The Promise Of Product

Fat-tireI laugh everytime I see this drink coaster. It advertises Fat Tire beer in a way that parodies all beverage ads that suggest that if you choose the right drink, you will soon find yourself surrounded by hot women dressed to kill. 

We all know that holding this beer bottle does nothing for this guy’s attractiveness. Yet while we laugh about that, we also realize that we all have made numerous purchases in hopes that the product would make us more socially attractive. And some of these purchases were probably hopelessly naive.

Dorothy Draper: Making Entertaining Fun

Entertaining is fun

At the end of Entertaining Is Fun, her 1941 manifesto on party-throwing, famed interior decorator Dorothy Draper said:

"My conviction is that

LOVE that fulfills you,
FRIENDS who delight you,
WORK that intrigues you,
BEAUTY which enchants you,

These are the rocks to build upon for health, success and joy. These are the secret keys to making living fun."

Entertaining is Fun is less a book about glamorous living than a book about embracing life and having fun (defeating the “Will to Be Dreary,” as Mrs. Draper calls it). But her life, with its country estates, many servants, and umpteen dress-up occasions was glamorous nonetheless.

In the book, Mrs. Draper’s mission was to loosen up the stuffy early 20th-century definition of “entertaining.” “The word sounds pompous and effortful,” she opined. “I like better, ‘having your friends to the house.’”

Of course, though she said, “fussy, formal parties are definitely out of style,” much of her advice sounds fussy today. Her primary advice – that the hostess who wants to have a fun party must be fun herself – holds. But in 2012, having your butter pressed into shapes sounds quaint and, yes, fussy.

Much of Mrs. Draper’s other advice, including a very serious recommendation that hostesses provide tons of clean ashtrays and stock “emergency rations” of canned turtle soup (among other things – she loved canned goods), is charmingly old-fashioned.

But her message – work hard to make your life fun – is as relevant today as it was in 1941. Mrs. Draper’s spiritual heirs are all over the internet from the video-making Fashionably Bombed sisters to ever-rhyming glamour girl Mrs. Lilien.

Who undoubtedly would agree that Mrs. Draper was the one, who helped the World War II generation make throwing parties fun.

Drinking Like It's 1929

Aviation cocktail largeIt’s been nearly eighty years since the repeal of Prohibition. But pop into a bar in any slightly hipster neighborhood. You’ll think it’s 1920-something all over again.

I’m not talking about the handlebar mustaches, either (where I live, in Baltimore, they are – thankfully – rare). It’s the drinks. All over Baltimore, Prohibition era cocktails like the Aviation (gin, maraschino liqueur and crème de violette) and the Bee’s Knees (gin, honey and lemon) sit on menus alongside craft beers and small-batch bourbons. With the drink snobs, they’re hot.

The wild days of Prohibition have long been considered glamorous. The fabulous parties, lavish spending, and life-on-the-edge vibe of the Gatsby era have spawned numerous tributes – including a stylized (and much-publicized) film version of Fitzgerald’s famous novel, due in theaters next summer.

So it naturally follows that we celebrate the drinks that gave the era its fizz.

One of the leaders in Baltimore’s classic cocktails movement is bartender/distiller Jon Blair. Along with Brendan Dorr, Blair operates a semi-regular pop-up cocktail bar – like a speakeasy – called the Forgotten Cocktail Club.

According to Blair, Forgotten Cocktail Club members are interested in history – to an extent. While he doesn’t believe they research the era at home, on their own, Blair answers many questions about the provenance of specific cocktails – about who came up with specific drinks, and when. And a handful of people really get into the theme, dressing in Prohibition era costumes for the events.

His take on the allure of the Prohibition era:

“I think there’s some glamour from that time period because there was less technology back then. Today, some people want to take a step back. Anonymity was a lot easier to retain back in the day. Accountability was a lot harder. I think the glamour has to do with escapism. The grass is always greener on the other side.”

It’s not only that 1920’s gangsters didn’t have to worry about their friends posting embarrassing photos on Facebook. “When you look at the Prohibition era,” says Blair, “bartenders didn’t have a bottle of sour mix to open. They worked with raw sugar, lemon juice, and egg whites – what they had at their disposal. Much of the resurgence of these cocktails comes from people caring about their ingredients.”

Blair works behind the bar at RYE, a Baltimore bar with several Prohibition era cocktails on its menu. RYE’s owner, Ryan Perlberg, agrees that classic cocktails are popular thanks to their quality. But he adds that sometimes, the motivation to choose a certain drink isn’t so pure.

