a paradox: a fantasy so close you can feel yourself inside it, but so distant you must admire from afar. Glass facilitates this illusion better than any other material. Think of shop windows, museum exhibits, and jewelry display cases. Glass says look but don’t touch. It beckons to you to lose yourself in fantasy at the same time as it precludes you from making it a reality.
Playing directly with this paradox, the Standard Hotel has captured the essence of glass’s glamour in its 18-story New York tower. The hotel touts the spectacular views of the Hudson River from the picture windows in each room, but the real story is guests’ exhibitionist behavior, encouraged (and sometimes engaged in) by staff and management. Ostensibly about looking out, the allure is really about looking in. The glamour is in feeling admired and coveted inside the glass box — exposed, yet protected.
Johnson supposedly prized his house for its outward views. A nature-lover, he lit the house with the intention of making the natural surroundings visible rather than calling attention to the architecture, and he slept facing out towards his favorite view. But the house is also undeniably about looking in. Johnson considered the threshold to be outside the house, at the first point when you get a full view of it just past the stone wall that runs alongside the driveway. In the foyer of a typical home, you acclimate to the new environment whilst inside it; in Johnson’s schema, you are welcomed first by standing outside looking in. You must appreciate before you enter.
Glass is not a comfortable material, and Johnson was well aware of this. He never aspired to comfort in his home, but to an aesthetic purity. The Glass House existed not to coddle his senses, but to stimulate them. He has said:
...Comfort is not a function of beauty... purpose is not necessary to make a building beautiful...sooner or later we will fit our buildings so that they can be used...where form comes from I don't know, but it has nothing at all to do with the functional or sociological aspects of our architecture.
Glamour, like glass, is beautiful but rigid. It doesn’t bend to our convenience; rather, it offers a fantasy, and if we desire it, we conform ourselves to its standards. In this way, glass it like countless other tools of glamour — corsets, stilettos, sportscars — enforcing an uncomfortable, even painful transformation. It is not easy to be glamorous, just as it is not easy to live in a glass house. But it is beautiful. And for some, it’s well worth it.
[Images: Glass House images, © Ingrid Fetell. Crystal Palace, Wikimedia Commons. All others via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license: Burj Dubai by Paolo Rosa, Seagram building by gmpicket, Louvre Pyramid by carlos_seo, and Standard Hotel by laurenatclemson.]
Jennine of The Coveted is calling on fashion and street blogs to stop posting “images of cool, chic people standing around casually smoking.” Such images, she argues, promote a seductively glamorous image of a gross and dangerous habit. “Even...people who hate smoking in real life, get a voyeuristic joy out of these cool people who are immune to health hazards and smelly breath.”
“Would it be too much to ask to put out the cigarette for a moment, for the sake of social responsibility?” she asks.
She’s not the first to make that argument. Her prime target, The Sartorialist, has long drawn criticism for showing so many street-fashion icons with lit cigarettes. (Examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) The topic has become something of a joke among commenters, and this post included a disclaimer declaring that the image isn’t supposed to celebrate smoking.
The problem, of course, is that these cool, chic people do smoke, particularly on the street. (The New Yorkers in these photos often look like they’re on the street precisely because they’re smokers fleeing no-smoking buildings.) But, Jennine correctly notes, such photos are always selective. Why not edit out the cigarettes? In effect, she’s arguing that fashion blogs should further glamorize their subjects by deleting their nasty habits.
In truth, these blog photos rarely glamorize smoking. Unlike images like this, this, or this, they don't emphasize the smoking. It is unimportant to the image and the emotions it evokes. Rather, these photos normalize smoking, by depicting cigarettes as no more unusual or problematic than cell phones. You have to care about cigarettes to imbibe any message about them.
Of course, that normalization is something of a change from the treatment of cigarettes in my youth, when smoking was generally viewed as a low-class habit for losers. The unrelenting campaign against it has given smoking new cachet, making it an emblem of “heroic, sexy social outlaws,” as one observer put it in British Vogue.
