Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 2014

'The Power of Glamour' Author Virginia Postrel On The Enduring Appeal of Mystery and Grace

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

for the commercial-interiors industry]. I don't think NeoCon is glamorous as a whole huge, giant conference or convention, but it's about interiors, and interiors often have glamorous elements to them. And you will find little bits of glamour as well as a lot of the stuff that gets hidden when you create a glamorous environment at NeoCon.

Actually, this is an interesting one to think about, because if you go to NeoCon, you will see all the things that are hidden in the glamour of a hotel lobby or the glamour of a really glamorous restaurant or something like that. You'll get the peek behind the curtain, because it's for the people who are creating glamour as opposed to being a glamorous convention itself. I imagine that there's any number of conferences that are like that. When I go to NeoCon, it doesn't destroy the glamour of interiors to me. It just makes me think, wow, it's really impressive how people put all these things together and create a new whole.

When you go to a meeting or conference as an attendee, what do you look to get out of that experience?

I want to meet interesting people and hear new interesting ideas and find out interesting things that people are doing in their businesses. I am looking for things that are new to me. I guess that would sum it up.

I was wandering around the hospitality design conference [HD Expo] — this is quite a number of years ago — and I kept noticing all these fabrics that had this thing called Crypton on them, and I thought, what is this Crypton in all these different booths? Eventually it led to a story [Postrel wrote for The New York Times] about this way of making a fabric that was more resilient, spill-proof, bacteria-proof, etc., etc. And that was because I was wandering around a trade-show floor, seeing this in a lot of different contexts, saying, what is this? Because it was new to me, because I was new to the industry.


The mystery essential to glamour is not complete inscrutability. Glamorous sunglasses, after all, highlight as well as veil. They call attention to the face, most of which remains visible, and even the darkest lenses allow a hint of eye to show every now and then, when the light is just right. (Mirror shades, by contrast, are less glamorous than intimidating.) Glamour, as noted in chapter one, is neither opaque nor transparent. It is translucent, balancing attraction and denial. Glamour exists, as a French book describes the folding screen, “à la frontière entre l'évident et le caché,” on the border between the obvious and the hidden. “You can create instant glamour with candlelight, which covers up anything,” advises tastemaker Carolyne Roehm. But the cover-up is not complete. Candlelight not only conceals but illuminates. It creates an enchanted circle, drawing guests closer. By highlighting some qualities and obscuring others, mystery creates a compellingly stylized version of reality that heightens grace and focuses desire. “The most essential thing about my style was working with shadows to design the face instead of flooding it with light,” wrote the Hollywood photographer George Hurrell. One way or another, all glamour follows the formula he laid out: “Bring out the best, conceal the worst, and leave something to the imagination.”

In constructing glamour, mystery is both a tool and an essential element. As a tool, mystery does two things: it provides imaginative space for the audience to project its own desires onto the glamorous object, and it enhances grace by obscuring preparation and flaws. As an essential element itself, it captures and holds the audience's attention. It fascinates and intrigues....

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). The meaning of glamour, in other words, lies entirely in the audience's mind, making glamour most effective at a distance. Charisma, by contrast, works through personal contact. A still image, the ideal medium for glamour, cannot capture charisma, which requires a live performance or, at the very least, a video recording. Charisma draws the audience to share the charismatic figure's own commitments, seeking that person's affection or approval. Charisma enhances leadership; glamour enhances sales.

Excerpted from The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, by Virginia Postrel. Published by Simon & Schuster. © 2013.

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