“It’s because either they feel deeply connected to that particular cocktail…or they want to impress a girl.”

Getting the girl. Deep down, isn’t that what it’s always about?

[Photo credit: Aviation Cocktail by Flickr user Dinner Series. Used under the Creative Commons attribution license.]

The Glamour Of Beautiful Servers

Bluehour-Dining-Room While dining last night at the Bluehour (shown to the left), one of the most fashionable contemporary restaurants in Portland’s Pearl District, my wife Carol commented that part of the expense of dining there was paying to have beautiful servers. Once she mentioned this, I realized that the serving staff was indeed remarkably attractive.

The stylish young hostess who seated us had long, curly blonde hair and wore a little red dress that, while undeniably sexy, was too fashionable to look cheap. The host (floor manager?) was young, tall, handsome, and wore a beautifully tailored black suit.

The other servers were all dressed in white. Carol thought that the young woman who filled our water glasses was more beautiful than Alicja Bachleda, the striking actress in Ondine, a film we had recently seen. This young woman had the tall, thin figure of a runway model, and, like runway models, she and the tall, handsome male servers maintained neutral expressions as they fulfilled their duties. 

Their task, I realized, was not to engage with us. Instead, their role was to slip in like attractive, lithe-limbed apparitions and magically do whatever was needed to maintain the glamour of our dining experience. As when, for example, the knife I had used to spread butter was, at the proper moment, whisked away with effortless grace and replaced with a new one. 

Our waiter was also dressed in white, and was tall, trim, older, and slightly balding. He seemed to love his work. He had a highly engaging smile, and a manner so relaxed that you immediately felt at ease. This made it easy to ask questions about the more exotic ingredients in various entrées. 

The food was remarkably good and inventive, but the impression that I was most left with was now effortless the whole remarkable dining experience had been made to seem. Castiglione’s term sprezzatura came to mind because the staff appeared to handle everything with effortless grace, thus concealing the training and experience that had made this possible.

That maintaining this sense of effortlessness is difficult was made apparent the following evening. While dining in another fine restaurant the floor manager called attention to herself by wearing an ill-fitting suit made out of cheap material. A small mistake compared to the great food, but it led us to wonder if there would be other small mistakes. And once we had switched to that frame of mind, naturally enough, we did notice a few other flaws. 

The Pleasures And Perils Of Dining Out

Pancetta_peachesRestaurants often seem to have a hard time putting together a congruous dining experience. On the road last week we ate at a restaurant that someone in an art gallery told us would be the most interesting local place to try. The host and staff were nicely dressed, and the menu was elegantly printed, with some inventive entrees. The background music was interestingly eclectic, a mix of 40s music and rock classics. The decor was nicely done, with one glaring exception—the art on the walls looked like framed high-school art projects—mostly really bad stuff. The food was quite good, but the art was off-putting enough to downgrade the whole experience.

Next morning we had breakfast in a restaurant in a historic hotel. The room was nicely painted in Victorian style, with lovely botanical prints on most walls, and two large 19th-century engravings hung near a pair of beautiful Victorian sideboards. The food was good, but I was astonished that the music was a radio station playing rap. The servers and cooks must have chosen the station, because it was completely incongruous with the setting and the restaurant’s clientele.

In Santa Fe, which has numerous fine restaurants, we had some memorable meals in which everything about the experience was in harmony. A tapas restaurant had simple wooden tables, good art, nice decor, excellent food and wine, and a Spanish guitarist. 

An elegant and eclectic French/American restaurant also had done everything well, although I still can’t fully understand why 1940s big-band music is so often used as background music for restaurants that are striving for an aura of elegance. I suspect that the '40s evoke an aura of elegant film and night-club glamour typically absent from our visual imagery of contemporary pop-music performers and performance venues. But surely there are other possibilities.

Our strangest on-the-road dining experience was an Italian restaurant in a city in southern Colorado. We tried it because our motel gave us coupons for a complimentary glass of wine (which turned out to be almost undrinkable). Almost every sauce (even the Marinara) included cream, and most of the patrons were notably overweight.

My wife commented to the waitress that the music was awfully loud, and she replied that it was only because one of the waitresses was now singing. Ah, a restaurant with singing waiters—a perilous prospect. As feared, we soon had the excruciating experience of hearing “Over the Rainbow” sung by a mediocre, too often out-of-tune soprano who didn’t understand how to use a mike. Thankfully, a couple of the other servers did a better job, allowing us enough time to eat modest amounts of our over-rich, gargantuan servings of food, and then quickly make our escape. 

