Mad Cap Heiress For The Ages: Millicent Rogers

Guest4 1-1 While Paris Hilton is telling the world personal details that no one wants to hear,  the astute can take comfort in knowing that she'strying to follow in the footsteps of  that standard of Depression-era stories: The Mad-cap Heiress.  Hilton's a tich too calculated to be truly mad, when set beside the most glamorously wacky heiress of the 1930s, Millicent Rogers.

Rogers was the granddaughter of H.H. Rogers, Standard Oil investor and robber baron. (The H.H. was said to stand  for Hell-hound, and he was my husband's great-great grandfather.)   Milicent was brought up in Southampton, Long Island  and at  20, married Count Ludwig Salm-von Hoogstraetn, moved to Austria, where she took up skiing and dirndls, moved back to the US, got divorced and after two more husbands, settled down in Taos, New Mexico, to collect and design jewelry.

Her father was afraid of fortune hunters, so she was kept on a fairly tight leash, but she managed all the same. She made her debut in a Mandarin robe and a head dress from Chinatown.  Rather than drive herself, she kept a Yellow Cab and cabbie waiting for her at all times. Her angular beauty was enhanced by gowns by Charles James and Valentina. (The Brooklyn Museum collection had her James gowns, and that collection is going to the Met.)

Ever the amoureuse, she had affairs with Clark Gable, a rather young Roald Dahl, and host of others, but gave it all up for the simple life in Taos. She died very young, barely in her 50s, and is still an inspiration for true connoisseurs of glamour.


Glittering Glamour

In Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore, for instance, historian Brettany Hughes puts the legendary descriptions of "radiant" Helen in real-world context:

The Mycenaeans’ was a magpie culture. Great sea journeys would be undertaken to bring the finest raw materials and manufactured goods back to the Greek mainland. The more successful a clan-leader was, the more his palace would have glittered—storerooms and tombs would have been stacked with relucent treasure. Cult images were dressed in cloth that had been impregnated with olive oil to give the material a distinctive sheen; privileged mortals too would have worn clothes treated in this way. Those of the highest rank are—for the first time—literally, illustrious. Perhaps this is what the bards meant when they recalled that Helen was ‘radiant’, ‘fair’, ‘shimmering’, ‘golden’....

The ruling classes of the Myacenaeans had access to precious raw materials from across the Eastern Mediterranean—of a calibre and variety never before imagined. And so in marked contrast to the rest of the population, the high-born made sure they gleamed, perpetually, with an artificial lustre. A girl like Helen, sparkling and glinting as she would have done, would have had it reinforced day in and day out, from a very early age, how important, valuable and desirable she was.

Similarly, "Light was both coveted and inspiring in the high Middle Ages," writes Sarah-Grace Heller in an article on Roman de la Rose titled "Light as Glamour." (My thanks to Manolo commenter Nicola Masciandaro for the reference.) Heller argues that luminescence is a central quality of  fashion and allure in medieval literature.

The thirteenth-century French vernacular vocabulary included an even broader collection of descriptive terms conveying light-producing and reflecting properties: clere, luisant, polis, blanc, sors, not to mention a constantly varying repertoire of similes to snow, metals, gems, and so on….examples of light imagery and terminology in vernacular literature, from the light reflecting off armor in battle to the gleaming blond tresses and bright complexion of the lady in cansos and romances.

In the Middle Ages, Heller reminds us, "Light was a tangible experience, something that could be purchased by individuals rather than something provided without cessation by anonymous public power companies." As I've noted previously, many glittering objects that seem gaudy under today's electric lights were more mysterious--and, hence, glamorous--in the half light for which they were designed, and in which they represented rare and precious illumination. Nowadays, we create glamour by dimming the lights to add mystery and heighten the specialness of the scene. Once, though, light itself was a special effect. (And even today shiny accessories, though apparently not the Marc Jacobs bag, are generally reserved for evening.)

Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a psychologically astute work that has much to say about glamour (without using the term*), refers to "the most glittering and exalted situation that our idle fancy can hold out to us"--a phrase that suggests the illusory glimmer of a mirage. We are drawn to the light of glittering objects, but they flicker and change. What is real, and what is an illusion?

Unmistakable glamour indeed.

[*Glamour wasn't an English word at the time and meant a literal magic spell in Smith's native Scots.]