Still, the main pro-cigarette bias on fashion blogs isn’t overt. It’s a side effect of the photographic medium. The still image removes the smoker from time and, thus, from the long-term consequences of the smoking. In this way, the photos are indeed glamorous, offering escape into a perfect, and illusory, moment beyond entropy, age, decay, or death.
[Celia enjoying a cigarette by Flickr user Malias, St. Tropez smoker by Flickr user FaceMePLS, both used under Creative Commons license.]
When the Atlanta Hyatt Regency opened in 1967, its glass elevators and rotating rooftop restaurant were the talk of the Southeast. To me, growing up a couple of hours from Atlanta, the Hyatt represented “the future” as surely as any World's Fair. Architect-developer John Portman had designed it to wow visitors for whom Atlanta represented the big city. As critic Paul Goldberger writes:
Portman devised a scheme for a modern hotel built around an open atrium as a conscious rebuke to the standardized, boxy modern hotels of the nineteen-fifties and -sixties (including a preliminary design of his own, which he rejected as too conventional), based on the belief that in the troubled urban climate of the mid-nineteen-sixties, a new hotel going up in an urban site had to serve as a magnet to attract cautious suburbanites and out-of-towners. Everything about the Hyatt was geared toward visual excitement: a 220-foot tall central atrium, glass elevators, a round, revolving rooftop lounge, perched atop the building like a flying saucer.
Portman’s design did indeed represent the future of hotels. Its atrium lobby in particular became a much-imitated feature, helping to establish Hyatt as a national brand and Portman as a sought-after architect, especially in the hospitality industry. His iconic hotels include the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, shown to the right, the Westin Bonaventure in downtown L.A. (famous from In the Line of Fire, where Portman's glass elevators were important to the plot), the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and Embarcadero Center (and its Hyatt) in San Francisco.
Ric Garrido of the Loyalty Traveler blog fondly remembers his teenage awe at the San Francisco Hyatt's atrium and the large metal sculpture that dominates it. (Photo below.)
Back in the 70s sitting in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency at Embarcadero Center provided a respite from the streets of San Francisco, same as today. Here was a large hotel space I could sit and rest my feet, use a free toilet, and drink some water while watching people move vertically through the hotel in the glass elevators and take each other’s photos in front of the sculpture.
Ironically the criticism of John Portman’s hotel atrium designs is that the focus of these large buildings is interior rather than exterior. The buildings are considered exclusionary to the people outside on the city streets. My memories of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco as a place where I could enjoy the beauty and comfort of a grand hotel as a person seeking shelter from the streets defies that criticism. The Hyatt Regency San Francisco is a hotel I have visited for over 30 years, yet I was a registered hotel guest for the first time in 2008.
Portman in effect reinvented the American hotel lobby as it had been experienced in the 19th century, a trend that has intensified over the past decade or so, even as Portman's once-radical designs have come to seem somewhat old-fashioned.
On October 17, an exhibit devoted to Portman's work opens at the High Museum in Atlanta. The following description of the Atlanta Hyatt Regency is drawn, with permission, from the catalog, John Portman: Art and Architecture, to be published by the University of Georgia Press.
The hotel, John Portman’s first, revolutionized an entire industry by introducing the atrium concept to contemporary hotel design. The hotel was conceived as a totally new guest experience: the antithesis of the traditional, tightly confined double-corridor hotel. The design goal was to open the interior space to create a dynamic, uplifting environment, one that would bring the energy and life of the city indoors, while providing restaurants, cafés, and bars that would attract visitors, not just guests.
The 22-story concrete structure was figuratively “exploded” to create the huge, sky-lit atrium. With natural light, sculpture, trees, and water, the interior resembles a large outdoor piazza bordered by a sidewalk café. (Originally, the lobby featured a three-story aviary, home to colorful Macaws and other tropical birds.) The glass elevator cabs were exposed, turning the elevators into kinetic sculptures, creating a sense of movement and drama. Passengers on the glass elevators could view the Atlanta skyline as the elevator continued through the atrium roof to the blue-domed revolving restaurant above.
