Thank you again to everyone who helped me along the way, with your encouragement, advice, and/or (welcome) distraction :)

The official thesis can be found here at the UWSpace Theses and Dissertations Archive. Printed copies to be published soon.


how long i have waited for this day....


By M. Arch candidate: Angie Ng

Of the thesis entitled: On Luxury


Indulgent and desirable, luxury both boasts and seduces. Luxury is an elaboration on the essential, manifest in forms of etiquette and exclusion. Films index both reality and fantasy. They reflect, denounce, and exaggerate, making them invaluable cultural documents. Post-World War Two, the ease of air travel, mass production of goods, and foreign influence changed the face of luxury. By examining the films To Catch a Thief (1955), La Dolce Vita (1960), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – all three from the era of this shift in luxury – this essay excavates this change, by examining the narrative, objects, and architecture of selected scenes.

The examining committee is as follows:

Supervisor: Donald McKay

Committee Members: Rick Haldenby, University of Waterloo

Anne Bordeleau, University of Waterloo

External Reader: Greg Klymkiw, Senior Creative Consultant, Canadian Film Centre

The committee has been approved as authorized by the Graduate Studies Committee.

The Defence Examination will take place:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

10:30 am

ARC 1001 Main Lecture Hall

A copy of the thesis is available for perusal in ARC 2106A or a PDF version here.


"I'm five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor" -Nick Carraway

A rediscovery of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Edit and scheduling, two words I've developed viscerally upsetting reactions to.
The end of the thesis journey is so close I can taste it.


"Photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places."

Fleur Cowles with Cecil Beaton at a New Year's party, on Park Avenue, New York. (1952).

Katherine Hepburn with Irene Mayer Selznick at Montego Bay, Jamaica. (1953).

Christina and Alexander Onassis at Monte Carlo Beach Club. (1958).

The mantra of Slim Aaron.

When Truman Capote and Noel Coward recorded the world of luxury with words, Aaron did it with photographs.

a woman after my own heart

Alice T. Friendman's American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture.

Read The New York Times Q&A.

"My goal was to link a group of disparate architectural works and explain why they looked the way they did, and in the process reveal the complexity in the definition of modern architecture. It’s not just rational problem-solving and engineering-based. It’s much more about stories, pleasure and mystery."


Abstract (revised)

An architectural education develops a strong appreciation for fine craftsmanship, innovation, and quality of materials. The three principles of architecture established by the Roman architect Vitruvius – firmitas (durability), utilitas (utility), venustas (delight) – make it clear the discipline of architecture emphasizes beauty and comfort beyond the basic demands of shelter. Inherently, architecture and luxury have a convincing relationship. Luxury is all pleasure and comfort beyond necessity. Indulgent and desirable, luxury both boasts and seduces. Luxury is an elaboration on the essential, manifest in forms of etiquette and exclusivity based on social and economic rank. It is shifting to a more prescriptive, mockingly democratic process of collecting coveted objects. Spaces and cities have become part of the collectibles as well. There is little attention paid as to why these areas and items have gathered cachet, though there is plenty of evidence.

Films index both reality and society’s fantasies. They reflect, denounce, and exaggerate paradigms contemporary to its production, making them invaluable resources for cultural episodes. Post-World War Two, the ease of air travel, mass production of goods, and foreign influence changed the face of luxury. By examining the films To Catch a Thief (1955), La Dolce Vita (1960), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – all three from the era of this shift in luxury – the thesis interprets the causes of this change by a detailed examination of the narrative, objects, and architecture of selected scenes.


It's been a while since the last post.

The thesis is with an external editor right now, Sean Irwin. Thank you, thank you!!


One external reader: found!

Greg Klymkiw

"Greg Klymkiw has devoted his life and career to the development, distribution and production of indigenous, independent Canadian film culture. He is currently the Producer-in-Residence at the Canadian Film Centre...And yes, he watches movies too. At last count, Klymkiw had seen over 30,000 feature films. "

More on him here.


How I approached the subject matter

Just like most other projects within the School of Architecture:

The movement
1950s to 1960s (luxury goes from space of manners to system of possessions)

Exemplary works
To Catch a Thief, La Dolce Vita, Breakfast at Tiffany's

Screenplay excerpts

Footnotes (literary exegesis)

Draft to be returned in 2 weeks. Signoff around the corner?? Defense in 6???


2nd draft in PDF

Here is the 2nd draft of my thesis in downloadable PDF format!

Entire double page spreads and paragraphs may change....
...but here it is for now.....

Remember Now

Just a frivolous post.

The short film by Karl Lagerfeld for this 2011 Cruise Collection Remember Now, launched today.

