The American hotel is not just a place to stay but a revolutionary institution, embodying hospitality as a liberal value and delivering once-elite services in a mass, democratic form. So argues historian Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz in Hotel: An American History. With its combination business, legal, and social history, the book offers a new way of seeing an industry we think we know.
Writing in the NYT Book Review Dominique Browning called the book “dense, ambitious and valuable,” concluding, “I will never again check into a hotel without thinking of myself as an ambassador of peace; that alone, with its profound implications, makes this thoughtful book worthwhile.” (It also gave her “an entirely new take on spoiled, bratty, neglected, charming Eloise, living at the Plaza.”) “This brilliant history,” wrote Kerry Howley in Reason, “is a reminder that the fear of the traveling stranger is something we have overcome before.”
An assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, Andrew is currently editing a special issue of Winterthur Portfolio on the subject of business architecture. We're delighted he was willing to contribute to Hotel Week.
DG: How did you get interested in hotels?
Andrew Sandoval-Strausz: It happened rather by chance. In the spring of 1996 I was in my second year of graduate school, and looking for a dissertation topic. While attending a historians’ conference, I spent some time in the beautiful second-floor lobby at the Palmer House in Chicago. As I watched the people come and go, I began to think about interactions among total strangers and how fraught they could be with delight, temptation, and danger—especially at a place with lots of alcohol and lots of beds. What if I were to write a history of hotels, with all their attendant elegance, naughtiness, and political intrigue? “Now, that,” I thought, “would be a guaranteed non-boring Ph.D. thesis!”
Palmer House lobby
DG: You write, “It is extremely easy for people to say one thing and do another....But when they construct a building—especially a large and complex one like a hotel—it is harder to argue that they didn’t really mean it.” What were the people who built America’s hotels saying?
Sandoval-Strausz: They were extending a welcome to strangers and outsiders in a way that hadn’t been done in America for almost 200 years. From the beginnings of European settlement in the early 1600s until the first hotels in the 1790s, Americans offered travelers only the most rudimentary of accommodations. European wayfarers who wrote about hospitality here were constantly complaining about bad food, overcharging, filth, vermin, and having to share beds with complete strangers. Moreover, many American communities had laws allowing them to inspect, interrogate, and eject anyone who was in a town other than their home community. But when people in the early United States started devoting enormous amounts of money, creativity, labor, and building materials to building a new class of public accommodations, it was an unmistakable sign that they had changed their views of outsiders, deciding to welcome them in style instead of viewing them with suspicion.
DG: You note that in the 19th-century guests spent very little time in their hotel rooms and that travel writers and journalists focused almost all their attention on the public areas of hotels. Why?
Sandoval-Strausz: Leading hotels at that time weren’t just about paying for a bed and a bath—they were places people went to see and be seen, to enjoy the pleasure of being in public. The entire approach to being a hotel guest was fundamentally sociable, so who would want to stay cooped up in their room? Hotel rooms were very small and plain then; it was the public areas—the lobby, dining rooms, lounges, bars, and the like—that hotelkeepers worked hardest to make beautiful.
DG: How was the role of a 19th-century hotel lobby different from the role of such a lobby today?
Sandoval-Strausz: In some respects I think today’s hotel lobbies are moving back toward the role they played a century and a half ago. After the past few decades, during which lobbies were becoming sparse, sterile spaces that were no more than waiting areas for people who wanted to go upstairs, hoteliers have again begun to see them as important gathering-places for their neighborhoods. In the nineteenth century, the lobby was the most exciting space in the entire building. Hotelkeepers spent enormous amounts of money on carpets, furniture, draperies, and other elements of décor so that they could attract people to their premises. Indeed, hotel lobbies were such important social and business centers that the majority of people in them weren’t travelers at all, but locals who simply wanted to meet friends or do business in the most vital and glamorous place in town.
DG: Today’s hotel guests tend to be baffled by the idea that an “American plan” means meals are included. What is the origin of this term? What was the appeal of the 19th-century hotel dining room?
Sandoval-Strausz: This term originated at a time when European travelers expected to take their meals privately, in their rooms. Americans thought this was impardonably rude: in a country based on the idea that “all men are created equal,” it was seen as snobbish and antisocial to want to keep your distance from others. The “American plan,” in which your room charge automatically included meals eaten in a common dining room, expressed the idea that it was proper to eat at long tables alongside your fellow citizens. For Americans, this was both a way of expressing their ideals about equality and democracy and an opportunity to put on a nice change of clothes and enjoy a banquet-like experience in a grand dining hall.
Stereoscopic view of Lick House dining room, San Francisco
DG: Luxury hotels play a prominent role in the movies of the 1930s and ’40s, with wealthy characters often living in hotels for long periods of time (sometimes permanently). How common were such living arrangements? What was the appeal of living in a hotel rather than in an apartment or house?
Sandoval-Strausz: They were very common, and not just in the 1930s and 1940s. More than a hundred years before, people recognized that living in a hotel was very convenient because so much of the everyday drudgery of living would be handled by the hotel staff. If you had the resources, you didn’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or laundry because hotel chefs, chambermaids, and washerwomen would do the work. Hotel living allowed single people and families to enjoy services and amenities that were usually only available to those with private servants.
DG: In the mid-19th century, critics decried the rise of hotel living for corroding family life while reformers saw hotels as a model for efficient domesticity, with shared cooking, laundry, and other services. Why did hotel living die out in the 20th century?
Sandoval-Strausz: This was in substantial part the result of housing policies that began in the 1930s and the prosperity of the 1950s and after. Under Franklin Roosevelt, the federal government brought mortgage rates down much lower than they’d ever been; and in the post-World War II period, the U.S. became the most prosperous nation that had ever existed. The combination of the two led to many people being able to afford the kind of freestanding, single-family house that was idealized for so many years in Anglo-American culture.