[Photo of "Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches with Basil and Aged Balsamic" by Used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]

Corona Beer Ups The Glamour Quotient With "Find Your Beach" Commercials

I don't drink beer, but I occasionally buy it for parties. And when I do, I usually buy Corona, because I like their ads. Corona has long used a images of a tranquil beach to create a distinct brand identity--one that effectively combines gentle humor with the glamour of escape. In the latest campaign, which debuted last fall, Corona ups the glamour quotient further, offering pure projection without even the gentlest silliness to undercut it.

The "Find Your Beach" ads visualize what Corona's ads have always implied (since most beer drinking doesn't take place at the beach): "that the beach is where you make it,” as Marshall Ross, the chief creative officer for Corona's ad agency, Cramer-Krasselt, put it. “We want to give literal, visual permission for people to take the Corona mindset with them. Even to the ski slopes or the big city.” The composition of the images remains similar. The Corona drinkers are shown only from the back or in profile, encouraging identification and projection, and they themselves are gazing at expansive vistas. Grace, mystery, and escape--all the elements of glamour are there.

If you like the song, you can download it on Corona's Facebook page. And here, courtesy of Corona's Argentine branch, is a little more video escape (via AdRants).

From Exotic To Local: The Changing Nature Of Produce Glamour

California Oranges World's_Columbian_Exposition-_Horticultural_Building,_Chicago,_United_States,_1893. In a column in Saturday's WSJ, I defend Michael Pollan's expensive taste in peaches but question the locavore ideal. Here's the lead:

Michael Pollan, the best-selling author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and a leading advocate of buying locally grown food, recently upset many of his fans by daring to put numbers on his oft-repeated prescription to "pay more, eat less." Eight dollars for a dozen eggs? $3.90 for a pound of peaches?

Those figures were way too specific and way, way too high to go unnoticed. The humanistic foe of industrialized eating suddenly sounded like a privileged elitist, and the local-food cause seemed insensitive to cash-strapped shoppers.

But Mr. Pollan was only being honest. Patronizing local farmers who produce in small batches tends to cost more. You may find some peak-season bargains at the farmers' market, but there's no such thing as a free locavore lunch. Getting fruits and vegetables only from local farms necessarily limits variety—few crops are available everywhere all the time—and it doesn't come cheap. Economies of scale apply even to produce.

Rossetti_proserpine The column and the response to it got me thinking about changes in what makes produce seem glamorous to consumers. (See also Kit Pollard's earlier post on Pollan and food glamour.) The locavore movement draws much of its appeal not only from the tastiness of ripe, local fruits but from their contemporary exoticism. They come with a special aura of authenticity and care. They're more glamorous than the mass-produced stuff you find in supermarket produce aisles.

Yet not so long ago, glamorous fruits were those that came from faraway climes: the California oranges pictured above at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago or, more recently, now-ubiquitous pomegranates and avocados. Simon Winder evokes the latter in his book on James Bond, The Man Who Saved Britain:

For me the heart of the book [Casino Royale], though, must be the scene when Bond tucks into an avocado pear. An avocado! These were exotic in 1939 but they could at least be bought. Avocados only really became available again in Britain in the late 1950s and had a desirability status akin to that felt (rather more democratically) for bananas by East Germans. The sense of the exotic which Fleming had to work for really hard in later books is won here with a mere oily tropical fruit on the windswept Channel coast. Oddly, during one of the many horrible, diarrhoeic currency crises that ravaged the international value of the pound (this one in the late sixties), avocados were specifically mentioned (along with strawberries and vintage wine) as imports to be restricted under the draconian ‘Operation Brutus,’ mercifully never implemented.

Shortly after reading Winder's book, I had a conversation with someone who recalled how as recently as the 1970s (or it might have even been the 1980s) avocados were a special treat in Britain and could be the highlight of a dinner-party menu.

Man with etrog Four Species Market Ron Almog It's currently the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a harvest festival whose observance includes waving the lulav and etrog. The lulav is a bundle of palm, willow, and myrtle branches, while the etrog is a citron. I can only imagine how exotic and, yes, glamorous such citrus fruit would have seemed to someone living in a 19th-century Russian shtetl. Jewish liturgy is a language of figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates, of a Mediterranean climate and, thus, in a icy land of beets, it would intensifu feelings of exile and longing for a paradisical land of milk and honey. The architectural historian Alice T. Friedman, author of the excellent new book American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture, captures a secular product of that tropical glamour in a 2000 article about Morris Lapidus's Miami hotel architecture.

