When Did Sunglasses Catch On?

Ribera Portrait of a Knight of Santiago 1630s When I first saw this painting a few years ago at SMU's Meadows Museum, I thought it was some kind of spoof. Surely the sunglasses were an anachronism in a Baroque painting.

But, no, Jusepe de Ribera's Portrait of a Knight of Santiago is a legitimate 17th-century work. The Meadows website explains that the "large ebony spectacles are of a fashionable type sometimes worn by upper class Spaniards. Besides adding concentration to the sitter’s already imposing gaze, the spectacles offered Ribera an opportunity to capture the subtle interplay of shadow and reflection in the lenses as well as a glimpse into the sitter’s personality."

The history of sunglasses seems under-researched. This dubiously sourced article seems to be the Ur-text of most online histories, but even this seemingly more reliable one suggests that tinted lenses date only to 1752, a history contradicted by de Ribera's painting from more than a century before. But there seems to be a consensus that they only caught on in the early 20th century.

Why did it take so long? Were there manufacturing and cost barriers? Or did hats and veils provide the physical and psychological protection that now come from shades? If you know more, or can point me toward good sources, please leave a comment or send an email to vpostrel-at-deepglamour.net.

The Mystery Beyond What's There

Not-your-faultI find this photograph very moving, and normally I might comment on various technical aspects such as the framing, the lighting, the tone, the pose, and so on. But I chose this photograph because it beautifully illustrates something that can be crucial to the concept of glamour—namely that artistic impressions are sometimes magical because of what the artist has chosen to leave out.

If we were seeing this young woman in real life, we could look move our eyes and see more, we could listen, we could ask questions, but here our perceptions are bound by the edges of the photograph and by the silent nature of the medium—we can only see what the photographer has allowed us to see. Far from limiting our responses, what we cannot see produces gaps, and these gaps allow us, as viewers, to let our imaginations and unconscious responses add something inexplicable to our perception of the image.

No one has ever expressed this thought better than Dylan Thomas in his Poetic Manifesto written in 1961:

You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it technically tick, and say to yourself, when the works are laid out before you, the vowels, the consonants, the rhymes or rhythms, ‘Yes, this is it. This is why the poem moves me so. It is because of the craftsmanship.’ But you’re back again where you began.

You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.

In the case of this photograph, added bits of information (it’s a self-portrait, and she titled it, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault,”) may only serve to open up new holes for our imaginations to fill.

[The photograph “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault” is by Flickr user It’s life, and is used under the Creative Commons License.]

Are Cell Phones The New Glamorous Accessory?

Glamorous woman cell phone cigarette sunglassesRandall's post below, “If Someone Glamorous Walked By, Would You Notice?” is about the things you miss when you’re on your cell phone. But the title made me wonder what the person walking by might look like. 

When I searched Google images for “glamorous woman” and “walking,” I discovered a different connection between cell phones and glamour. The top three results were this stock photo, in which the woman is wearing sunglasses, the most classic glamorous accessory, while talking on a cell phone. (She’s also pushing a baby carriage, which may or may not be glamorous.)

Sunglasses, cigarettes, veils, hats, and fans are all classically glamorous accessories. All simultaneously attract attention and create distance. The audience gets an intriguing glimpse of the glamorous person, not a full view.

On a cell phone, the person is similarly present and distant, engaged with someone the viewer can neither see nor hear.  The phone adds an aural dimension to the visual mystery of  sunglasses. At the same time, like wearing jewelry or expensive clothes, talking on the phone signals status: Here is a person who is socially connected, who has friends, who is busy or important.

With cigarettes, veils, hats, and fans all more or less out of fashion, has the cell phone joined sunglasses as a glamorous essential?

["Beauty Talks" image courtesy of Piero Paravidino, Flickr user Sensitive2Light, and used with permission.]

Glamorous Materials: Satin, Lacquer, Diamonds, Fur, Feathers, And...Cellophane

Carole Lombard George Hurrell cellophane To the contemporary eye, this George Hurell photo of Carole Lombard (part of an enormous auction this Friday and Saturday) seems strange. She looks beautiful, and the lighting and pose are glamorous. But what’s with the plastic sheeting? Is that a shower curtain to her left?