DG: Do hotels today represent an extension of ordinary domestic life or an escape from it? Has that changed over time?
Sandoval-Strausz: These days it’s definitely an escape, if the way they are advertised is anything to go by. Over the past ten or fifteen years, hotel companies have been emphasizing the specialness and glamour of staying at a hotel. For travelers, it’s the promise of something exotic, or historic, or especially hip—but in all cases different from your workaday routine. They’re also advertising in-town escapes, as when they try to draw married couples in for sexy weekends away from the kids and household responsibilities. This has indeed changed over time. In some eras, hotelkeepers tried to emphasize that hotels offered all the comforts of home: they gave guests personalized attention, tried to make the entire hotel seem like an extended family, and so on—indeed, hoteliers in the nineteenth century would often stand at the head table in their dining room and cut the roast for the guests, thus taking on the symbolic role of the head of a regular household. In other eras, they emphasized the predictability and machine-like efficiency of their operations, featuring anything from a large-capacity steam-driven laundry machine to a modern electric elevator to a corps of dining room waiters who served with military precision.
DG: What makes a hotel glamorous?
Sandoval-Strausz: It could be any of a few things. Many historic hotels are glamorous because of their incredible architecture: some of the most elegant hotels in the country—the Plaza, the Fairmont, the Blackstone—were built about a century ago, at a time when hotel builders spared no expense on elaborate ornamentation and décor. Some recent establishments, like the leading W Hotels locations, offer up-to-the-minute style and the latest in architecture and materials, using a modern minimalist visual vocabulary to dazzle and intrigue. And still others, like La Fonda in Santa Fe or the Peabody in Memphis, simply express the local culture perfectly, expressing confidence in their vernacular heritage and charm.
DG: Do you have a favorite hotel or hotel experience?
Sandoval-Strausz: This takes me back to the initial inspiration for my book. I like just sitting and having a drink in an elegant hotel bar or hotel lobby, watching what people do. They may smile or they may complain, they may look exhausted at the end of a long flight or exhilarated at the prospect of a night on the town, they may be giving a hug to old friends or flirting with someone cute whom they’ve just met. But they’re always up to something interesting, because if they wanted to be boring, they’d have just stayed at home.
To see a Slate slide show of hotel photos, with text by Andrew Sandoval-Strausz, go here.
When Marie Claire magazine challenged Karen Robinovitz and her friend Melissa de la Cruz to make themselves famous—defined as having their photos and bold-faced names in the gossip columns—in just two weeks, the assignment led to a book which in turn led Robinovitz to a career-shaping revelation: She knew and cared more about marketing than her publisher. A lot more. She was, in fact, “a marketing person,” born to come up with clever ways of attracting attention, not only to herself but to all sorts of paying clients.
Nowadays, her favorite brand isn't a corporate client but her own company Purple Lab and its line of stylish lip glosses, Huge Lips Skinny Hips (available online here). On her PurpleBlab blog, Karen chronicles the not-always-glamorous process of taking her venture from idea to reality, promising to “dish all the dirty secrets I learn from labs and manufacturers and what we go through to line up distribution, financing, PR, events, etc.” She kindly agreed to dish a bit with DG.
Read to the end of the interview to learn how to win a sample of Purple Lab's Worship Kate lip gloss.
DG: In blogging about your company and in How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less, you’ve taken some of the mystery out of things readers find glamorous, whether that’s starting a beauty-product company or getting your name in boldface type in the gossip columns. Do you think readers find the things you write about less glamorous after reading your behind-the-scenes depictions? Do you yourself find them less glamorous, or perhaps glamorous in a different way?
KR: I don’t really know if readers find that the true behind-the-scenes moments kill the glamour factor. I think that all of the things that seem glamorous are not ever as glamorous in reality — models always say how their lives are trying and hard and yet, they seem so full of fantasy. I am just sharing my own experience, which is sometimes glamorous and sometimes just the opposite, and I can only hope that people find a bit of themselves, something to relate to or an inside look at something they want to know more about, in my experiences.
I am anti-velvet rope so for me, the blog about the making of Purple Lab is about breaking that rope down and giving, in a sense, a blueprint of starting a business. I would hope that someone can find it useful and know the pitfalls I fell into so that they don’t.
DG: In How to Become Famous, you and Melissa write, “We have been obsessed with fame and those who are famous for as long as we can remember. We longed for attention — glamorous dresses, standing ovations, and a reason to thank the Academy.” Why do you think people (including you) long to be famous? Are those dresses glamorous by themselves, or is it the fame and attention that makes them glamorous? Has your fame lived up to your dreams?
KR: I would never say I am even remotely famous. But I can’t lie and say I don’t like a little attention! But the reason I think that fame is so addictive for everyone — and the millions of celebrity blogs and magazines are a testament to that — is because it represents fantasy, escape, the ability to have whatever you want, go wherever you want, buy whatever you want, go to the most exclusive events, and connect with amazingly talented people. Plus, there are the perks that come with fame — swag, travel, private jets! I would not say that now, as someone in her “early late thirties” I crave the same things I did when I was younger — i.e., that kind of fame. But I do still crave the fabulous dresses.
DG: Since discovering your calling as a marketing person, what have you learned about business that surprised you?
KR: I could go on and on about this. Really, the back end of the business and how much is involved was a huge surprise for me... what it takes to manufacture, ordering minimums, branding packaging, deadlines, working a year in advance to launch a product (and that is considered a tight deadline!), what goes into shipping and not just sell in with retailers — but sell through. There are so many aspects to it that it is often overwhelming, but I welcome the challenge and am excited to see where it all takes me.
DG: You write that your lip gloss/plumper, Huge Lips Skinny Hips, which contains the appetite suppressant Hoodia, is “NOT about being skinny.” What is it about?
