Film: Orchid Glamour

I've been pondering orchids lately. Not just the phalanopsis plants I have on my desk, which I love, but the big cymbidium orchids that are much more bold and old-fashioned. You know which ones I mean: they're big like an alien bird and colored all shades of pink, magenta or mauve, with maybe a little yellow mixed in. They look like a cross between a star and a monster - lots of shapely dimension and crazy color, especially in a group.

These days you've probably seen them on the shoulder of a happy mother or grandmother-of-the-bride, because weddings are when the fancy orchids seem to emerge from the florists' back rooms. It wasn't always this way though.

Back in the 1930s - 1940s, these orchids were the epitome of glamour and exoticism. I think this comes from the Victorian-Edwardian eras when orchids were extremely exotic and coveted as a luxury item. They had to be cultivated in hot houses, and their tropical beauty were the height of extravagance. As the world moved into the 20th Century, orchids became slightly more plentiful but still just as special. They became the standard of courtships all across the land.

left to right: Dolores Del Rio, Carole Lombard, & Greta Garbo

Because of their exclusive connotations, orchids were the perfect accoutrement for Hollywood starlets. Beautiful and rarified, the orchid became a symbol of the unobtainable woman. This whiff of the "ever-out-of-reach" gave them a dangerous appeal too, making them the chosen prop of gangster molls and bad girls. In other words, the orchid is the Madonna-whore of the flower world, and their inherent language speaks volumes.

A Harlequin pulp novel shows the *other* type of orchid girl.

Yes, if you were a man who wanted to impress a lady, you'd send her orchids. (If you really wanted to impress her, you'd put a diamond bracelet inside the box with the orchid, but that's another story.) Got it? Orchids = Woo, at least they did about 70 years ago.

But there are ladies and there are ladies, and when it comes to giving a lady orchids there are three types of recipient: one who is starry-eyed and appreciative of their novelty and beauty, one who has received so many orchids she's immune to their charm, and one who is right in between these two. The former is usually a younger girl who is still enchanted by the gesture, while the latter is usually a wizened older lady who wears them as a mere accessory. In the middle is the girl who is most like an orchid: sexy, alluring, expensive, and grown in a hot-house -  I'm sure the associations are obvious.

Carole Lombard wears orchids to marry William Powell in 1931

Sending orchids to a lady usually happened in the evening right before a date. Then, she'd wear the fresh, dewey flowers out on the town with her fella, usually pinned to her dress somewhere on the bodice. The look of a simple and slinky charmeuse gown embellished by a cluster of extravagant blooms always brings out the vamp in anyone. Later on, a gigantic cluster of cymbidiums on a fur coat showed elegance and luxury during the 1940s. Orchids weren't just for special occasions either, they'd get worn any time one needed to glam it up a little and look nice for a luncheon or day on the town. The orchids would come in a clear plastic box, nestled inside some plastic gras or paper shreds. The whole thing would be tied with an elegant ribbon and served with a little bon mot.

 In 1939's The Women, Mary Haines receives a box of orchids from her husband along with a note saying "What can I say?", as an eleventh-hour gesture before their divorce. Just a few minutes later, the Comtesse de Lave wears a lavish spray of orchids while on the train to Reno, in joyful pursuit of her next legal separation. 

Paulette Godard, Mary Boland, and Norma Shearer in The Women.

In the lighthearted Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth musical, You Were Never Lovelier from 1942, Rita's character Maria starts to receive orchids from a secret admirer. Little does she know that it's really her father sending them to her to launch her on the road to romance with Astaire's Robert Davis. Once Maria discovers the ruse, she wants nothing more to do with orchids at all, but Robert keeps sending them. Ultimately, the orchids win.

Rita Hayworth is SO the type of girl you'd send orchids to, let's be honest.

