Glamour and Transformation, Redux

architectureslopingbuildingI can’t resist Virginia Postrel’s writing at Deep Glamour on glamour and transformation:

“Every store display and shop window beckons with some version of the same promise: Buy this and become the person you want to be.

“There’s a difference, however, between spotting the perfect office outfit in Banana Republic and imagining yourself bedecked in a beaded evening dress with chandelier earrings. One represents an attractive solution to a practical need, the other (for most of us, anyway) the allure of transformation: a new and better self in a new and better setting. One is appealing, the other glamorous. We want the dress for the very reason that it doesn’t suit our real life. It makes us imagine a different one.

“That’s glamour: a beautiful illusion promising escape and transformation.”

Postrel acknowledges that “clothing and accessories aren’t the only products that rely on such glamorous salesmanship” — even wireless technology can seem glamorous, at least before it became so ordinary.

I love depictions of the glamour of bygone ages:

  • America and England in the 1930s –more Art Deco, the Thin Man movies; the David Suchet Poirot series based on Agatha Christie’s books; The Women,  starring the Norma Shearer quoted in Postrel’s essay; Noel Coward’s plays  (Private Lives, Hay Fever);
  • the Belle Epoque in Europe before World War II (1870-1914) including the Fin de siècle,  and the Gilded Age (1870-1900), including the Gay ’90s, in America — Art Nouveau, the tragedy of the Russian Revolution, decadence and wasteful extravagance, Edwardian style, films like Howard’s End, A Room with a View, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Age of InnocenceBrideshead Revisited, The Great Gatsby.
  • the 1960s as depicted in Mad Men, Fellini films like (1963) and Juliet of the Spirits (1965), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

But I don’t long for the clothes of those times, or to be transformed and transported by the clothes, or jewelry.

It’s the total ethos of the time and place depicted that attracts me so strongly. It’s the style of communication and the style of relationships among people — whether witty, dry, understated or gossipy, dissolute, brash. It’s the lure of an excess of money and leisure, opulence and decadence. It’s the clash of modernism and the modernist spirit with an entrenched class system.

If it’s any object in the films that seems to offer transformation, it’s the drinks (‘cocktails’), and the architecture, the home decor, the gardens, the nightclubs, salons and dance floors. I like to escape into the homes and offices and gardens and relationships of the people in the films, books, magazines, art, advertising. But I don’t have an urge to actually buy or have the objects that make the images seem so glamourous. They would feel as out of place and false in my current life as a pair of 4″ fashion heels or an evening dress with chandelier earrings. Just looking at these objet d’transformation, drinking them in with my senses, or (to a lesser extent) reading about them, does give me the feeling of being transported from the reality that I think I inhabit to another possible reality, one whose promises are both made and realised in that moment.

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