KR: I think we all — as women — think about our hips (and our lips!). Skinny for one woman may not be skinny for another, but regardless of size, we all want to wear our “skinny jeans,” be they a size 2 or a size 20. So the name is cheeky and playful but not intended to be taken so seriously as far as a directive for women to be skinny. There is a color in the collection called “Love Your Thighs,” which is my hope for all women — we need to embrace ourselves and stop being hard on ourselves.
The fact that the gloss contains an ingredient that has been known for centuries for its appetite suppressing qualities does not mean I am suggesting that women don’t eat. The point is that this is to act as your intention setter, perhaps something that helps keep you conscious and mindful of what and how you eat. At the end of the day, it’s not good for anyone to be double fisting cupcakes when they’re full! And if this gloss is something that enables someone to feel like she has some support at a cocktail party or a trip to the bakery, that’s the point. Plus, it’s a deliciously amazing gloss that is light, moisturizing, and yummy.
DG: You spent a lot of time and money on the packaging of your products, both the “components” that actually hold the gloss and the boxes that it comes in. Why did you decide to spend a few dollars on a box when most beauty products spend 50 cents or less?
KR: I am driven and inspired by design and for me, it’s a very important aspect of Purple Lab. The products themselves have to look and feel good and every touch point of every aspect of it should too. I would rather make less money and deliver a fantastic product that women will love the look of, love the feel of and have fun buying. The price of the box will eventually drop as we order it in larger quantities — right now, we’re ordering at the minimums because we’re a small brand. As you order more, the price goes down. Besides, I wanted this to be fresh, different, and sexy. That’s worth the extra money for me — and I would rather pay for it than the buyer.
DG: I almost never wear lip gloss, as opposed to lipstick, because I don’t like the sweet flavors it comes in. Why does lip gloss always have a flavor? Why can’t I buy flavorless lip gloss?
KR: Every product is not meant for every woman. We all have different tastes. I happen to like a sweet tasting and smelling gloss. We may go into a product with no scent or flavor at some point and hearing that definitely inspires me to create that, because glosses don’t HAVE to have a flavor.
KR: That is like asking a mother which child she likes better! It’s impossible to answer because I’m so emotionally attached to all of them. They are my babies and the names of each shade are tributes to what inspires me everyday.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour?
It can be understated or in your face and it is impossible to make one clear definition because ultimately, glamour is in the eye of the beholder. You can feel glamorous which is really about evoking confidence, positive energy, and eye-popping style. You can buy something glamorous — be it a crystal chandelier or a pair of python shoes — that takes your breath away. You can wear a dress that adds instant glamour to your life.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon?
I have so many — Kate Moss for the effortlessly chic way she wears clothes, Jane Birkin for her relaxed studied casual beauty, Bianca Jagger for her va-va-va-voom 70s appeal in YSL and Halston, Carine Roitfeld of French Vogue for her hard femininity and extreme shoe choices, Warholian icons like Edie Sedgwick and Baby Jane. There are plenty more!
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?
Glamour is a state of mind and I don’t believe it should be a luxury — I think every woman should have her glamour moments whether she has a red carpet life or not.
My wedding. Not only was it the happiest moment I can imagine, but it was full of love, joy, excitement, wonderful family and great friends, but perfect makeup and the most beautiful custom Zac Posen creamy silk gown, trimmed in hand-dyed pompoms and a hint of curly ostrich feathers!
Amanpuri in Phuket — beautiful, peaceful, remote and where I honeymooned so it’s full of romantic memories
8) Most glamorous job?
Any job that inspires. For me, it’s being able to create a beauty brand inspired by everything I’m passionate about. I am truly appreciative of the path I’m on, no matter how hard and overwhelming it is - and it is!
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don’t?
Wearing too many diamonds at once.
10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized?
I’m stumped right now!
11) Can glamour survive?
Absolutely. It doesn’t need to be expensive to be glamorous. Some of my most glam moments are when I am home and realize I have nowhere to be, no deadline to meet and total freedom. That is my ultimate luxury and glamour moment. As long as women want to feel special, glamour will be there, waiting...
12) Is glamour something you’re born with?
Yes and no. You can be born with a glamour state of mind and tastes and lifestyle but you can create it for yourself as well. Glamour doesn’t have to have a price tag - it can be a cheap leopard print vintage hat.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Can I say both? They are opposite sides of the same coin and I appreciate each equally.
2) Paris or Venice? Paris
3) New York or Los Angeles? NY (actually, bi-coastal!)
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Di
5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Tokyo
6) Boots or stilettos? Stiletto boots!
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Deco (but only in doses)
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin! No question.
9) Armani or Versace? Versace
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Oh, that is a cruel question! They’re both two icons of glamour who have influenced fashion and design tremendously. I like quoting Diana more than Anna though.
11) Champagne or single malt? I don’t drink. If I had to say, champagne.
12) 1960s or 1980s? 60s
13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds!
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Kate, Kate, Kate!
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Sean
Karen has generously offered to give one lucky DG reader a tube of Huge Lips, Skinny Hips gloss in the appropriately glamorous Worship Kate tint, a rich pink with a warm mauve-ish hue and just a hint of glitter. For a chance to win, link to this interview or to the DG home page from your blog, Facebook page, or Twitter. Then post a comment below with the URL or your Facebook or Twitter name. The winner will be chosen on Friday, July 10, using Random.org.
After a childhood of ballet, tap, and jazz dance lessons, Juliet McMains was mesmerized the first time she attended a professional ballroom-dance exhibition. "There must have been a man in the partnership, but I only remember the woman," she writes in her 2006 book, Glamour Addiction: Inside the American Ballroom Dance Industry. "She was unbearably sexy and sophisticated, and I made up my mind right then and there to become the heroine I imagined her to be." McMains had discovered the glamour to which she soon became addicted, a "perpetual longing" for the perfection she glimpsed in that dance.