At the other end of the spectrum is the saucy Jean Harlow. Her white dress and orchid ensemble worn on the red carpet for the premiere of Hell's Angels is so famous that the look was replicated by Gwen Stefani in The Aviator. This extraordinary ensemble was the embodiment of fantasy and imagination for a country that had recently plunged into the Great Depression.

Jean Harlow at the Hell's Angels premiere in 1930, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow in The Aviator

It's interesting that while our love of orchids as house plants has increased, our love of orchids and other flowers as adornment (at least outside of weddings) has decreased. Pat Field tried to make a corsage comback a number of years ago on Sex and the City, but I think we all got over that trend right quick. I just have to wonder why no one opts for this type of glamour any longer. Orchids are far more eye-catching and far less expensive than fine jewelry, no? Plus, they instantly give the allure of old Hollywood to any ensemble, and what's so wrong with that I'd like to know?

I am a big fan of flowers as a fashion accessory and orchids are a classic choice. It's too bad that these days the orchid corsage is relegated to the dowdier members of the wedding party. They certainly didn't start out that way!

As I see more mentions & clips of orchids I'll do more posts of this type. So, keep your eye out and let me know if you have one in mind.

All images from internet searches.

I Sing the Blogger Electric, Part Deux

I may be an old codger of the blogosphere, but I do think there’s a proper way of doing things. Blogs and now Twitter offer a great way to network and build a creative community, but lately I find that while I love both these platforms, they’re getting more and more frustrating. The whole point is to share and share alike, not pick on people, “overlook” them, or be mean. For the most part, this isn’t what happens, but in the past few weeks I’ve been annoyed by some less than classy behavior 'round these parts. So, I’ve created a list of guidelines which are opinionated, yes, but to the point.

Do your research. This is for everyone. Bloggers, PR people, anyone who wants to say something. When I write about a topic, I do a quick Google search to see who else has written about it, see what they wrote, and if applicable, I link back to them in my post. THAT’S how blogs began and that’s how you build a community. Posting something without giving props to those that have voiced their take on the matter is a little bit déclassé, especially if you’re new at this. Chances are the post has been done somewhere, some place, by someone…find it and mention it.

Don’t over-do it. I love visual blogs and think they’re a fantastic source of inspiration for all manner of projects. That being said, there’s no need to find every single picture of one topic/style/person/idea and include ALL of them in a single post. This is like being faced with a plate of cookies and licking every single one so no one else can eat them. The whole point about blogging is to share. Okay, you’re cool, you have unlimited picture resources, but are twenty pictures of one person really necessary? Tell us Grasshoppers how to learn more and send us on our own journey.

No one likes a name-dropper (especially when they don’t know the names.) Kind of like the first two, this one rule refers to some of the general ass-hattery that’s been going on. If you’re in fashion PR in New York and part of your job is to tweet about your glamorous fabulosity of celebrities and events, keep this in mind: less is more. If you have your job, chances are you’re all of the following things: pretty, well-dressed, in-the-know, and up for a party. How do we know? Because people that aren’t those things don’t get your job. There’s no need to talk about who’s at the Standard Grill at this very moment, and that Patrick McMullan is snapping photos of you all, and that someone you're sitting next to will be on Page 6 tomorrow. We already expect that you’re there interacting with the glitterati because that’s your job. Get it?

To be fair, companies should be vetting their Twitter voices, making sure they don’t cross certain lines of TMI, but you’d also think the people would know that they’re responsible for a very visible aspect of the brand. (To be sure, it's sort of shocking that the brands don't have this more under control.) It should be understood that each tweet is a branded communication and treated as such. I don’t need to hear about your dematologist appointment (because you have a huge zit developing because of all you have to do at work), what you ate for lunch, and especially all the things you don’t know. If you don’t know them, pretend that you do. You’re working in fashion PR in New York – please don’t shatter my illusion that you’re actually a human being who’s totally overwhelmed (not to mention underqualified) by her job.