Behold the glamour of cellophane. Like diamonds or crystal, cellophane has a sparkling, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t quality. Although transparent, when crinkled and lit correctly it creates a teasing mystery. In Glamour: A History, Stephen Gundle likens cellophane to “striptease, which achieved its effect by constantly making the unveiled body more remote.”Wrapped in cellophane, “products were available but untouchable and therefore inaccessible.”

In Hurrell’s photo, the shimmering plastic catches the light, creating a cool, translucent contrast to the soft opacity of Lombard’s feathered dress and the warmth of her skin. If you don’t associate plastic with cheapness, cellophane makes perfect sense as a glamorous material. Like glamour itself, it is alluringly artificial.In the 1920s and ’30s, cellophane’s appeal went beyond these intrinsic aesthetic properties. This new material epitomized high-tech modernity: “You’re the purple light of a summer night in Spain / You’re the National Gallery / You’re Garbo’s salary / You’re cellophane!” sang Cole Porter in "You're the Top!"

Judith Brown in Glamour in Six Dimensions: Modernism and the Radiance of Form, which I reviewed along with the Gundle book here, devotes an entire chapter to cellophane. She is interested, she writes, in the material as “pure surface...a protective veneer from dusty reality.” And she notes its ubiquity in the popular culture of the 1920s and ’30s:

Joan Crawford Dancing Lady negative cellophane

Cellophane tablecloths glitter in an upscale nightclub in the Astaire-Rogers blockbuster Swing Time (1936); cellophane also appears in an earlier Joan Crawford film, Dancing Lady (1933), in the transparent swags at the back of a dance set, and again in the Broadway musical staged within the film. in this film, the cellophane also appears in costume form: a group of black-attired old women, complete with bonnets, lace collars, wire glasses, and bent-over backs make their way into a futuristic beauty parlor and emerge as modern bombshells, perfectly artificial with cellophane outfits and what might be plastic hair. Cellophane similarly appears in a swanky Chinese nightclub as the “The Girls in Cellophane” take the stage in W. C. Fields’s International House (1933). The pages of Vogue magazine also mark cellophane as haute couture, here as the “cellophane toque” that makes a “deceptively simple” garment cutting edge by newly framing the model’s face in the most artificial of head covers; and again, as an arresting sight in this newspaper photograph of an urban street. Cellophane fashion staked out a turning point: cellophane was chic and, above all, now.

This Hurrell photo of Joan Crawford, whose negative is in the auction, is from Dancing Lady. Although Crawford is not literally wearing cellophane, her dress has a similar sparkling, translucent quality. It makes her look like a star.

[Photographs courtesy of Profiles in History.] 

J.D. Salinger: Imagining An Author

Editor's note: With this post, Albina Colden, a psychologist and visual artist, joins DeepGlamour as a contributor.

Salinger1 It distressed me to learn the news of J.D. Salinger's death. The man was 91 years old, so it should hardly have come as a surprise. But in our collective imagination, J.D. Salinger had long ceased to be a man and had become a mythical figure.

The image of Salinger - living in isolation in the New Hampshire mountains, wearing L.L. Bean, eating exotic health foods, writing maniacally, and stashing manuscripts in his secret vault - had become timeless, and it was all we had. This mythological narrative invited our imaginations to sculpt it in any way we wished and to infuse it with our own hopes and desires - or with our own prejudices.

Salinger2 In the media, it was rather sad to see the news of Salinger's death compete with the release of the Apple i-Pad. But nonetheless it did receive some coverage, and the coverage reflects our conflicted perceptions: notions of Salinger as a noble and sensitive romantic who has influenced generations and could hold the key to mysterious truths about the universe, versus notions of Salinger as a controlling, misogynistic weirdo who has made all those close to him miserable.