I suppose my initial fascination with ballroom dance sprang largely from the romance it portrayed, its impossible promise of happiness and acceptance, the assurance that every woman would be accessorized with an adoring male partner, the clothes that signified such elegance and classiness, the inflated importance of each motion of an arm or an eyebrow—in short, the Glamour of it all.
As a Harvard undergraduate, Juliet did, in fact, become a successful competitive dancer—not the typical Cambridge extracurricular activity. She eventually turned pro, teaching in studios in Boston, California, and Florida, and winning championships in the U.S. and Canada before retiring in 2003, the year she received her Ph.D. in dance history and theory from the University of California-Riverside. She now teaches at the University of Washington. As both a scholar and a participant, she agreed to share some of her insights into the allure of DanceSport, the world of competitive ballroom dancing.
JM: The show’s portrayal of personal transformation through hard work and perseverance in the face of physical and emotional adversity is pretty seductive. I don’t think the show would work without all the shots of contestants struggling, falling, and crying in rehearsal. Seeing celebrities, who are usually portrayed in some idealized state, at their most vulnerable is perhaps the most important aspect of the formula. I also think the wide variety of contestants ensures that viewers of any background can relate to someone. The balance of different ages, races, professions, body types, and social backgrounds is quite clever in this regard. I also think the wide range of contestants’ natural dance abilities is pretty important. Each season, there is at least someone who is so awkward that living room viewers can be assured that they could do better than him or her. So fans can relate not only to the contestants, but they can becomes judges themselves. And of course the glamorous costumes and bodies are essential.
I think it portrays ballroom dance with a touch of irony and less seriousness than the ballroom dance industry takes itself. I think this is a healthy thing. Ironically, because they take themselves less seriously, they have managed to make ballroom dancing much more important to the general American public than the ballroom industry has ever done. It’s not mastery over the “right way” to dance that makes dancing powerful. Its power is in its ability to transform people as they get in touch with their own bodies.
My big complaint about the show is the music they choose for the Latin dances. It’s almost never Latin music and completely unrelated to the genre of dance they’re supposedly portraying. Latin dances are defined by their relationship to a particular style of music, so to extract the steps from the music/dance complex and call these Latin dances is a gross misrepresentation of Latin dance.
DG: In your book, you write about how your partner in Florida designed and made some "amazing dresses" for you. But, you say, "It was never as much fun being in the dress as it was imagining being in the dress, touching it from afar." What did you picture from afar? What did the dresses represent in your imagination?
JM: To me, the dresses represented perfect mastery of the technique, a perfectly disciplined body. I’m sure there was some conflation of that perfect body with fulfillment of emotional needs. If my body had achieved perfect mastery over movement, any feelings of inadequacy would vanish, my desire would be fulfilled, and I would be blissfully happy. It seems so naïve, but I suspect we’re all susceptible to similar fantasies.
DG: You point out several times that DanceSport has no backstage. How does that affect how participants and observers perceive the performances? Can a dance ever seem truly graceful and ideal if you see the dancers "off stage" before and afterwards?
JM: But the catch is that the professional dancers are never “off stage.” They know that they must always perform their glamorous identity even when they are not dancing. This is why I think that DanceSport’s Glamour Machine is particularly pernicious. Professionals loose touch with any experience of themselves other than the Glamorous ideal they’ve learned to perform.
DG: You're both a scholar/analyst of dance and a teacher/participant. How do those roles conflict? How do they complement each other?
JM: They conflict in that I really couldn’t continue to participate as a competitor in the DanceSport system once I had come to these conclusions. As a teacher, it means that I also have a hard time encouraging my students to compete if I think it’s going to be unhealthy for them. But I still continue to teaching ballroom dancing, and I do think there are ways to participate in competitions that are healthier than what I’ve described in my book, so I do hope that my experience can help others find a different way to interact with the system.
DG: To an outsider, especially a pale outsider like me, one of the strangest conventions of dance competitions is the spray tan. What is that all about?
JM: Participants will tell you it’s just makeup to make pale skin look better under stage lights. But I think there are many other levels. Many Americans and Europeans have internalized the idea that tanned white skin is more beautiful than pale skin, which is linked to the fact that most people work now indoors and do not have the leisure time and money to sun themselves outside. But I think the racial dimension is more troubling. When I’ve written about this practice, I’ve called it “brownface,” comparing it to blackface minstrelsy. Both are theatrical traditions in which performers paint their skin darker to perform stereotyped caricatures of a racial or ethnic group that has less power than the performers themselves. White competitors are putting on brownface to compete in Latin dances where they perform stereotypes of oversexed, overemotional Latinos. The ballroom Latin dances are not actually dances that are practiced in Latin America, but are American and European reinterpretations of them. So it’s not just the tan I’m worried about, but this history of appropriation and perpetuation of harmful stereotypes that it’s tied up in.
DG: You write that "The power of Glamour," by which you mean the "Glamour system" of DanceSport, "is located in its ability to suspend consumers in a state of perpetual longing, intensifying their desire by dangling symbols of its fulfillment within sight while simultaneously preventing its ultimate satisfaction." What are people longing for? What are those symbols?
JM: I think what people are really after are basic human emotional needs like love, recognition, validation, acceptance, and companionship. Almost any commodity can be associated with one of those needs so that students believe if they buy a dress or more dance lessons or a competition or the right dance shoes those needs will be fulfilled. It’s the basic premise of advertising, really. I just think it’s intensified by the DanceSport system. One of my students told me that she’s learned this same principle in her marketing classes. “Imagine how much more successful your marketing campaign could be if you spent hours in the arms of your customers,” I told her.