Be there, be present, and don’t forget your manners. This is really part B of the rule above. Once again, if you’re in fashion PR and part of your job is to tweet about the things you do, don’t be a complete idiot about it. If you’re at Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards at Carnegie Hall, please don’t “live tweet” them. It’s insulting to your fellow guests as well as those being honored. When I saw tweets about this, I felt dirty all over; the idea of people typing on mobile devices from inside of Carnegie Hall is just gross. Please be in the moment, not in your mobile device. I would so much rather you put your phone away, took everything in yourself, and then wrote a reflective, well-crafted post about it afterwards. It’s all very exciting, yes, but show some respect and I’ll respect you more.

Most importantly, read the damn post. One of the most frustrating things about blog commentary is the way people use the box as a mouthpiece for their unrelated opinions. One of my most visited posts is one I wrote long ago about Giada de Laurentiis. I love Giada, and made this very clear in the post. What I don’t like is the way that her producers have sexualized her so much that her on-screen presence detracts from her abilities as a cook, and I said as much in the post. Someone found this opinion many many months after it had been published and used it as an opportunity to call me “jealous”. I’m sorry, what? There’s nothing I hate more than unnecessary preaching to the choir. Unless it’s someone using the already over-used word “jealousy” because they can’t form a logical opposition. If I only had a nickel for every time that happened.

Good bloggers work hard on their posts, forming well-crafted opinions and ideas. After tracking down the post via searches and links, the least you can do is read what they have to say before mouthing-off. I’m sure they’d agree with me.

Don't punk-out. Also, part of the rule above. If you DO actually write a comment on a post, don't be a punk and write it anonymously. If you have something to say, at least leave an email address out of courtesy. Peoples' blogs are like their homes: they open them up and ask you to come in for a cocktail. Don't swig a glass of beer, pee in the potted plant and then leave. There's a civilized way to visit, offer a dissenting opinion, and then bow out gracefully. Bloggers are brave enough to be open with their perspectives, you should do them the same courtesy when you leave comments.

Of course, my impatience with all of these things may mean it’s time for me to hang it up as I approach the four-year mark on Poetic & Chic. I’m not sure about this as I think I have a lot to do still, but it is getting more difficult for me to be a naïve neophyte of starry eyes and blogging magic any more. I do love how the creative cycle constantly renews itself with fresh opinions and ideas, I just wish the people doing it were as classy as they were a few years ago.

Image from William Klein, Barbara Plus Coffee Filter.

Bang Envy - Jean Shrimpton

Jean Shrimpton - from the V&A CollectionFollowing up on my post about Françoise Hardy, I thought I'd bring up another gal from the 1960s whose bangs are completely lust-worthy: Jean Shrimpton. Yes, she was a model so there was barely a hair out of place, but the artfulness of her smooth style had to do with that slightly tousseled bed-head look, a la Brigitte Bardot. Of course, the bangs are to die for. A little long, going straight down or swooshed to the side; either way, the look is delish.

I have the more modern version of this haircut now (I've had it before too), and while I can make my bangs do all sorts of things, I never get my hair to look quite so awesome. I'm sure it has to do with that antiquated idea of getting one's hair "done", whatever that means, but I still want it.

"Shrimp & Stamp" Jean Shrimpton with Terrence Stamp

Bang Envy - Françoise Hardy

I have serious bang envy. I have bangs cut into my straight hair, but they just never seem quite right. Every hip girl with bangs that I see sets off a sad envy inside of me, beggin the question: why don't my bangs do THAT?

With this in mind, Françoise Hardy (an orignal bang-girl)'s Tous Les Garcons et Les Filles just played on my stereo, and I decided to go back and check out the bangs that have launched a thousand haircuts...even 40 years later.

This odd little video of the song is really well done. It's perfectly French: a little melancholy, a little racy, and a little romantic all at the same time. The motion of the rides is perfectly suited to the rhythm of the song - no accident, surely - and the whole thing looks like something Sofia Coppola could have shot yesterday... And then there's the bangs. J'adore!