Reinforcing stereotypes of models, designers, and St. Tropez? Check, check, and check. But what makes this worth your time is witnessing the genesis of glamour using heavy references of French history, foreign accents, music of eras past, lush textiles, Mediterranean architecture, and the always unsettling mix of young ingenues hanging off of seasoned tastemakers. Not to offend Fellini lovers, but even a tad of a French La Dolce Vita.


the bare facts

A little chart for ease of comparison. Have been writing a lot...the result of which should soon be a first draft!(?)


Think about it.

"Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity."
-Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel

"Living in the lap of luxury isn't bad, except that you never know when luxury is going to stand up."
-Orson Welles



Our architectural education, among many other things, creates a strong sense of appreciation for fine craftsmanship, innovation, and quality of materials, yet not necessarily always the salaries to acquire them. This is a cruel irony I am still trying to come to terms with. And by virtue of looking at movies, I recognize the paradox of the issue of authenticity with a form of media that is inherently fictional. But it is in this construct that allows for the evolving nature of luxury to be unveiled -- by a sort of distorted mirror principle.

Since writers are by nature outsiders, often standing at the edges looking in (in line with the characters I focus on), then writing this thesis about luxury makes me an outsider, squared. Still, the credo of writing floated to the surface of my thoughts: write about what you know. My exposure to luxury, in terms of travel, goods, and services, is by global standards a healthy average. I am not immune to the omnipresent marketing and advertising of designer brands that infiltrate our modern lives. Yet, I am also not one to (too easily) buy into their hallow promises of status and respectability. Still, I fall prey.

I have tried on more than one occasion to chase the fashionable milieu dream. Visits to the south of France, Rome, and New York always included specially planned outings to the boutique of the moment, the restaurant du jour, the famed and illustrious hotel. But today, when it hardly makes any difference whether you walk into a Louis Vuitton store in Xiamen or Stuttgart or Denver, the face of true luxury eludes us. I recall back to the time I was in Santee Alley in Los Angeles, looking at an array of counterfeit merchandise, the crooked and weathered wooden table it was placed upon, the dirty tarp that covered the niche for the storage of more of the same. The smell of cheap leather and over-use of glue, the dull clang of shoddy metalwork clasps in highly-recognizable logo shapes. Not to mention the alarming probability that these untaxed profits will go on to fund illegal firearms or drug trafficking. And finally, it came full circle during the documentary of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) called “Living in Emergency”. The incredulousness and irrelevancy of seeing an LV scarf wrapped around the head of an MSF national volunteer from Liberia as he was helping usher a gun wound victim in a DKNY shirt into the free hospital NGOs have set up in the war-torn country. That's when I realized what our general sense of self-presentation of wealth has become -- a rootless, thoughtless, fully-compromised mirage of symbols.

I want to find the root of this change. I want to figure out the mechanisms with which this propagated. I do not want to reverse the evolution nor do I want to shut the gates for exclusivity. But if everything boiled down to false homages and fabricated authenticity, at least I need to know the originating source. And perhaps even find a cure to undo this spell.


Deluxe by Dana Thomas

How did I miss this read? At least I'm on it now.

Googlebooks preview

(Thanks Andrea!)


diagrammatic outline of thesis, another attempt


movies and architecture

This is an old project (4A!) that was an experiential map of personal perception and exploration along the Via del Mandrione towards Rome.

A building can only be experienced when walked through, when inhabited.
The unfolding of spaces is comparable to the unreeling of scenes in a film.

In this way, mass media dominates daily life, and we see in visual staccatos and hear in sound-bytes. Film aids architecture by inspiring the average filmgoer to take an interest in the built environment and to experience within the realms of cinema what they may never experience in real life. Film also returns to architecture a mass medium where both the trained and untrained can become the critique.

However, architecture will remain when film is gone, as architecture affords film its temporal structure.

(Source: Thomsen, Christian W. & Krewani, Angela. Hollywood: Recent Developments. Stuttgart: Axel Menges, 2005.)

Team: M Karimi / J Lee / D McNinch / R Micacchi / S Neault / A Ng / K Schwartzkopf / M Tataryn


original movie posters

“Cinematographic posters are like popular songs: they take you back to certain moments of your life, preventing you from losing them. They take you back not only to the film, but to their season, the atmosphere and the tastes of an era.”
Federico Fellini

The film poster is still often first point of entry to film; a synthesis of art and the market. It establishes the first scene, focussing on star quality, and creating mood. It becomes the calling card for film itself; captialising on allure. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the main vehicle for publicity on walls of towns and cinema entrance halls, following a film as it moved from second and third showings and into provincial theatres. After a film’s release these posters were usually sent back to the distributor at the end of the run and destroyed. Due to its disposable nature, originals are rare. The average print run in Italy was 2000-3000 copies.

tester map for La Dolce Vita scenes


A Time and Place

This is a timeline of the 3 movies with the chosen scenes and their locations.


playing dressup

test layout templates




scripts and footnotes (details, intentions) III

Now with La Dolce Vita. Screenplay by Federico Fellini and Ennio Flaiano.


script and footnotes (details, intentions) II

The same thing, with To Catch A Thief. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes.

script and footnotes (details, intentions)

Breakfast at Tiffany's

An excerpt from the screenplay by George Axelrod and an examination of the implications by virtue of the choice of location, costume, and other designed components.

