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Interview: Virginia Postrel on The Power of Glamour

MR. DRISCOLL:  I have to say, as befitting a book called The Power of Glamour, the appearance of the hardcover edition of the book is just gorgeous, from the photo on the cover sleeve to the many illustrations within to the font chosen for the book's title.  How was the appearance of the book crafted?

MS. POSTREL:  Well, the design was done by the designers at Simon & Schuster.  The font choice, for example, the cover font is Futura, was done by the designers there.  The photos were all chosen and sourced and paid for by me.  The cover photo, which I use all over the place, is a wonderful photo by a photographer named Toni -- with an "I" -- woman -- Toni Frissell, who was a big fashion and war photographer in the forties, and a fashion photographer in the fifties, and one of the early Sports Illustrated photographers as well.

Probably the best known photos of hers are the Tuskegee airman, one of which appears in my book as well, and also she did John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy's wedding.  So those are probably her best known photos.  But the photo that I use on the cover, which is a woman in a white tennis dress looking longingly at some hills beyond, which captures very much, I think, the idea of longing, which is very central to my idea of glamour, is something she took for a 1947 issue of Harper's Bazaar.

And one of the things that's interesting about Toni Frissell is that she gave her archive, including all of her photos, to the Library of Congress, and she, with the agreement of her children, gave all her copyrights to the public domain.  So the photo that appears on my book cover, is actually something I discovered very early on in my research, when I was looking at what might be available in the public domain through the Library of Congress.  And it just was the picture.  It was just the one.  And so I've always seen that as the photo that would go on my book.  And fortunately the publisher agreed.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Obviously, it won't have the heft and the beautiful feeling paper of the hardcover edition, but will the Kindle and Nook editions of The Power of Glamour maintain many of those same aesthetic elements?

MS. POSTREL:  I have not seen the e-book, so I can't say authoritatively.  I know that it will have the photos that appear in the book.  But how exactly they'll work out, I just don't know.

MR. DRISCOLL:  I just want to return to the woman on the front cover for a moment, because that photo ties in with another example of how glamour works. We only see the back of her head. She’s staring into space;  we can imagine endless stories about her. Inside The Power of Glamour, you mention the title sequence of Mad Men, which ends with a silhouetted illustration of Don Draper, with his back to us as well. As you write in the Power of Glamour, Mad Men presents a much more stylized view of what New York and its inhabitants in the early 1960s looked like, when compared to actual photos of that period.

MS. POSTREL:  You've actually captured in this question two of the key elements of glamour.  One of the things I do in The Power of Glamour is analyze the three key elements that appear in all forms of glamour.

So the first is a promise of escape and transformation.  Glamour focuses our longings, whatever they may be, sort of inchoate desires, on some object that says -- makes -- it's not explicit -- but makes us feel that if we could be in that place, if we could be with that person, if we could be like that, these desires would be fulfilled.  And those desires are broader, like for respect or beauty or acclaim or, you know, those kinds of big -- big picture ideas.