The New York Times describes Salinger's work as possibly the greatest of our time, but in the same breath remarks that he is mostly “famous for not wanting to be famous”. Bret Easton Ellis declares on twitter that he is happy about Salinger's death.  CNN reminds us of his “affair with the teenage Joyce Maynard” (though the wording was later changed), who was in fact a 19-year-old adult when she lived with Salinger. And of course, speculations abound as to whether there really are unpublished manuscripts in the vaults that are rumored to be in his home. Perhaps he produced masterpieces but instructed his lawyer to burn them. Or perhaps he scribbled nonesense in his study day after day, or wrote nothing at all. With his estate as protective of his privacy as Salinger himself had been, we may never know the answer.

Salinger3 In 2005 I had just finished graduate school and began my first job, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. I moved into a house in a nearby town and discovered that I was practically “neighbors” with J.D. Salinger - at least in the rural sense, where the nearest neighbor can be a mile away. I knew where Salinger lived, as many people in that area did. I passed the winding road that led to his house on my commutes to work and back every day. But I never saw Salinger and never attempted to see him - not even to catch a glimpse at one of the local events he was said to always attend. In retrospect, I had wondered at this restraint on my part, especially as he was one of my favorite writers. But now I think I understand: It wasn't so much restraint, as a means of protecting myself against disillusionment. I did not want to see Salinger, because I did not want to know which version of him was real, if any.

Salinger4 In the end, it matters not a bit what kind of a person Salinger was, whether there really are any unpublished books in that vault, or for that matter, whether there is a vault at all. In his existing body of work J.D. Salinger has given us a great gift, and may he rest in peace.

The Mystery & Magic Of Hats—and A DeepGlamour Birthday Party

Anita page hat polka dots hurrellThis is Anita Page, as photographed by George Hurrell in an extraordinary hat. (Page is a fascinating character: a long-lived Golden Age star who made only one movie between 1936 and 1996, then re-emerged in cheapo horror flicks as well as documentary interviews about studio-era Hollywood. She died last September at 98 but still has a movie in post-production.) This hat is presumably a costume, but women used to take as much pride and interest in their hats as they do today in shoes and It bags. Alas, the informality of the 1960s killed off hats. They became functional—a way of protecting yourself from sun or cold—rather than expressive.

Hats are now enjoying something of a resurgence among hipsters and fashionistas, with fedoras, cloches, and fascinators showing up on people in the business of being noticed. The paradox of a hat is that it simultaneously conceals and calls attention to the wearer—the very definition of a glamorous accessory. (Think also of sunglasses, fans, and cigarettes.)

Next Thursday, August 20, DG is curating an event—and throwing ourselves a birthday party—as part of the inaugural L.A. Downtown Fashion Walk. Our theme is the glamour of hats, with creations on display (and in some cases for sale) from local designers Louise Green, Arturo Rios, and Stella Dottir as well as collector Wendy Ann Rosen's renowned "House of Hats." (Some of Wendy Ann's hats are featured in this amazing V&A exhibit, curated by Stephen Jones, which is now on a two-year world tour.)

Plus, Project Runway's Andraé Gonzalo will join our friend Kate Hahn to sign their book Forgotten Fashion, excerpted in one of our very first posts, which includes some of Andraé's illustrations. The party starts at 6:00 p.m., giving Project Runway fans plenty of time to come by before taking off for premiere viewing parties (which is exactly what Kate and Andraé are doing).

Here are the particulars:

August 20, 2009
6 p.m. to 10 p.m. 
Farmers & Merchants Bank lobby 
Southwest corner of 4th & Main Streets
Spring Arts Tower, 453 S. Spring Street (enter at 201 W. 5th)
(Ample parking available at 530 S. Spring Street garage) 
Information & RSVPs: virginia-at-deepglamour.net

Dress glamorously, and wear a hat. You could win a prize.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The DeepGlamour party has been moved to the Spring Arts Tower at 453 S. Spring Street (enter at 201 W. 5th). Parking $5 at 530 S. Spring Street garage. Great space, just down from fantastic art-book store Polyester.

[Anita Page photo © Estate of George Hurrell and courtesy of Pancho Barnes Trust Estate.]

The Allure Of Change

Manarola While picking up a few extras in Whole Foods I heard Fiona Apple's rendition of “Across the Universe.” In the store all I could understand of the text was John Lennon’s recurring refrain, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.” Hearing this focus on permanence brought to mind Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s contrasting saying, which focuses on change: “You can never step into the same river twice.” And, sure enough, the world soon changed for me in a small, annoying way when I stepped on some gum in the parking lot.