An anthology of these excerpt-anaylses from each film will become a sizeable component of the thesis.

In conjunction with selected film stills, ordered to resonate with the essays prior to them.


Full Steam Ahead?

On Luxury


The most fundamental of human needs: shelter, modesty, and sustenance, through beautification and attention to detail, are elevated to the realm of some of the most enlightened pursuits of humanity. As a notion of space, they become the fashionable milieu: the hotel, the boutique, and the restaurant. As a notion of objects, they become consumable products: architecture, fashion, and cuisine.

Luxury is based upon a visual language of signifiers, and an audience is required for their existence. These associations concretize into myths when placed in the centre of the popular consciousness – physically, on a public stage for the display of wealth. This is the channel through which the socially privileged can interact with the city. The way a place acquires the aura of desirability depends on the balance between exclusivity and accessibility. The institutions of consumption, display, and entertainment are the tools for the reinforcement and dissemination of this aura. The architecture of these elite enclaves is the driving force of the sensory experience to a city.

The movies of the golden age of Hollywood captured the time when playgrounds of the nouveau riche were being established. Cote d'Azur, Rome, and New York, acquired unprecedented respectability and reverence through these injections of Hollywood glamour. "To Catch a Thief", "La Dolce Vita", and "Breakfast at Tiffany's", have sustained appeal because they fuel dreams of escape or the allure of self-transformation. That is why these films deal with an outsider's impression of luxury; a legendary heterotopia and the assault to gain access into it. These films are used to triangulate the key components of the architectural discord in motion, the transformation of luxury from a space of manners to a system of possessions. The built form proves that luxury has a format, bounded in space and time.


1. Embellishment
-From basic needs to elevated pursuits

1.a.Spaces of Expenditure
-The fashionable milieu
1.b.Consumable Products
-Pecuniary emulation

2. Luxury and the City
-Visual inclusiveness, physical exclusiveness
-Social and geographical mobility

3. The Change
-From a space of manners to a system of possessions

4. Cinema
-Script and footnotes
-Actual, faux, and recreated
-A fusion of horizons



Thesis-in-a-nutshell REVISED

Click to enlarge.


what is going on in my head these days...

Click to enlarge



Any technique capable of recording three-dimensional visual information or creating the illusion of depth in an image. The illusion of depth in a photograph, movie, or other two-dimensional image is created by presenting a slightly different image to each eye. Traditional stereoscopic photography consists of creating a 3-D illusion starting from a pair of 2-D images. The easiest way to create depth perception in the brain is to provide the eyes of the viewer with two different images, representing two perspectives of the same object, with a minor deviation similar to the perspectives that both eyes naturally receive in binocular vision. If eyestrain and distortion are to be avoided, each of the two 2-D images preferably should be presented to each eye of the viewer so that any object at infinite distance seen by the viewer should be perceived by that eye while it is oriented straight ahead, the viewer's eyes being neither crossed nor diverging. When the picture contains no object at infinite distance, such as a horizon or a cloud, the pictures should be spaced correspondingly closer together.

This idea is very intriguing since I may use the method of film stills for analysis of luxury. In this way, the focus is on the built environment instead of the flow of space (an encapsulated temporal condition).


"Style is the new content"
Film still taken from the move Nine (2009), based on Fellini's 8 1/2.
Based in the early 1960s, this is exactly the time period of when luxury shifted from a space of manners to a system of possessions.


Veblen vs. Post

The observations and conclusions of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) is roughly the following:

1. “Conspicuous consumption” – when social institutions exploit the consumption of unessential goods for the sake a personal profit and not for productivity or pride of workmanship.
2. “Pecuniary emulation” – including male’s “ownership” of women to affirm prerogatives
3. To be seen doing work is to be lowered in social esteem
4. Ceremonial labour is executed only for show, in concert with the busy idleness of conspicuous leisure
5. The superficial display of good manners/form is a waste of time, yet continued as an enhancement of one’s social prestige
6. Modern day gentlemen still display gluttony, just more discreetly (caviar instead of beef-bones)
7. The lavish display by a host is to demonstrate that he/she has such an excess they must share
8. The obsessive decoration of homes is usually the outcome of housewives defined by wasteful expenditures of time and money
9. The poor cling to cheap imitations that emulate the upper-class habits accepted as the sign of social respectability
10. When taught to believe that saving their earnings is not that beneficial, people waste it on useless products
11. The age-old craving for gold and diamonds (breeders of war and misery, lacking all social use) is supplemented by modern hunger for brand-names that give objects a value they do not actually possess.

