Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!
Each ad offers multilayered glamour. Glimpsing only their partial profiles, we project ourselves into the role of the young condo dwellers. They invite us to imagine sharing their new life, being them or being with them. And they in turn contemplate the scene beyond their windows and feel the pull of its glamour—the promise of a skyline’s mysteriously glistening windows or a river’s passage toward unknown destinations
Although the two images are almost identical in composition, they are actually selling two different ideals. The Metropolitan promises “the future of the city,” a bustling alternative to the suburban life typical of Dallas. Rector Square, by contrast, offers tranquility, an escape from the noise, garbage cans, and graffiti of other Manhattan neighborhoods. The two ads evoke the different yearnings of different audiences.
Glamour is like humor in another way: examine its object too closely and you’re likely to spoil the effect. Just as humor relies on surprise, glamour requires distance. A glamorous image appeals to our desires without becoming explicit, lest too much information break the spell. In its blend of accessibility and distance, glamour is neither transparent nor opaque. It is translucent. It invites just enough familiarity to engage the imagination, allowing scope for the viewer’s own fantasies.
One influential theory, advanced by the Marxist critic John Berger in his 1972 BBC series and book Ways of Seeing, is that glamour elicits social envy in order to sell commercial goods. Berger defines glamour as “the state of being envied.”
From transcontinental travel to witty conversation, glamour makes the difficult appear easy. The high heels never pinch; the sports car never gets stuck in traffic; the star never has a runny nose, a bad hair day, or lipstick on her teeth. Rain doesn’t spoil the vacation. Electrical wires don’t mar the view. Nature doesn’t call, and nobody runs out of cash. Glamour appears effortless.
Creating it involves two distinct but complementary ways of hiding pain, difficulty, flaws, and entropy.
Glamour inspires projection and longing; spectacle produces wonder and awe.
Spectacle heightens difficulty and danger; think of the juggler tossing chainsaws or the motorcycle daredevil leaping a canyon or a long line of cars. These feats make the audience gasp with fear and astonishment. By contrast, glamour maintains sprezzatura. The glamour of a bullfighter or a Formula One driver arises from the way he makes death-defying maneuvers look easy, allowing the audience to share his apparently effortless calm. In other cases, spectacle showcases the costly and rare, emphasizing how unusual they are. Glamour, on the other hand, portrays luxuries as normal experiences, making them feel casually attainable and thus all the more reasonable to desire. That ease stokes the audience’s yearning. All the barriers are hidden.
The yearning for grace creates two broad categories of glamour, representing two versions of escape and transformation. Autonomy portrays life without dependence, while synchronization draws on the grace of perfect coordination.
The connection between sunglasses and glamour goes deeper than their association with iconic people and places. It’s also aesthetic. Sunglasses enhance the wearer’s appearance by implicitly enlarging the eyes and obscuring bloodshot irises or unsightly bags. They add grace. Most important, they create mystery—the third essential element of glamour.
While we may guess what the wearer is looking at, we cannot be certain. Sunglasses hide emotion. They create an impression of coolness and detachment. Someone wearing sunglasses is visible yet veiled
Mystery plays a central role in distinguishing glamour from another alluring quality: charisma. Though writers sometimes use the words glamorous and charismatic interchangeably, these concepts are quite different. In its precise sense, charisma (originally a religious term) is a quality of leadership that inspires followers to join the charismatic leader in the disciplined pursuit of a greater cause. More colloquially, charisma is a kind of personal magnetism that inspires loyalty. Charisma in either sense is a personal characteristic like intelligence. A place, an idea, even an object can be glamorous, but only a person can be charismatic. And while glamour depends on the audience’s receptive imagination, even unsympathetic audiences can feel the power of charisma. (Charisma in someone hostile is quite frightening.)
Most important, glamour requires mystery, allowing the audience to fill in the details with their own desires. Glamour doesn’t persuade the audience to share a leader’s vision. Instead, it inspires the audience to project their own longings onto the leader (or movie star, vacation resort, or new car).
Glamour can be a powerful spur to both action and inquiry but, in the process, information and experience often destroy glamour’s essential mystery, dispelling the illusion that was once so inspiring. You may find, like Simon Doonan, that the Beautiful People are boring.
The image thus suggests and preserves the moment before daily intimacy replaces idealization. Glamour is both the painting’s effect and, in this way, its subject: here is what it is like to admire and be admired, to desire and be desired—and to imagine and be imagined, but not to know or truly be known
Glamour provides a lucid glimpse of desire fulfilled. It captures moments, not stories. It seems timeless.
Windows are common in the iconography of glamour, because a window, despite its transparency, creates mystery. It may let in light and air, sounds and sights, but it also sets boundaries, balancing disclosure and denial.
From medieval romances to the 1989 movie Say Anything, young men have serenaded their lady loves through open windows. The woman is accessible yet hidden within. If the serenade succeeds, she will appear at the window—visible, yet still elevated and enclosed. The window serves as a symbol of tantalizing desire, an object so close and yet so far
Having achieved a smoother passage through life, many Americans yearned for a more exciting one. The man or woman in a Pan Am uniform embodied that longing. So did other icons of Jet Age glamour. Take the era’s distinctive automobile designs. In the mid-fifties, American car makers abandoned streamlined styles in favor of the aviation-inspired “forward look,” with its wrap-around windshields and winglike tail fins. The cars’ shapes, their advertising, their names (the Pontiac Strato Star, the Oldsmobile Rocket), and their features (“flightomatic” transmission, “Jetway hydra-matic”) all suggested high-tech aviation. Hood ornaments took on the shapes of jets. “Millions of Americans now drove with model planes in their peripheral vision,” observes Grant McCracken, the cultural anthropologist. “These peripheral planes made a plane of the car and a pilot of the driver.” Detroit’s products, he writes, “impressed as cars. They wowed as planes.”
In 1973 Revlon introduced Charlie, a “lifestyle fragrance” aimed at young, liberated women buying perfume for daily pleasure, rather than for dressing up or attracting men. It was an instant hit. With first-year sales of $10 million, Charlie’s introduction proved the most lucrative in fragrance history. Within three years it was the world’s best-selling fragrance—the first American perfume to achieve that status.1 The most striking thing about Charlie wasn’t its smell but its advertising. Instead of the usual evening gowns, starlit nights, or exotic locales, Charlie ads featured the blond model Shelley Hack striding along in a pantsuit, with no man in sight.2 The “Charlie Girl” represented a new version of glamour: youthful, energetic, and supremely confident. The androgynously named Charlie was “breeziness incarnate,” writes New York Times style reporter Susan Joy.3 Women didn’t know where she was going, what she did for a living, or whether she had a boyfriend, but they knew they wanted to be like her.
Women who lived through World War II yearned for fashionable new clothes and an escape from the constraints of shortages and rationing. For them newness meant quality and progress. An old dress was the antithesis of glamour.
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