Many professionals saw the atrium design as a liability—an enormous waste of space. During the hotel’s construction, legendary hotel operator Conrad Hilton was quoted as observing, “That concrete monster will never fly.” When the hotel did open, it was visited by thousands of tourists a day, forming lines around the block. The great success of the original project, which comprised 800 guestrooms, quickly prompted the expansion of two adjacent towers, creating an additional 200 and 350 guestrooms, respectively.
Hyatt’s owners, the Pritzker family of Chicago, were richly rewarded for taking a chance on Portman's unconventional designs. In fact, writes Goldberger in his catalog introduction, the hotel “tied the reputation of the Pritzkers to architecture to such an extent that a dozen years later the family established the Pritzker Prize, which has become the most famous architectural prize in the world.”
[Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 1967, view of the atrium, photo by Michael Portman and Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel, 1985, view of the atrium, photo by Jaime Ardiles-Arce, both courtesy of the High Museum of Art. Grand Hyatt Lobby, San Francisco, by Flickr user amnesia_x under Creative Commons license. "Atlanta Lights" by Flickr user Old Shoe Woman, used with permission.]
A month or so ago, I started to write a post on sorority glamour. At first, it seemed easy enough, especially since I spent several years donning “pin attire” (something dressier than a sweatshirt and jeans) for Monday night meetings and shopping for formal dresses that could stand up to beer stains. Sororities aren’t just about the clothes (and the parties those clothes are for) but some of the glamour to be found in those institutions is definitely related to dressing up. In that respect, sororities bridge the gap between the high school prom and the board rooms and charity galas that loom after graduation.
But glamour is more than just trappings – otherwise there’d be no blog called Deep Glamour. In an effort to figure out what lies beneath the formal dresses and little gold sorority pins, I dug out a few books on the subject to see what they had to say. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a whole lot. In Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, a very honest look at life as a member of a sorority at a big southern school, author and undercover sorority girl Alexandra Robbins used the words “glamour” and “glamorous” exactly zero times each. Same goes for Inside Greek U. by Alan D. DeSantis.
Then I moved on to Google and Flickr, searching for “sorority and glamour,” and similar variations on that theme. Most of what I found was designed either to mock ditzy sorority girls or to capitalize on their image as, shall we say, morally casual. Or, as in the case of the movie Sorority Row, which opens tomorrow, to do both, while a serial killer chases the girls around campus. But no serious discussion could be found.
So finally, I went straight to the source, asking the opinions of a bunch of women I know who were in sororities during college. Finally, I got some real answers about the role of glamour in Greek life.
According to my friends – and my own experiences back this up – it’s all about the mystery. There’s something fascinating and exciting about a group that’s got secrets and rituals at its core, and a hundred-plus years of history to back them up. On top of that, the exclusivity factor, though it draws ire from the anti-Greek crowd, keeps the organization’s secrets just that – secret.
Secret rituals and codes built on long-standing, somewhat mysterious traditions - these are the things that sell us on books like The Da Vinci Code (well, these and danger), and they’re also what drive thousands of college kids to sign up for rush every year.
All that said, we can’t forget the clothes. Formal dresses and pin attire might be simply the superficial manifestation of sorority life, but when we start learning about glamour and deciding what it means to us, personally, we have to start someplace – and usually, we start with the outifts. Once we're dressed, then we can worry about secrets and codes.
["Sorority Row" poster from Summit Entertainment. I wish I had a picture of my own sorority house, but all of my pictures of the house also include a bunch of squealing girls - squealing girls who are now doctors and lawyers and scientists, and who definitely don't want their college pictures posted all over the internet.]
A young corporate lawyer that I know was thrilled that he found a $4,000 Paul Smith suit in his size on sale for $800. He snatched it up and took it to his tailor to be fine tuned in fit. (The photo at right shows one of Smith’s suits.)