[Juliet McMains and Radim Lanik, Sarasota Dance Spectacular 2001, by Alliance Consulting. Juliet McMains and Rick Elliott, Florida Superstars 2003, by Park West Photography. These photos and more from Juliet McMain's site at Dance-Addiction.com.]
Philip Gardner blogs about dance and opera at Oberon's Grove, a site he describes as the online extension of a diary he's kept since he was a child enamored with opera. To kick off Dance Week at DG, we asked him to share some thoughts about ballet and glamour.
DG: When did you first get interested in dance?
PG: As a child I liked dancing around the house and I always enjoyed social dancing but becoming interested in dance as an art form came about when I was in my 20s when - quite by chance - I spent a summer working for a small ballet school on Cape Cod. It was after that that I began attending performances, and it soon became a passion.
DG: Have you had training in dance yourself?
PG: At the above-mentioned school on the Cape I took class and danced in performances, and I took class for 3 years altogether. Of course I was in my mid-20s, way too late to consider doing it as a profession. It seems I had a natural affinity for it and if I had been aware of dance as a viable career choice when I was very young my life might have turned out very differently. But I grew up in a tiny town with no possible exposure to anything like dance classes. Now when I watch dancers in class, rehearsing or performing I am keenly aware that it's probably what I should have been doing all these years.
DG: How did you get started blogging about dance?
PG: Since I was about eleven, I always kept a very detailed diary. For many years it was mainly about the opera performances I attended; when I started going to the ballet I would write about that also. Of course at first I knew nothing about what I was seeing, only that I loved watching people in motion. When I finally moved to NYC in 1998 and began going to dance performances with great frequency, I would write about them on one of the internet dance sites. Meanwhile, Kristin Sloan of the New York City Ballet had started her blog The Winger and I became very intrigued with that. When I got in trouble on the site where I was posting (for being sarcastic!) I was inspired by Kristin to start my own blog. It quickly became far more successful and popular than I ever would have guessed and it has led me to meet several fascinating people in the dance and music world.
DG: How is the glamour of ballet different from (or the same as) the glamour of modern dance? What does glamour mean in each context?
PG: This may seem odd, but I think the glamour of the ballet comes from...toe shoes! Yes, the satiny pointe shoes have their own mystique and give the ballerina an elegance that is quite unique. There are other elements too which make ballet especially glamourous: the beauty of classical port de bras, the traditional style of costuming and make-up, the theatricality of it. Modern dance is usually earthier, sexier and less calculated. Also the music of the classical ballet - Tchaikovsky, Minkus, Adam - already has its own built-in sense of glamour. Modern dance choreographers tend to be far more experimental in terms of musical choices, which can often be very exciting in its own way. In the quest for finding beauty in music and movement, I think the two worlds (ballet vs modern) compliment one another very well.
DG: Onstage, dancers tend to seem quite glamorous. How much do dancers try to maintain their personas offstage? Has that changed over time? Or is it simply a matter of personality?
PG: Offstage, I find most dancers do not cultivate a glamorous image these days. For one thing, many of them are very young and they like to dress and behave like other young people when they are not onstage: meaning ultra-casual dress-down style - which in its way can be attractive. Some of the ballerinas, as they mature and rise to the rank of principal, become more aware of projecting a sophisticated image offstage. When I look at old photos from the Diaghilev era of off-duty dancers in public settings, I feel there was more awareness of creating a persona. It seems to me that during the 60s and 70s there was a concerted effort both in opera and ballet to humanize the performers, to make the public feel that soprano x and ballerina y are just normal folks who happen to be talented in a special way. The high-profile glamour of a Callas or a Markova began to fade. On the other hand, I always feel when I encounter dancers in an offstage setting that they have their own internal element of glamour or elegance which runs deeper than just their clothing, make-up and hairstyle...their talent, passion and commitment give them their own brand of glamour.
DG: Your blog features many compellingly graceful photos of dance performances. Dance is all about movement, but the photos are stills. What makes a good dance photo?
I love still photos of dancers and I've come to know several dance photographers. Many of my favorite dance photographs come from rehearsal or class situations; I have always been intrigued by the process of creating dance and these photos can be very poignant because they show the work behind the finished product. Some of the best dance photographers are dancers themselves: Kyle Froman, Erin Baiano, Matt Murphy. In capturing dance in a still photo, timing is all. To catch the exact moment when a photo will give an illusion of movement must be extremely tricky. Paul Kolnik of New York City Ballet and Erik Tomasson of San Francisco Ballet certainly have the knack, as do several others. I think a good dance photo is one that makes you want to go see the dancer or the work that has been photographed. I spend a lot of time looking at dance photos both in books and on-line, hoping to find pictures that will enhance my blog. The photographers I have dealt with have all been extremely generous; they want their photos to be seen. And of course if you are trying to describe the look and feel of a particular dance piece, a picture is worth a thousand words.
DG: It has been said that part of ballet is creating the illusion of defying gravity, and that in contrast modern dance seems more grounded. Do you agree?
PG: In general, yes, though I seen some high-flying modern dancers and also ballets that seem heavier and more earthbound. Again I must say that it is dancing on pointe that seems the dividing line for me between ballet and modern. Watching the girls defy gravity as they hover and spin on pointe really gives ballet its special quality. It's certainly unnatural, and very intriguing.
DG: You also blog about opera. How does its appeal to you differ from that of ballet or modern dance? What's similar?
PG: I loved opera long before I discovered dance as an art form. Opera was the companion of my dark, unhappy teenage years where I found solace in the passion and beauty of the human voice. The last great heyday of opera in New York (the 1960s thru the mid 1980s) was a thrilling time for me. Going to the opera nowadays can still be exciting but the atmosphere has changed and there are surely far fewer interesting vocal personalities around. Dance I find to be on a steadier trajectory in terms of holding its appeal. For me, everything is emotional. I'm not sure I believe in intellect, really. I simply want to be moved or thrilled by people doing something I cannot do. Both opera and dance can provide this: in a way it's replaced going to church for me. It's spiritually nourishing.