Miami, unlike Los Angeles, was a place to which Jews came in order to reclaim old identities eroded by American assimilation or the upheaval of war; it was a place to revisit their roots. For this reason, European immigrants and Holocaust survivors especially found the place magical—something unknown in their experience, a chance survival of small-town, Eastern European Jewish culture along an unlikely stretch of sunny, beautiful, palm-lined beach. Isaac Bashevis Singer spoke for many when he described Miami Beach as “a paradise”:

When I first came to this country in 1935, I found that the winters in New York were terribly cold, like the winters in Poland. The winter of 1948 was particularly cold. People used to say it’s warm in Miami Beach in the winter, but I couldn’t believe it. I just could not believe that this is possible, that there is a place where it is warm in winter. I also heard about Miami Beach all kinds of stories that the place is vulgar, that the people are funny there. They said all kinds of things about Miami Beach, but if people are vulgar or crazy, I like to know about it.

He goes on to describe precisely that magical other-worldliness that residents and visitors alike found so compelling:

After we arrived at the train station in Miami, we took a taxi over the causeway to Miami Beach. As we rode over the causeway, I could hardly believe my eyes. It was almost unimaginable that in Miami Beach it was 80 degrees while in New York it was 20. Everything—the buildings, the water, the pavement—had an indescribable glow to it. The palm trees especially made a great impression on me. . . . Let me tell you, to me when I came here the first time, I had a feeling that I had come to Paradise. First of all the palm trees. Where would I ever see a palm tree in my life? And the hotels were very beautiful. They still are.

[San Bernardino Oranges photo from Brooklyn Museum via Wiki Commons. Daniel Gabriel Rossetti painting of Persephone with the Pomegranate in public domain, from this site, with a hat tip to Cosmo Wenman for the reference. The model is Jane Burden Morris, the wife of William Morris, who is mentioned in the conclusion of my column. Man checking etrog for flaws by Flickr user  RonAlmog under Creative Commons license.]

Giveaway: The Omnivore's Dilemma By Michael Pollan

Omnivores-Dilemma Today is the 75th anniversary of Penguin Books and the company is celebrating by giving away Penguin books to blog readers all over the internet - including here, at Deep Glamour. The book we'll be giving away is The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's thought-provoking examination of how the food we eat is grown.

Pollan is part of an interesting trend in the food world, and his work points to the important role of glamour in American consumer behavior. His efforts to help Americans better understand what they eat (and to eat better) are largely about deglamorizing food by taking the mystery out of the food creation process. Hard as it is to imagine now, during the middle part of 20th century, mass-produced foods had a certain allure. They were blessed by the glamour of modernity. Most of that glamour had rubbed off by the end of the century, but mass-produced foods still retained a tiny touch of mystique. By stepping inside industrial farming, showing his readers how the metaphorical sausage is made, Pollan helps eliminate that last little bit of glamour.

At the same time, if you want to change the world (or, in this case, change how Americans shop), it's not enough to simply gross people out at the sight of plastic-wrapped ground beef. For one thing, that beef is less expensive than buying from a small, organic farmer. For another, it's how Americans have shopped for several generations now. We're used to it. If we're going to change, we need a good reason to stop doing what we're doing and a good reason to start doing something else.

Pollan recognizes this. He knows that Americans need not just good food to buy, but a good story behind that food. To get the good story, the people growing the food need to be passionate - and glamorous - themselves. In a 2006 interview with Powell's Books, he said:

You need more people on the land to do it well, so we have to make farming a more glamorous profession. That's one of the great things Alice Waters has done. She's taken that light of glamour and shown it on farmers by highlighting their menus and putting the ingredients in the forefront of her presentation.

Culture has devalued farming for a hundred years. Go back to Jefferson and nothing was more glamorous—not that glamour was the kind of word he would have used, but glamour is very important in a culture. To the extent that we value farming, more people will want to do it and we'll begin to repopulate the countryside. That will be a very positive step.

Pollan said that four years ago. In the time since, sustainable farming has continued to gain supporters and cache. However, it's still outside the mainstream and it's still expensive.

If you'd like to win a copy of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, please leave a comment below. You can say anything to enter, but we'd especially like to hear about what role glamour plays for you when you're thinking about food. We'll choose one commenter at random to win the book, which will be sent directly from Penguin. The deadline to enter is midnight Pacific Time, Thursday, August 5.