A friend of mine whose work never requires that he dress up could not understand why anyone would pay thousands of dollars for a suit. This friend likes to cook, and, while looking around a kitchenware store with our wives, I pointed out a Victorinox chef's knife which Cook’s Illustrated had praised as a inexpensive, yet favorite tool in their test kitchen. He then showed me the knife that he wanted, a Shun chef’s knife. It was incredibly beautiful, but given that it was priced at about five times as much, I wondered if it could possibly function five times as well?
I suppose that depends on what “function” means. If you love to cook and love to work with beautiful tools, then owning the Shun knife might be a daily source of pleasure. And if your work involves frequently dealing with clients who wear suits worth thousands of dollars, then wearing a suit in which you feel just as well-dressed could be both valuable to your business and personally pleasurable. Value in both cases depends on just how much the suit or knife means to the self-image of the buyer.
by Glenis Redmond
Sistahs have always been able to style in hats.
You know they got it going on.
Those women can wear hats from dust ‘til dawn.
You’ve got to be bold and have snap to sport a hat.
You’ve got to have it and know where it is at.
You’ve got to stop and cock it to the side.
Check them out and continue with your stride.
Profile it. Style it.
Then let them wow it.
Tilt it, lean it, or wear it straight in place.
A well worn hat is a symbol of grace.
You have heard people say it. I have too.
“Oh, she can wear a hat.
She sho’ ’nough knows what to do.”
Oh, a hat can get those oohs and aahs.
If it is totally bad, it gets applause.
Some hats are so bad, they are just bad to the bone.
People stop and say, “that girl has got it going on.”
Or say “You just go girl, you just go on, girl,
‘cause with that hat you’re the finest thang in the world.”
Big ones, tall ones, small ones, fruity ones,
pointy ones, veiled ones, flowered ones
and kufis too!
Do you dare to wear?
How do you fare?
Do you want to be bad to the bone?
Then, get you a hat and get it going on!
[Copyright 2000 by Glenis Redmond. Used with permission of the author. Photo of Virginia Postrel and Amy Alkon watching slide show of Kirk McKoy's photos of women in church hats by Karol Franks, from her DeepGlamour party set on Flickr.]
Earlier this week, Randall Shinn wrote about the impact of voice. He writes of patterned language, saying, “Hearing such language performed by a great vocal interpreter remains a magical experience.”
It’s true that some voices and some styles of delivery make words more powerful. It doesn’t stop, though, with the spoken word. Graphic novelists, especially, understand this, creating images and deliberately drawing words to convey a certain mood. Artist Maira Kalman tells stories (most notably in The New York Times) using simple drawings, bright colors and incredibly expressive handwriting that is one part childlike, one part sophisticated and completely distinctive.
The majority of us, though, don’t have the artistic ability to communicate like Kalman, or any graphic novelist. But we do have Microsoft Word, which offers us hundreds of different fonts to choose from, plus the ability to easily manipulate font size, to make our words bold, and to italicize. With just a little effort, we can download a font to convey most every mood or concept (including glamour, which has a “font family” of its own, plus an additional “glamour girl” iteration).
This makes me wonder: just because we can manipulate the look of our words to convey extra emotion, should we? There’s something relaxing about reading books and websites that, out of necessity, rely on a single, simple font with a minimum of fuss, and sometimes it’s nice, as a reader, to do a little interpretation. But, then, are we missing out on something the author might share?
[Photo "Words" by Flickr user Emborg, under the Creative Commons license.]
After careful consideration, and much argle-bargle
"Dogs aren't glamorous!" "Yes, they are!" "No, they're not--slobber is not seductive!"
in which DG's panel of experts fought like, well, you know, Deep Glamour is pleased to announce the winners of the first DG Pet Week contest, canine division. All winners will receive PetHead products.
Most glamorous pose Lola
Most glamorous photo Pumpkin
Most glamorous dog (tie) Sasha
Most glamorous dog (tie) Vida