The village shown at left is Manarola, one of five villages that nestle in isolated coves along a small Mediterranean coastal region of Italy called Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The oldest villages date from around the 11th century, and the youngest from the late 12th century. The rocky cliffs rising from the sea are so rugged that the towns were isolated from each other, reachable only by sea or by strenuous treks over rugged terrain. To farm the steep hillsides, the residents built stone terraces, and in the process are said to have moved more tons of stone than were used to build the Great Wall of China. My wife and I hiked some of the coastal hiking trails, and to see the picturesque results of this labor is both humbling and ennobling. (See the photo below.)

 The first modern connection to these towns was a railroad into the village of Vernazza in 1870. During World War II railroad tunnels and cliff-side paths were blasted, creating easy connections between all the villages.

Terraces-cinque-terre Today, for the modern tourist, despite becoming better known since the 1990s, it remains an area of incomparable charm, having been shielded from modern development for centuries.The region has been designated a World Heritage Site to help preserve its beauty. (WHS has some stunning photos.)

Now trains make several daily runs through the villages, and the region’s allure brings in many tourists from the outside world. And the desire to experience something different runs both ways. The allure of the outside world means that many young people from the region now commute to work in the city of Le Spezia. I wonder how many young people will choose the hard life of maintaining and farming the terraced hillsides.

Allure can work on a small scale as well. Once a path had been blasted into the seaside cliff, the former impassable barrier between the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola became a leisurely twenty-minute walk. The path soon became known as the Via Dell'Amore (Lovers’ Walk). Think about the sense of mystery that having that path available must have created. “Could the man (or woman) of my dreams be waiting for me in the next village?” The locals say that making that short walk changed many lives.

[Photo of Manarola by Flickr user fachxx00. Terraced hillside photo by Flickr user alaina.marie. Both photos used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]

Silhouettes And Landscapes: The Glamour Of Window Views

Woman@window in west

Taken in the 1930s, this vernacular (i.e., anonymous) photo represents one of the visual motifs particularly effective in creating a sense of glamour: a silhouette of someone contemplating a landscape vista. (In this early DG post, I discussed some condominium ads that used a similar composition.) Mysterious and stylized, the darkened figure invites us to identify with her and the longings she feels as she looks out on the landscape beyond her enclosed surroundings. This particular photo also creates a contrast between the settled world of bent-wood chairs and ashtrays and the wilderness beyond. Its composition glamorizes the possibilities of the distant hills. We could imagine, however, a reversed composition that made the interior seem cozy and inviting.

The juxtaposition of a shadowed foreground and a lighted vista can arouse similar yearnings for escape even without a human subject. This photo, contributed to the DeepGlamour pool by Flickr user Michele Strudwick, contrasts the open possibilities represented by the sea and lighthouse with the constraints of the darkened room from which we view that landscape.

Brant point round window lighthouse view

The shadows are not entirely negative, however. They give the scene its mystery and, by framing the landscape, enhance the vista's grace. They show us just enough of the outside world to make it tantalizing.

[Photo by Flickr user Michele Strudwick used with permission.]

The Pleasure Of Double Entendres

While driving recently I heard The Who’s Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box on the radio and began reflecting on the pleasures of double entendres. This song has long been controversial. Some feel that the lyrics are straight-forward (about an accordion), while others feel it can be read two ways (the second involves sex). (There is also controversy about whether Peter Townshend wrote the song, or recorded a song that had been around for many years.) The live performance shown below argues for the double meaning.

We rely a great deal on double entendres in everyday communication. Understanding puns, irony, sarcasm, and much risqué humor depends on catching the double meaning or interpretation, and, when we do, we derive pleasure not only from “getting it,” but also from being an insider, someone capable of enjoying the double meaning.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that the meaning of a statement or a work of can be contingent on how it is interpreted. In The Scandal of Pleasure Wendy Steiner writes that:

Artistic meaning, like all meaning, is a matter of interpretation....Conservatives wrongly believe that a work of art has one universal, unmistakable meaning, which they are certain they understand.