DG Q&A: Manolo The Shoeblogger

Manolo2Manolo the Shoeblogger answers our "wickedly hard set of questions." As his answers suggest, The Manolo (who is not Maestro Manolo Blahnik) is not just a very funny shoe lover and blogging tycoon but an erudite intellectual whose style comes with loads of substance--something that should surprise no one familiar with his little book, The Consolation of the Shoes, which is modeled on the medieval classic The Consolation of Philosophy (but much more fun).

DG: What makes shoes glamorous?

Manolo: Who wears them. Manolo Blahniks and Christian Louboutins are glamorous because they are worn by glamorous peoples. Aside from this, however, they are also exceedingly beautiful and costly objects, to be desired in their own right, and one would wish to own and wear them even if they were not on the feets of the famous.

DG: Glamour requires mystery, something you know a lot about. Short of creating an anonymous persona, what do you advise people who want to maintain some mystery and glamour?

Manolo: The Manolo is convinced that it is almost impossible to make yourself glamorous, especially since you have no way of judging if you've succeeded short of being feted by the President at the Kennedy Center. After all, if you wake up one morning and say to your self, "Huzzah, I have achieved glamorousness!" you may be certain that you have not, and that are you are surely and unattractively self-deluded.

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If you feel the need to talk, as the Manolo frequently does, keep your conversations glittering and light and witty. Avoid telling everyone about your difficult childhood, your terrible divorce, or the details of your recent colonoscopy.

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However, it is always and forever the good idea to surround yourself with the little bit of mystery, and the easiest way to do this is by shutting your mouth. Strong silent men and mysterious women who say little will always be objects of desire and admiration. It is not necessary in ordinary conversation to reveal every detail of your life, so do not. If you feel the need to talk, as the Manolo frequently does, keep your conversations glittering and light and witty. Avoid telling everyone about your difficult childhood, your terrible divorce, or the details of your recent colonoscopy.

As for the glamour part, nothing we mortals can do will ever get us closer to glamorous than putting on formal wear for the evening-time event. If, like the Manolo, you are not possessed of physical beauty and great wealth or fame, dressing up in the tuxedo and going out for the fancy dinner and dance is perhaps the best simulacrum of glamour that can be achieved.

Otherwise, you should dress stylishly, wear excellent shoes, be confident and cheery, and treat others with courtesy and kindness. That may not be glamorous, but it is the Manolo's definition of super fantastic.

DG: What books would you recommend for understanding glamour?

Manolo:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

The Story of My Life by Giocomo Cassanova

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly

Garbo by Barry Paris

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen

The DG Dozen

1) How do you define glamour?

Glamour is the peculiar and elusive characteristic that combines, in unspecified and unspecifiable proportions, the qualities of charisma, style, beauty, desirability, confidence, rarity, and mysteriousness. In fact, it is almost impossible to fully define what makes something glamorous. As with the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity, we have trouble defining glamour, but know it when we see it.

Having said that, the Manolo further avers that of all the previously mentioned characteristics, the most important are beauty and mysteriousness.

That which can be held closely and examined intimately loses its glamour, which is why the most glamorous of persons (Jackie O, Greta Garbo, Lord Byron, Galla Placidia, Cleopatra, Sappho) have always had something wonderfully opaque about them. Their motives are not well known, perhaps even to themselves, and thus it is this mysteriousness that in large part makes them glamorous. Likewise without beauty, such mysteriousness does not fully compel us.

By this definition, to be glamorous is to be extraordinary, perhaps even uncanny, unheimlich, if you will; the exact opposite of ordinary. What makes someone glamorous cannot be fully and clearly comprehended.

This, of the course, naturally raises the important question, can inanimate objects can be "glamorous" in and of themselves. Or is it perhaps true that only people can be glamorous?

The Manolo is of two minds on this topic. On the one of the hands, objects can be indisputably and often indescribably beautiful. And, as we know, beautiful objects clearly have the ability to evoke powerful emotions, of lust, love, desire, envy; indeed, they can even inspire some to commit great crimes, or others to great acts of charity.

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Mysteriousness does not apply to something as comprehensible as the Aston Martin automobile; it is the work of mechanics and men, of designers and engineers. There is little of that necessary glamorous mystery about it.