DG: You've written a couple of recent posts about bad audience behavior at both ballets and operas--all sorts of things that break the spell for others. What do you think is going on? Has a substantial portion of the audience stopped seeing the performance as an immersive experience?
PG: Ah, my pet peeve...bad manners at the theatre! I should not get started on this but in brief I believe that the performing arts have simply become too accesible. Yes, I'm a snob. I do not think one can go to the opera or ballet casually, just to be entertained, as one might go to a film or a sports event. Of course the opera and ballet companies need to bring in new audiences but with that goes the need for people to learn how to behave. It's hard for me to imagine people paying money and making the effort to attend and then squandering the opportunity by talking, eating, checking the cellphone. It seems that people are too self-absorbed, too accustomed to being spoon-fed their 'culture' without making any real effort to connect with music or dance beyond the surface realities. Opera and dance can still be immersive, but the viewer must be willing to be immersed. That means being attentive and putting aside other concerns and distractions while the performance goes forward. In general I think many people have simply never been taught how to behave in such a setting; I learned how to sit still and be attentive by being taken to church for many years by my parents. What it comes down to is: common courtesy. That seems to be a forgotten concept.
Photo by Kyle Froman of New York City Ballet. Used with permission.
DG: Do you find that the audience for dance dresses more casually now than when you first started attending? Do audiences for ballet tend to dress differently than audiences for modern dance?
DG: Yes, things are far more casual now in terms of dress but I do not think that being well-dressed necessarily enhances one's enjoyment of the performance. However, it does make the event more 'special' in a way. Both ballet and modern dance audiences tend to dress for comfort mainly - gala nights aside, of course.
PG: Since you have been following dance for some time, do you sometimes find that a change of performers seems to change the content (meaning) of a dance (even when the choreography remains essentially the same)? If so, does this change of meaning surprise you? How do you react to it?
PG: I have always loved to see (dance) and hear (opera) many different intrepretations of a given work. It's exhilirating to find a dancer giving a new slant to a familiar piece and I always find it intriguing how even a change of one dancer in a cast of - say - twenty can alter the tone of a ballet. In the world of Balanchine's ballets, where I spend so much time, self-styled purists often get upset when they feel the boundaries of a given work are being pushed by a given dancer. My feeling is that only Mr. B could say if something was right or wrong, and everything I have read about him makes me feel he would always have been open to a fresh approach. (I also get the feeling he was far more adaptable about altering steps for individual dancers in a given ballet than his advocates today are...he never seemed to me to be writing in stone.) What keeps ballet alive is the ever-changing casting as the years pass by...so that Mozartiana for instance never became 'fossilized' for me in Suzanne Farrell's interpretation but rather I looked forward to dancers like Kyra Nichols, Miranda Weese and Wendy Whelan dancing it...and whoever will dance it next! It's almost like a new ballet every time. For me, that's the best tribute to Balanchine's genius: it's the music that we are seeing and the dancer is the vessel.
DG: Can you say what is it about ballet and modern dance that can bring you back to see works performed more than once? Do you have any thoughts on what makes dance so compelling to you?
If I like a ballet or dance work, I will want to see it dozens and dozens of times. Invariably it is the music that is the primary appeal of a piece. Some works - like Balanchine's Serenade or Tudor's Jardin Aux Lilas - are like a drug: you feel an urgent need to see them whenever they are on offer. I like to be moved, to weep and be transported by the music and by the beauty and poetry of the human body in motion. Dance is very sustaining and elevating for the human spirit; in a way, dance and music are my religion.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour? Elegance and self-assurance.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon? Maria Callas
Like many entrepreneurs, Maureen Kelly found her niche out of frustration. She loved makeup--she calls herself a "natural-born product junkie" and has confessed to giving her sister's doll an unrequested makeover as a preschooler--but she didn't like what she considered unhealthy ingredients and "boring, unglamorous black pots." In response, she left her doctoral studies at Columbia (where she received a master's in clinical psychology) and created tarte, debuting her first products in 2000 at Henri Bendel. The company's hit products derive their glamour not only from makeup's eternal promise of "hope in a jar" but from ecological ideals and sensuous packaging.
As Mother's Day approaches, we asked Maureen about motherhood and glamour.
DG: Has your definition of "glamour" changed since you became a mother? How?
MK: Since I’ve become a mom my definition of glamour has changed a bit—I still think of Grace Kelly and Aubrey Hepburn as iconic definitions of the term glamour, but I’m also noting more mother-figures as having that 'je ne se quoi'.
DG: How do you incorporate glamour into life as a busy mom?
MK: As a busy mom of two boys, I try to incorporate glamour into my life through makeup! A new shade of lipstick or a pretty pop of color on your cheek instantly updates your look and helps you stay current. I love makeup because it’s an inexpensive and easy way to update your style-these days we can all appreciate that! Being a mom means we don’t get to spend as much time on ourselves as we’d like so whether it’s a pretty pucker or a smokey eye, makeup is a quick and easy way to feel better about ourselves. It’s all about the little things these days.
DG: Who is the most glamorous mother you know of? What is it about her that makes her glamorous to you?
MK: Salma Hayek. She’s not only beautiful, but smart. Her work with UNICEF helps pregnant women get tetanus vaccines—to me that’s the epitome of glamour.
Tarte has generously agreed to give one of its scrumptious-looking Spring Greening makeup palettes to a lucky DG reader.
