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.]

RIP: Rockie Gardiner, Astrologer

Fontrock
Long time LA Weekly astrologer, Rockie Gardiner, died on Halloween at 11:11 am.  Talk about your transits!

Gardiner was a must-read for just about everyone who picked up alt-press papers.  A native New Yorker, she moved to LA in 1966, and  was  said to have dated Jim Morrison,  who  wrote LA Woman about her.   She lived in Valley Glen, worked from home, and had a special passion for Super Bowl Sunday. (She was a Sag, of course.)

As an astrologer, she predicted Ronald Reagan would die in office and that Jesse Jackson would be a Vice-Presidential candidate. Never mind--we're not keeping score.  Her horoscopes were fun to read, and if your week didn't look promising, things would get better soon.  Even non-believers noticed when Rockie said Mercury was retrograde.   She'll be missed.

As her column often said:

Rockie is soaking up atmosphere and astrological insight.

Update: Her son, Jeremy Gardiner, wrote an obit in the Weekly.

You Can't Hide Your Lyin' Eyes: Irish True Crime Trial

Article-1082916-02582543000005DC-346_224x372 Ireland is enjoying a a criminal trial that's  right out of film noir.  Sharon Collins wanted to get rid of her boyfriend and his sons, in order to inherit the family business, worth some €60m.  So, she sat down at the keyboard, typed in Hitmanforhire and found Tony Luciano, aka Essam Eid, an Egyptian-born poker dealer who was up for some fast cash.  She wired him a down payment and he flew from Vegas to Ireland.

Emails were recovered between [email protected] and [email protected] during which a contract was agreed to kill Mr. Howard and his two sons for €66,000.

Eid ended up trying to make a deal with his intended target, and that's what got him arrested.  You just can't trust some people--especially those you meet online.

Honestly--don't these people have any sense? Who picks such an email addy? And is Yahoo! complicit in allowing such a moniker?  And is Hitman for Hire like Yelp? Are there consumer ratings?

Of course, Howard, the poor dumb sap, is pleading for mercy for his Sharon.  Collins, who's facing six years in prison, has other plans:

It has been reported that Collins has secured the help of a Los Angeles-based literary agent, after she told Ireland's director of public prosecutions: "I'll write a book yet".

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.

"Countless Layers Of Darkness"

Gold_buddha

Leave it to Kate to associate lipstick fads with Japanese literary musings. But it's a great reference. Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows is, in its own subtle (and intensely conservative) way, one of the great books for understanding glamour--in particular, the mystery that glamour requires. Tanizaki also offers an important historical insight into why religious and luxury objects that may seem gaudy today were glamorous and inspiring in the conditions for which they were designed.

Darkness is an indispensable element of the beauty of lacquerware. Nowadays they make even a white lacquer, but the lacquerware of the past was finished in black, brown, or red, colors built up of countless layers of darkness, the inevitable product of the darkness in which life was lived. Sometimes a superb piece of black laquerware, decorated perhaps with flecks of silver and gold—a box or a desk or a set of shelves—will seem to me unsettlingly garish and altogether vulgar. But render pitch black the void in which they stand, and light them not with the rays of the sun or electricity but rather a single lantern or candle: suddenly those garish objects turn somber, refined, dignified. Artisans of old, when they finished their works in lacquer and decorated them in sparkling patterns, must surely have had in mind dark rooms and sought to turn to good effect what feeble light there was. Their extravagant use of gold, too, I should imagine, came of understanding how it gleams forth from out of the darkness and reflects the lamplight.

Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance; it should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested. The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie. If the lacquer is taken away, much of the spell disappears from the dream world built by that strange light of candle and lamp, that wavering light beating the pulse of the night. Indeed the thin, implausible, faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself.

This insight applies not only to Japanese lacquerware and statuary but to gilded Renaissance and Medieval religious art and the excesses of crown jewels. It even applies to the flash of rhinestone cowboy and rock-star costumes, which are meant to be seen at a distance under stage lights.