Yet, for most of us, catching double entendres can be one of the great joys of language. In one sense, the poem by Robert Herrick given below can be read as simply being about seeing Julia wearing an attractive hairnet, and his desire to see her let her hair down.

Hairnet-b17-worker Upon Julia's hair, bundled up in a golden net.

Tell me, what needs those rich deceits,
These golden toils, and trammel-nets,
To take thine hairs when they are known
Already tame, and all thine own?
’Tis I am wild, and more then hairs
Deserve these meshes and those snares.
Set free thy tresses, let them flow
As airs do breathe, or winds do blow:
And let such curious net-works be
Less set for them, then spread for me.

Herrick was a 17th-century Anglican cleric, so Alfred T. Palmer’s glamorous WWII photograph of a woman working on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber in Long Beach, CA is obviously anachronistic. But seeing how pretty she looks, with her hairnet matching her jacket, it is easy to understand Herrick’s desire to see Julia set her tresses free. Seeing her hair bundled up makes him long to see her let it down.

With Herrick, things are complicated. Julia was just one of Herrick’s many imaginary mistresses, though she was his favorite. Whether there was a real woman that inspired his Julia poems has long been debated. If Herrick saw a woman wearing a hairnet, it would have most likely been a snood, a hair covering that she perhaps wore to his church for modesty. The factory worker in the photograph is wearing a hairnet for safety, but the choice of color is clearly for adornment. And hair coverings can be both religiously modest and attractive. As Devorah declares about her head coverings, “modesty does not mean frumpy!”

Elaborate-snood Indeed. Elaborate snoods such as this one from Melanie Moore Designs are sometimes worn with wedding gowns and other formal gowns.

Herrick was one of the Cavalier poets, a division that roughly divides the worldly poets from the metaphysical poets of 17th-century England. Herrick wrote religious poems, but they are far fewer in number and much less esteemed than his secular poems. Cavalier poems often made use of double coding.

“Hair” was one of these possibilities. Herrick’s contemporaries would likely have assumed that the above poem might also make sense if “hair” was sometimes taken to mean something more likely to be viewed in private than in public. In this case, doing so radically transforms the meaning of the final line. Which is the correct reading? Likewise, what is the purpose of the snood pictured here: modesty or adornment? Half the pleasure of double entrendres is going back and forth between the two possible readings.

[Bombardier worker photo from Library of Congress 1930s-40s in Color collection on Flickr Commons.]

Constructing Glamour: The Sequel

Thanks to everyone who commented on my original Constructing Glamour post with the Toni Frissell photos. These two were the favorites, both among commenters and people I happened to talk to.

Glamour exists in the audience's mind, so there's no right or wrong answer. But I believe the evening shot on the right is by far the most compelling of the group.

Model002_2

Model003_2

As the comments made clear, having a pretty model in a luxurious outfit isn't enough to create the magical quality called glamour. Glamour must invite the viewer into a special world, one that holds the promise of escape and transformation. In both these photos, the model seems to be in such a world. In both, she appears graceful and self-contained, also qualities that create glamour.

But the lighting in the evening shot adds drama and mystery. In the daylight shot, the dress looks heavy and a bit dull and wrinkled. In the evening shot, it glistens, and its weight is less obvious, enhancing the model's grace. As commenter Irene noted, the photo's glamour comes in part from the allure of light and shine. That allure is not just glitz, however. Shadow and contrast are just as important. To see the shimmer of the dress, you need the shadows. Similarly, the distant obelisk is more compelling in the evening shot. In contrast to the flat form in the daytime, light and shadow play on the shaft as it rises from the trees, and its tip glints with just a spot of light.

As commenter DMC noted, in the daytime shot the model does have an appealingly confident "queen of her empire" quality. I prefer the more contemplative evening shot, with its active hands and hint of yearning. But what really makes the difference between the two is not the central figure but the background: the enticingly illuminated monument, lights on the opposite shore, and a barely seen boat sculling along the river. (You have to look at the large version of the shot to see it.) The scene shimmers with possibility.