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The Manolo believes that what we consider to be the glamorous object is only is only glamorous by reflection, because of the person or persons who are closely associated with the specific things.

For the example, our Aston Martin automobile is glamorous because it is associated with James Bond and rich English playboys, not because it is inherently glamorous in itself. The Aston Martin is beautiful, costly, well made, rare, and extremely desirable, and yet it was not fully glamorous until it was adopted as the symbol of the particular and desirable mode of life. Without Ian Fleming, the Aston Martin would simply be one more marque of luxury automobile.

Thus glamorous objects are glamorous by association, and are not inherently glamorous. And here, in the matter of objects of desire, the Manolo nods in the direction of Thorstein Veblen, even as the Manolo denies that personal glamour can be explained by reference to theories of class. (The glamour of the glamorous person is too individually unique to be explained by such methods.)

And so, to come back in the circular fashion to the Manolo's original point, glamour is intensely difficult to define. It is elusive and will-o-the-wisp, but beauty and mystery are its chief components.

Pericles_Pio-Clementino_Inv269_n2 2) Who or what is your glamorous icon?

Pericles.

3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?

It is neither. True glamour is like the shooting star, it is unpredictable and transitory, it cannot be willed into existence, and can be destroyed far too easily to be relied upon. You cannot buy glamour, you can only buy objects that reflect the glamour of others. Glamour is created within the individual person, and is not the style to be worn like the suit of fashionable clothes, but rather something inherent.

4) Favorite glamorous movie?

Napoléon by Abel Gance.

5) What was your most glamorous moment?

The Manolo knows himself too well to have had the glamorous moment.

6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?

Ray Ban aviator style sunglasses. Because they are the rare example of the object this is very common, relatively inexpensive, and yet indisputably glamorous. If objects reflect the glamour of those who wear them, then Ray Bans reflect the glamour of heroic fighter pilots, who like bullfighters, astronauts, and football quarterbacks, have the sizable portion of glamour baked right into their jobs. Also, sunglasses are inherently glamorous accessories because they conceal.

7) Most glamorous place?

Can the place be glamorous? Yes, but only until you visit it, and then your illusions of glamour are dispelled by the mundane things of the everyday world that you cannot help but notice, like traffic jams, and garbage collection, and sewers that back up when it rains too much. Thus Venice is glamorous, until the breeze off the Adriatic brings in the smell of rotting fish and raw sewage, at which point it is like Hoboken with better architecture.

And so, the Manolo would have to say, that for him, the current most glamorous place in the world is Saint Petersburg, but only because he has never been there.

As the footnote, the Manolo must explain that romantic and glamorous are not the same. The place like Venice, which sometimes smells of rotting fish, or Paris, where the traffic is sometimes horrific, are still terribly romantic, while Hoboken will never be romantic, even if it were to smell constantly of roses and freshly roasted coffee.

Bull_fighter

8) Most glamorous job?

Bullfighter, indisputably.

9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't

Madonna, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannsen, Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl, and 99.97% of the people who are commonly considered glamorous, to include almost anyone seen in the most recent issues of Us and People magazines. Also, by definition, any person who appears in the regular network television series cannot be glamorous.

10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized

George Washington. Tall, handsome, wealthy, mysterious, and possessed of real charisma. This is the test of true glamour: If your countrymen wish to make you king, you are probably glamorous. If you then refuse to be made king, you are indisputably glamorous.

George Washington 1782 painting 11) Can glamour survive?

Individual glamour never survives intimate contact (hence Marilyn Monroe's many divorces), and very rarely can it survive the ravages of old age (Garbo and Jackie O. are perhaps the only counter examples) which is why dying young is the surest way of maintaining one's glamour indefinitely.

As for the larger question, can glamour survive the ravages of our paparazzi-and-Perez-Hilton-ridden, Age of Full Disclosure? The Manolo does not know. Glamour depends upon mystery, which is becoming harder and harder to maintain in our time.

12) Is glamour something you're born with?

The uncanny nature of glamour, the mysteriousness of its genesis, and its persistent elusiveness tempts the Manolo to say yes, and yet, real glamour can only be expressed in the full bloom of adulthood. Can you train yourself to glamour? The Manolo supposes anything is possible, although it seems to happen far more by accident than planning.