The Spring Greening palette includes six vibrant eyeshadows, three lip glosses with the company's t5 super fruit complex™ to keep lips soft and smooth, and a bamboo eyeshadow brush—all in a reusable compact made of straw and recycled materials.
In it, Joan argues that many of the styles, customs, and luxuries we associate with glamour and chic developed from Louis XIV's calculated policies. She traces the origins of champagne and umbrellas, explains how diamonds displaced pearls as the most desirable of jewels, and recounts how streetlights--a tough technological challenge--changed city life. Plus there's the tale of international skullduggery and industrial espionage--over the secret of making large mirrors.
Joan answered our questions from her home in Paris, where she is spending a sabbatical.
DG: How did The Essence of Style come about?
JD: I had a number of files in which I had been tracking individuals who were extraordinary inventors and creators in different domains–food, fashion, hairdressing, shoemaking. One day I realized that there was a big story that linked the shoemaker and the hairdresser, for example—that all these inventions had been possible because of an atmosphere that reigned in France in the final decades of the 17th century. So I decided to tell the story of the creation of a modern sense of style.
DG: You argue that during Louis XIV's reign, fashion emulating the court spread beyond the elite to a much broader public. How did that happen? What had to change to make it possible? How did the general public even come to think it appropriate, much less possible, to emulate the court (or even the king)?
JD: I think that style can spread at any period, so this could conceivably have happened before. Under Louis XIV, however, there was a fundamental change of mentality that began with the king’s desire to create a new national image for France, to make France known as the most elegant nation in Europe. This led, for example, to the creation of a fashion industry worthy of the name. And to make that happen, fashion was for the first time ever marketed in a truly modern way—in inexpensive engravings, fashion plates, for example. This meant that individuals who had never seen a great aristocrat, much less been to court, could see how people at court were dressed. They could then begin, even if only in a modest way, to copy fashions that had originated with the elite.
DG: We generally think of shopping as becoming a glamorous experience with the rise of department stores in the 19th century, as memorably portrayed by Zola in The Ladies' Paradise. But, again, you trace that experience back to the 17th century: "Parisian merchants were so successful at convincing people to buy for the sake of buying because they had made shopping glamorous, fun, and even sexy. Shopping had become....shopping theater in which consumers were spending money because they felt that their lives were somehow being transformed by the event." What was the experience of shopping like in this period, compared to later? How did the promise of transformation work?
JD: The experience started small. The original modern stores were a far cry from the 19th century’s gigantic department stores. But they were created to produce an entirely different experience, one of elegant discretion rather than the often frenetic overkill of later models. The original modern stores in the late 17th century were tiny compared to 19th-century grands magasins: they were jewel boxes. They displayed goods in luxurious settings, beautifully laid out--and, an innovation not found elsewhere in Europe, employed pretty young women dressed in the latest styles to wait on customers. There wasn’t the overwhelming rush of consumerism--too many ribbons, shelves overflowing with goods--that Zola describes so well. Clients of the late 17th century appreciated the experience as magical and elegant, rather than the orgy of consumerism shopping later became. All in all, it was closer to what we find today in high-end boutiques, where we find a selection of goods that represents a certain style.
DG: What has "Paris glamour" meant to people in different places and periods?
JD: Everything from the glorious experience that the first streetlights in the world meant for those who saw them in the late 17th century to the way the Eiffel Tower lit up the skyline two centuries later. Everything from the original ballet stars at the Paris Opera Ballet in the late 17th century to Josephine Baker in a far more recent age.
DG: Although Americans think of France (and Paris in particular) as glamorous, if my dictionary is to be believed, there isn't a word for "glamour" in French. The closest translations appear to be éclat, séduction, or fascination, but those aren't the same thing. Or are they? How would you explain glamour in French? (See this discussion, for instance.)
JD: When “glamour” entered the English language in the 18th century, in its original meaning of fairy-tale-like magic, French had lots of alternatives to convey the same sense—“enchantment” in particular. When “glamour” took on its modern meaning in the 19th century, French never followed suit. One never knows why these kind of divergences take place, but your question made me wonder about the following: it seems to me that glamour implies the attraction of the unattainable, the distant, whereas the French prefer the attraction of the more approachable. For example, the French will say of someone—much in the way Americans will say ”isn’t he/she glamorous?”—he/she “has charm.” (That’s returning to glamour’s original roots in magic by the way.) To be charming and stylish—that’s the ultimate attraction for the French.
DG: Do you have another book project in the works?
JD: I’m just finishing a book called The Age of Comfort—it will be out next September. It’s once more about Paris, this time in a slightly later period (the 18th century), and deals with the moment at which the French began to break away from the off-putting and stiff magnificence of Louis XIV’s court and to look instead for surroundings in which they could be relaxed and casual and at ease. It’s about the creation of the modern home and the invention of many of the things in it that we still see as essential for comfort—from sofas to luxurious bathrooms.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour?
A magnetic attraction; someone who possesses an air of mystery. And for me glamour is always elegant.
Currently: a present I received months ago and haven’t yet opened. It is so perfectly wrapped—the wrapping copies a 1930s design—that I just can’t bear to touch it. It sits on my sofa as a decorative object.
7) Most glamorous place?
Still certain parts of Paris
8) Most glamorous job?
I can’t imagine a truly glamorous job.
[9 and 10 were omitted.]
11) Can glamour survive?
I sincerely hope so.
12) Is glamour something you're born with?
Maybe. It’s also possible to manufacture it, and if that’s well done, who cares?
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?
2) Paris or Venice?
3) New York or Los Angeles?
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace?
5) Tokyo or Kyoto?
6) Boots or stilettos?
Neither; t-straps with small heels from the 20s
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau?
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin?
9) Armani or Versace?
Armani–if I must
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?
11) Champagne or single malt?
12) 1960s or 1980s?
13) Diamonds or pearls?
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell?
