Astronaut Glamour

As the 40th anniversary of the moon landing approaches, Louis Vuitton has hired a trio of the most famous astronauts—Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, and James Lovell—to pose for this glamour shot by Annie Leibovitz. (Advertising commentators have fixated on the absence of Neil Armstrong, apparently unaware that he has spent decades shunning any and all publicity.)

You will go to the moon The campaign, which includes both print ads and this online video, is aimed at baby boomers, who are old enough to remember the moon landing and to respond positively to the mid-century glamour of space flight. But the slogan, “Some journeys change mankind forever,” with its evocation of escape and transformation, has a poignant resonance (and not just because mankind seems a bit retro). Communications satellites aside, how much has space exploration really changed human life? The adventure is long past, and I’m still waiting for my favorite kindergarten reading to fulfill its title’s glamorous promise.

The Glamour Of Star Trek

FuturebeginsParamount recently released the poster for the new Star Trek movie, opening May 8. The black and white composition and almost abstract suggestion of speed make an interesting contrast to the clear forms and primary colors of the original show.

Long-time DG readers may remember this quotation, comparing James Bond and Mr. Spock, from Jeff Greenwald's 1999 book Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth. Like Ayn Rand's novels, Star Trek traffics in glamour that appeals to people who generally think they're immune to such frivolous nonsense (and, conversely, whose obsessions seem decidedly unglamorous to most of the fashion crowd). Greenwald's book has a number of good passages that deal with Star Trek's glamour, without using the word. Here's one of the best, which follows his girlfriend's insight that the book "is about longing," the subject of all glamour:

When I began this book, I naively imagined that everyone I spoke to would echo my own intuition: that Star Trek has become successful because it awakens a collective human yearning to get out into space and explore the “final frontier” in earnest. A number of people on my list did indeed feel this way—but they were in the minority. Star Trek, I learned, inspires longings of many kinds. It’s a mirror that people tune like a radio, focusing on the aspects that attract them most.

Star Trek invokes an almost primal wanderlust—a hardwired compulsion to break away from the familiar, and plumb the depths of outer and inner space. It inspires a desire to build a society where technology is partnered with conscience. It evokes a yearning for family and friendship, which is played out in a thousand different fan clubs and Web sites around the world. And it fulfills a deep and eternal need for something to believe in: something vast and powerful, yet rational and contemporary. Something that makes sense.

One of the trailers for the new Star Trek movie features someone’s voice telling young Jim Kirk, “You’ve always had a hard time finding a place in this world, haven’t you? Never knowing your true worth. You can settle for something less, an ordinary life. Or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special.” In the trailer, that enticing suggestion accompanies this evocative shot, which beautifully captures both the centrality of the individual and the longing to belong to something larger than oneself:


The promise of becoming someone special is at the heart of much glamour, from the allure of beautiful dresses to the appeal of the U.S. Marine Corps. Particularly for people who feel out of place in their surrounding community, the idea of belonging to an ideal fellowship (Camelot's Round Table, Ayn Rand's Galt's Gulch, the Enterprise crew) is particularly powerful—and, as Greenwald documents, able to sustain real-world fellowship among devotees who share the same enthusiasm.

ADDENDUM: "What most appeals to me about Barack Obama is his Spock-like quality."

More Futures Past

Bonneville_2In 2005, Steve and I happened to catch this great exhibit, "Driving Through Futures Past," at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Although the highlight of the exhibit had to be the 1954 Bonneville Special (sorry for the low-quality of my snapshot), the real revelation was the art on the walls: concept car renderings done by mid-century car designers. (Here's a slide show of samples from the exhibition.) Although I'm far from a car buff and don't even like the fins-and-chrome look of mid-century cars that much, I loved both the aesthetic feel of the renderings and their exuberant futurism. What a great thing to collect, I thought. I wonder where you get them?

At the June Art Deco and Modernism Show in San Francisco, I met one of the sources: Leo Brereton, who has rescued many of these drawings from Detroit area basements and attics and sells them to collectors. (He also collects and sells original illustrations from pulp fiction and, as you can see from the photo, mid-century science fiction.) He talked to me about car renderings.

Q: How do you define what you collect and sell?Leo_6

A: I deal in automotive concepts or renderings, which are the drawings done by the designers for the Big Three as well as independent automobile manufacturers, from the '30s through the '70s, with an emphasis on the '50s and '60s.

Q: Where do you get the drawings?

A: Primarily from the designers themselves. As a designer, you were not encouraged to keep the stuff you were working on. However, if you were the guy who worked for 24 years in the Buick Division and all of a sudden you were transferred to Cadillac, your boss might say, "All the stuff in these files that we haven't cleaned out in 20 years, if you want it fine. If not just throw it out."

There was no thought--not a moment's thought--at a place like GM that this archive might be important one day, that we should open up a museum, if nothing else to toot our own horn. That lack of vision is astounding. So routinely the work is now found in landfills across Metropolitan Detroit.

Q: How long have you been doing this?

A: About 10 years. There really wasn't a market for it when I started.

Q: And what do these represent to people who buy them today?

A: Visions of the past, examples of great designs. It's a nostalgia thing, as well as a clear recognition that this work has gone unrecognized.

I wound up buying several renderings by automotive designers from Leo. Here's a slide show. But only one of the drawings, by a Czech designer Leo knew nothing about, is of a car of the future. The rest take the glamour of high-speed transportation to the sea and to space, in inspiring but wildly impractical forms. When I showed them to our friend Greg Benford, the astrophysicist and hard science fiction writer, he rolled his eyes. Looking at the moon vehicle John Aiken (later famous for the Mercury Cougar) designed as a student project, he asked, "Why would you want streamlining in a place with no atmosphere?" For the same reason Golden Age Hollywood put actresses in gowns they couldn't sit down in and Cecil B. DeMille demanded high heels even for Paulette Goddard in Northwest Mounted Police--to transport viewers to a world that transcends the practicalities of real life.

Here's a gallery of renderings from designers' student days from a blog devoted to concept car art. And here's design critic Phil Patton on automotive illustrations.