Thursday, May 21, 2009

On glamour

gla'mour (-er), *gla'mor, n., & vt. 1. n. magic, enchantment, (cast a ~ over, enchant); delusive or alluring or exciting beauty or charm; (esp. feminine)
physical attractiveness (~ girl, young woman possessing this; so ~ boy); hence glamorous a. 2.v.t. affect with glamour, bewitch, enchant; (colloq.) make glamorous. {18th., var. of GRAMMAR in sense GRAMMARYE}

Over the last days I have been thinking about glamour in all its forms, my thoughts came around from my recollection of my grandmother's stories from her heyday in the 1920's and 30's in Germany.
She came from a long line of family, successful business men, who made their wealth through steel manufacturing - steam engines for locomotives.

My maternal grandmother

When I was very young she would tell me of her parent's home, an Italianate villa outside Dresden, Germany, where mother, father and four girls lived a very comfortable life. They had a gardener for the grounds, a driver, a cook, housekeeper, a personal maid, a nanny. My great grandmother was a smart, stylish woman, representing wealth of her time, being an accomplished painter, she had been educated in the French speaking part of Switzerland... speaking French at home was the norm.

My maternal great grandmother

Many things changed with her untimely death 1918, a victim of the Spanish flue, 38 years old and pregnant with her 5Th child.

The house had been filled with antiques, brought back from France, bedrooms with white lacquer finished furniture, stucco ceilings and great chandeliers. A lovely veranda with stairs to the garden was often used for afternoon coffee and entertaining.

Grandma did not talk of clothes or jewelry, that was bad taste. She spoke of society, circles and families.

After the war things changed dramatically. The Russians and communists in East Germany took away the house, leaving my grandmother, then a second time widow, two rooms in her former beautiful home, taking possession of her company and ruining it slowly over 40 years of their reign. After the wall came down 1989 my grandmother was given an option to repossess, but being in her late 80's and with no means to maintain the buildings, living far away, she sold everything for a rather symbolic amount...

My grandmother, parents and me in the garden at grandma's house 1962

I am telling you all this to show you, where my understanding of glamour comes from. It was nourished by stories of wonderfully appointed homes, fabulous parties and style, a style which came about without effort. My grandmother's home (what was left of it) as well as my parent's had effortless style, even though their means were small and especially under the communists sneered at as bourgeois.

Fast forward: After settling in the United States I came the first time across truly glamorous homes, New York being my first exposure to witness true wealth. I was beguiled. It had nothing to do with Hollywood style movie star glamour. Not the jewelry or lifestyle of various stars impressed me. The homes I saw in shelter magazines and books made me fantasize.
Most of them belong to very wealthy people and I fell under the misconception that one needed lots of money to have a stylish and even glamorous home.

I started out with very little, living with my husband in a small shoe box size apartment in the Upper West side. Deep inside me hid a glamour girl, not the one you usually associate glamour with. I did and do not dream of clothes, gowns and precious stones (well - sometimes), but I dreamed of a house and garden, light filled space, beautifully edited rooms with style, grace and a quality which transports you to some degree.

I found that the most glamorous spaces have things in common. Its about scale and proportion, the unexpected piece, personality and charm. You do not need necessary much money to accomplish it. It needs character, imagination and the courage to be a little different.
Glamour is about drama, color, shine, it transcends the everyday life into something else. It holds promise of good times to come. Such places let you dream of possibilities and make you feel great.

As I researched on glamour a came across one woman - Virginia Postrel - a philosopher, she talks about glamour in the most interesting way. She explains the origin of the word glamour, stemming from the old meaning of casting a spell, magic and a rather different feel to it as we do nowadays.
Only after the french revolution with its strong emphasis on liberty, equality and fraternity was the life -style of the aristocracy accessible to 'everybody', think new money bourgeoisie. Napoleon became Emperor of France, being self elected and coming from a rather poor background. His lifestyle opened doors to the middle class to acquire a life style beforehand way out of reach. Glamour became available.
She also speaks of the term Spezzatura, meaning effortless art, not to show the work going into something. It holds the notion of magic and illusion. Pure Hollywood. And not without danger!

Today glamour still holds strong ties to the past. Hollywood has the strongest influence on glamorous lifestyle, the making of stars, worship of celebrities has defined our ideas of glamour since the 30' and 40's. Their movie sets have an out of this world feel, size matters and most of the sets are larger then life. Many people have taken the clues on style and glamour from there.
Unfortunately it is glamour Hollywood style and usually has very little to do with our mortal everyday life.

I prefer glamour which comes from within so to speak, you have to have sense of drama, stage and setting to get the feeling. It is infused by your own personality. I do not believe everybody needs glamour or even wants it. I for my part have made my peace with the glamorous world, taking my house one step at the time closer to my dreams of glamour. It has not something to do with money. It's a feeling I get when I step into a room or house. Landscapes can be glamorous...

What makes a place glamorous? I think the use of color and different finishes, some materials which speak of a certain quality, silks, anything glossy, Lucite, metals, mirrors, fire places, candles, staircases... It's all about editing a room.
I think of a glamorous woman and envision not necessarily a beautiful one, but one with poise and grace, a natural way of holding herself, well dressed, some nice pieces of jewelry, not overdone, all in good taste. This feeling I translate into rooms, candle light, sweeping curtains, layers of texture, some lovely arrangement of jewelry for a room: lamps, books, fresh flowers, and something different, an unusual piece of furniture, a color off the charts or simply something with special meaning to you. The more personal you create your home the more effortless you add to the glam factor.

Glamour is magic, it is really about casting a spell!

To demonstrate some of it I found the wonderful book by the editor of Metropolitan Home magazine, Michael Lassell, with a foreword by Donna Warner: 'Glamour - Making It Modern'

Many of the images above come from it's pages.

It has certainly spelled a charm on me, it is a fabulous collection of quotations, inspirations, rooms, ideas. It guides step by step to the achievable goal of adding glamour to your home if you wish to do so!

Nonetheless, I found so many glamorous rooms - houses elsewhere, I could not stop there, everyday when I open my blog to read my favorites, I find effortless style, glamour and poise.

Be open to signs of graceful living, put on your marvellous sunglasses and some glamour will follow!

Pictures via flickr, various shelter magazines, the books ' Domestic Art' and 'Glamour - Making It Modern' and private source.


  1. Fascinating take on glamour. And thanks for sharing your background -you're family certainly had a front seat to history.

  2. What a wonderful story! Really really interesting. Great post.

  3. Glamour - I doubt if I will ever have more than a tiny shred of it - I love it in others. What I strive for is comfort, graciousness, a little bit of zing and welcomeness to my home.

    You have given us some splendid writing and pictures on glamour.

  4. Such a beautiful and interesting post! I loved reading what you have written not only on glamour, but also what it means to you, as well as why you have such a love for it.. How fortunate you are to have a grandmother to tell such magical stories! I am so happy that you left a comment on my blog which brought me to your blog.. I am certainly adding you to my blog roll! I look forward to many more truly fantastic posts from you!


    XX Victoria :)))

  6. I have seen your glamour and style firsthand in real life, and it is amazing! If only we all had a touch of your panache. Loved seeing the photos of you and your family, AND the inspiring room photos--they are indeed transporting--thanks for sending me the link!

  7. fascinating post! You've cast a spell on me and I'm now a loyal reader!

  8. this is by far your best post ever. i really mean it. i didn't have time to read everything when i first looked over it and just finished it now..

    the way you structured your ideas and covered up all the various implications of it.

    honestly, such an interesting read.!


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