EITHER/OR

1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?

Peoplenoglam

Cate Blanchett. Until the few weeks ago, it would have been Angeline Jolie. But then the People Magazine published the pictures of her in the matronly cotton nighty. Matronly nighties are like kryptonite to glamour.

2) Paris or Venice?

Neither. The Manolo has been to both places.

3) New York or Los Angeles?

Neither. The Manolo has lived in both places.

4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace?

Princess Grace. Without the single tiny second of hesitation.

5) Tokyo or Kyoto?

Kyoto. But, then the Manolo has been to neither place.

6) Boots or stilettos?

Boots. There is more mystery and fable in the good pair of boots than in all the stiletto-heeled sandals combined.

Kiss 7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau. The 1890s are far more glamorous than the mundane 1930s.

8) Jaguar or Astin Martin?

Aston Martin

9) Armani or Versace?

Versace.

10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?

Diana Vreeland. Please this one is fish in the barrel.

11) Champagne or single malt?

Champagne.

12) 1960s or 1980s?

1960s, but only because of the first three years, which rightly should be grouped with the 1950s. Likewise, 1980s glamour is confined mostly to the person of Ronald Reagan alone. All else, including Nancy, is not especially glamorous.

13) Diamonds or pearls?

Diamonds.

14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell?

Models are rarely glamorous. Only those like Charlize Theron who become actresses have achieved true glamour.

15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?

Sean Connery, then. Daniel Craig, now.

What's Outside Your Window?

Each ad offers multi-layered glamour. Glimpsing only their partial profiles, we project ourselves into the role of the young condo dwellers. They invite us to imagine sharing their new life, being them or being with them. And they in turn contemplate the scene beyond their windows and feel its transformative glamour—the promise of a skyline's mysteriously glistening windows or a river's passage toward unknown destinations. Although the two ads are almost identical in composition, they are in fact selling two different ideals. The Metropolitan promises "the future of the city," a bustling alternative to the suburban life typical of Dallas. Rector Square, by contrast, offers tranquility, an escape from the noise, garbage cans, and graffiti of other Manhattan neighborhoods. "What’s outside your window?" the ad asks, and the project's website depicts the unappealing alternatives. As aesthetically formulaic as these two ads appear, they work by evoking the different yearnings of different audiences. Glamour's real power comes not from the formal composition but from the responsive audience’s imagination.

[As always, click the photos to see larger versions. Thanks to Laura Thomas at SHVO for obtaining a copy of the Rector Square ad and to its creators at Agency Saks for permission to reproduce it, here and in the book. And thanks to my friends at D Magazine for finding a Metropolitan ad in their files and to Keith Walker at DTZ Rockwood for reprint permission.]

Why Deep Glamour?

Glamour is...not a matter of style but of psychology. It is not a physical property but an imaginative quality that creates a specific, emotional response: a mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It is this emotional experience, this pang-filled pleasure, that we hope to recapture once "glamour is back."

Like humor, glamour is universal, but its manifestations vary from person to person, culture to culture, and era to era. To equate jewel tones or mirrored furniture with glamour is like treating a pratfall or a Monty Python routine as the definition of humor. Calling a particular style "glamour" is, at best, a form of synecdoche. "There are as many definitions of glamour as there are people who aspire to attain it, and each age brings its own spin on glamorous lifestyles, clothing, and settings," writes Phyllis Magidson of the Museum of the City of New York, introducing an exhibition on New York glamour. Specific objects, lifestyles, or aesthetic elements become glamorous only when beheld by the right audience, for whom, say, skyscrapers or goddess gowns represent a yearned-for way of life. Some people find glamour in Zen-like restraint, others in baroque excess. Some glamorize a whirl of parties, others the solitude of a mountain retreat.

Just as different eras produce different forms of humor, what audiences find glamorous changes over time. The decline of one kind of glamour, whether of nineteenth-century Parisian grandes dames or of the mid-century Rat Pack, often presages the rise of another kind, representing different values or aspirations: the glamour of bohemian cafés or of rock stars. A geisha's glamour meant one thing in the nineteenth century, when geisha were chic style setters, and another after the 1920s, when they became custodians of tradition. The themes that unify the many forms of glamour are not formal elements but imaginative qualities--grace, mystery, and the promise of escape and transformation.