Learning How To Entertain: Then And Now

Cover When my mother-in-law was a newlywed in the early ’70s, she went to some pains to learn how to entertain and how to cook. In 1971, she subscribed to a weekly publication called the Grand Diplôme Cooking Course, which promised that “week by week” she would “learn to cook the International Cordon Bleu way.”

A couple of weeks ago, she was going through some old things and found her old collection of Grand Diplômes, which she passed on to me—not to teach me how to cook, but because she knew I’d think they were cool artifacts of an earlier era of food and entertaining.

They are coo—and they also feel completely foreign to me. The food sounds old-fashioned, which is in part a language issue (yesterday’s aspic is really just today’s gelee) and in part a function of modern cooking’s emphasis on fresh ingredients and lots of herbs and spices for flavor.


The photos of the food, too, are obviously from another era. Head-on shots of carefully arranged, spot-lit food against a plain black background look positively archaiac next to today’s magazines, which are all about the “food porn” look—messy, colorful, half-eaten, and surrounded by tableware (MediaBistro’s farewell look at 10 Gourmet covers tells that story, too).

But that’s just the food. The Grand Diplôme series isn’t only a cookery publication. It’s also about entertaining gracefully and this is where its age really shows. In issue 14, the Grand Diplôme instructors serve up a two-page article called, “Set a Perfect Table.” The feature includes a handful of tips on aesthetics (“change the centerpiece occasionally to vary the routine—use a handsome bowl of polished vegetables; a small potted plant or fern in a brass container; a crystal bowl filled with grapes of several varieties”) but the majority of it is dedicated to explaining, with exact measurements, where plates, silver, and glasses should be placed on the table.

Plus, though the magazine includes numerous color photos of carefully arranged food, the table setting article is illustrated only with a couple of casual drawings:

Grand diplome table setting

The day I brought the Grand Diplôme collection home, I also received an email about a new publication called Nesting Newbies. Its purpose is also to help young people learn how to cook and entertain and every issue includes a feature  on table-setting (they call it “tablescaping,” of course - a word that I hate but secretly find useful.) The magazine’s second issue’s article is all about mixing vintage china and silver with modern pieces to create pretty tables. It’s illustrated with tons of color photos and rounded out with shopping suggestions—and there’s nary a mention of exactly how far the water goblet should sit from the knife (one inch, if you’re wondering).


What I don’t know is whether the change in literature actually reflects a change in how we entertain. When my mother-in-law tells stories about her first dinner parties, they sound raucous, hilarious, and not at all stiff. She’s never mentioned spending hours carefully placing silverware just so, but maybe she did.

When I have people over, I know I do think about the “tablescape,” even if I hate to say so out loud. Are the actual parties any different? Probably not, but I just don’t know.

Champagne: Bottles Only, Please

Paris rich prosecco Q: Is champagne still glamorous when you drink it out of a can?

I’ve asked myself this question a number of times over the past couple of years. I was first made aware of the champagne-in-a-can movement thanks to Paris Hilton’s decision to promote the modestly named Rich Prosecco by painting herself gold, Goldfinger-style. Shockingly, her endorsement didn’t send me to the store to stock up for my next celebratory fine dining occasion.

But when my local wine store started carrying Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia Blanc de Blancs in packs of four pink cans, each with their own little straw attached, I was intrigued. I was already familiar with Coppola wines, which meet my basic wine-drinking criteria (pretty good and pretty cheap). Plus, I am just girly enough to find it hard to resist anything that comes wrapped in shocking pink. So I bought some.  Sofia blanc de blancs

And I liked it. Or, rather, I liked the wine once I poured it into a glass. But even with the little extendable straw, I couldn’t bring myself to drink it out of the can. There’s nothing glamorous about a grown woman pretending to be a little girl pretending to be a grown woman – and that’s what I felt like. A six-year old playing dress up, pretending my ginger ale was the other kind of bubbly. When the little girl does it, it’s glamorous. When the woman does it, it’s kind of pathetic.

So the answer to my question is, well, no. Champagne is not still glamorous when drunk out of a can. Which doesn’t mean I don’t still buy the cans – I like the wine and the cans are actually the perfect size for two people to split when they want to make one quick toast. But please, spare me the straws.

[Paris Hilton photo from the So Good food blog. Sofia blanc de blancs product photo from Real Simple.]