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?
Eiffel Tower by Flickr user digitalicon under Creative Commons license.
In her new novel, This Year's Model ’80s supermodel Carol Alt tells the story of a nice Jersey girl named Melody Ann who is waiting tables and planning for college one day and modeling for magazine spreads the next. It's a story not unlike Alt’s own, but updated to the era--and for the audience--of America’s Next Top Model. Alt will be signing books tomorrow evening, Thursday, September 25, at 7:00 at the Westwood Borders and will be appearing at the West Hollywood Book Fair on Sunday. DG caught up with her by phone Wednesday morning, as she started a busy day in L.A.
Q: Writing a novel is a big change from writing about raw foods [the subject of Alt's previous books]. How did this come about?
A: Two things happened more or less simultaneously. My agent Laura Dail came to me and said, “Whenever I sit with you, whenever we talk, you tell the funniest stories, you have me rolling in the aisles. You should really write a book.”
Then I was sitting with an agent friend of mine and he said, “Carol, you can’t believe what’s happening in the industry. The girls come in, they maybe last one seasons. They’ll do some shows, they’ll make a little money, and then they’re gone.”
I said, “What has changed so drastically? My career has lasted 30 years. What could happen to cut a career down from the possibility of 30 years to one season?”
He said, “They don’t have any history, they don’t have any connection to the business, they don’t know of any girls who came before. They have no role models. They have no business models. They come in and they think if they sleep around, if they do a lot of drugs, if they party a lot, if they’re out and people see them, they’ll get jobs faster than the agents they’re signed to. They burn out really quickly, they look bad fast, and they’re used up.”
These girls are reading magazine articles that make it look like all the girls who made it to the top are huge partiers, did a lot of drugs. All these mothers, all these girls, they stop me on the street. I can’t tell you how many people give me their resumes: "Can you please give this to your agent? Can you help us?" They have no clue how to go about this business. I thought, It’s time for a book that’s speaking to these girls. It’s not my finger wagging at them. It’s in a voice that’s young and hip. I wrote about what I knew about the modeling industry from my career and updated it to today, made it more relevant.
Q: You’re running a cover-girl contest for your second novel. What is the second book about?
A: The second book is still the same character. We’re following her. You see this character moving on and becoming a force in the business.
A career has stages. When I was starting out, I’d go to a photographer who wasn’t well known, or I’d get a catalog job. Then all of a sudden you’re working for a bigger name. Or with catalogs, you go from Spiegels or Butterick to Lord & Taylor or Bloomingdale’s. As this is happening, your agent is going, “Oh my God, you got a job with Bloomingdale’s!”
I remember this girl I worked with at some low-end catalog place said, “We’re friends and we hang out, but ultimately you’ll move on. Your agents won’t let us work together by next year.” I said, “No, I’ll make them let us work together.” I was naïve enough to think I’m making a client. The agency had other plans, which were to move me on to other jobs to build my popularity and desirability in the market. The agent is telling you that: “Oh my God, you got Versace! Vogue just booked you!” It’s not Mademoiselle--for me it was Mademoiselle, today it would be it’s not Glamour, it’s not teen books, it’s Vogue. You as a character are moving forward. Then comes a point where you’re no longer a new face.
The one thing in this business that I can’t stress enough is that you never really feel successful. You are every day needing to get a job. It’s not like you get this fabulous job and it’s going to carry you through for the next ten years. That job lasts three days, and you still need to get your next job. Because if you don’t have your next job, you’re forgotten about almost immediately--back then, and now. There’s this constant need to always work.
Q: You have a passage where your protagonist “officially retires” Melody Ann Croft and says, “I am Mac, even after hours.” Is a model ever off stage?
A: No. And that’s exactly what happened to me. I used to say I’m Carol with the big C when I’m out on the stage and I’m carol with the little c in my life. I would walk around in sweatpants on my way to the studio, with hats and glasses on, and then I’d get to the studio and all of a sudden you have this makeup and hair and the fans blowing and the photographers and the music going and you’re a whole ’nother person.
"If you’ve got a giant pimple on your face, you can’t go out, because if people see you and you do not look good, that’s all they say: ‘Oh, I saw her. She does not look good.’ Two days later you look fabulous again. But they just remember you did not look good."
When you’re out, a photographer might see you. So you need to look good. If you’ve got a giant pimple on your face, you can’t go out, because if people see you and you do not look good, that’s all they say: ‘Oh, I saw her. She does not look good.’ It can’t be that you had a bad night’s sleep or you had the flu that day and a hangover and a broken toe and your hairdresser messed up. Two days later you look fabulous again. But they just remember you did not look good.
Q: How do you create a safe haven for yourself, where you don’t feel like you’re on stage?
A: When I was modeling, I didn’t have that. It was just airplanes and studios. When I started doing movies it was a little easier, because you’d go away on location. You’d go from the hotel to the car, and the car to the set, and you had security and body guards, and nobody could get near you. But as a model, you’re really just out there. They can find you anywhere. We’re in airports, we’re in drug stores, we’re in Whole Foods. And photographers are very opportunistic.
I was walking on the street last week going to a photographer’s studio to look at some photos that were shot for a layout that’s coming out in December, and these guys from TMZ caught me. They were stalking the photographer’s studio to see what famous people were coming in and out. They were following me with their cameras down the streets, and I was in sweatpants. I said to my girlfriend, “Do me a favor and stand in front of me.”
It’s not that I was trying to be rude, but you spend millions of dollars in the course of a career on publicity and imagery and stylists and hair and makeup and clothing and shoes--all the right things at all the right times. But after a while, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to block these guys. I was out in my sweatpants being photographed. And they were shouting to me, “Carol, you did great on The Apprentice! You look fabulous!” In my sweatpants. Come on, guys, have a heart.