Now I need to pit this against Emily Post and her rationale as to why we must uphold etiquette and manners in her book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922). It is interesting to note that she was the daughter of a wealthy architect. This comic is not part of the argument, but sheds some light on Post's thinking none the less:

Jay Gatsby

I just read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby over the holidays, and it is completely apparent now the Gatsby that lies in all the protagonists of the three chosen films: Holly Golightly, John Robie, and Marcello Mastroianni. It is always an outsider, with a past that he/she has struggled with and tries to forget, and the contrast of wanting into a world of opulence and luxury. The tragedy is not as apparent in some than in others. But it is also interesting to see the many other iterations of this novel's covers. Often they are over romanticized, pastel-dominated renditions of the Jazz Age, but this photograph, reminiscent of a film still, of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan looking out over Long Island Sound from West Egg is calm and tense all at once.

On Film Stills

Photographs seem to take possession of spaces that are insecure, either due to temporal or physical limitations. And this feeling of possession feeds directly into the aesthetic consumerist mentality that has made us all into image-junkies. As flat and direct as this condition has become, ultimately, having an experience has been equated to taking a photograph of it. Despite all the other effects of a photograph -- a relation to the world, a record of presence, a token of absence -- it is first and foremost an article of consumption. It is an object that is ready to be criticized, appraised, collected, or displayed.

As photographs that are transcribed onto film cease to be tangible objects, a film still taken out of a film gains a new status as an object. Originally, the images of a film are meant to be seen for only as long as the editing allows. There is no time for lingering or back tracking (at least, in a cinema setting). A still allows for the viewer to mull over a single moment for as long as he or she desires. And intrinsically, a film still is much more memorable than the collective moving images themselves since they are "a neat slice of time, not a flow." (Sontag, 17). The iconic image becomes ingrained in the collective public consciousness since it is a neat, easily-processed product to be quickly consumed.

With this, process in time becomes a fixed circumstance. Since there is no film reel rolling on with each new image cancelling out its predecessor, the focus is on the built environment instead of the flow of space – a privileged moment that encapsulates the temporal condition. It is for precisely this reason that by pulling out certain frames of the three chosen films (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, To Catch a Thief, and La Dolce Vita), the narrative of the story takes a secondary seat, and the details and composition can be cited for its intentions and meanings.

Sontag, Susan. “On Photography.”


MX Review (M3)

Dec 17, 2pm
Don McKay, Rick Haldenby, Elizabeth English

-Two streams
(1) transition from fashion transforming from ritual to appearance (from encompassing concept of occupying space to single flat image)
(2) unpack these movies formidably (pure iconography, luxury from a space of manners to a system of possession, literally analyze the luxury of dynamics of space e.g. who enters room first, body language...)
-external opinion
(1) Susan Sontag on Richard Avedon
(2) Emily Post versus Thorstein Veblen

-what is the vertical axis of your matrix?

-two sides of envy (inducer, lustee)
-Great Gatsby lies in all the stories (outsider, the contrast of wanting, the tragedy)

-Map out/distinguish between:
(1) faux site, (2) actual site, (3) recreated site off location
-Simple questions:
(1) social strata?
(2) luxury inside versus outside?
(3) parallels, cross-examine films
(4) role of public spaces?

-film equipment (device that transfers the vision of the script to the film) innovation, different exposures, on location

-what is your organization? cluster of essays?
-must talk about technology changes in air travel during this time

-Fashion Systems: how is space used to amplify/diminish power? where are the differentials of this power in these films? draw it out; write about it
-Anne Hollander (Seeing Through Clothes, Women in the Mirror, Sex and Suits, Moving Pictures, Fabric of Vision, Feeding the Eye: Essays)
-count things: how many screen minutes focused on location? shot front with no context, shot from a distance with context, shot from side...); number of times...

-role of women as ultimate symbol of luxury; objects of desire
-number of minutes of dialogue
-the black dress, iterations of the same thing


The Value of Gemstones

I have always known that value does not reside in objects but rather in the perception of objects. And that value is contagious, working in the same model as a culture of bacteria on a Petri dish: the initial inoculation of low numbers, the slow inception, the rise to exponential figures, to a plateau population of pure saturation, until it dies due to over-congestion. And that shoppers are willing to pay at different “price points”, depending on how much Gucci/Louis Vuitton/Versace is in a product. That is why easily visible goods like tshirts, shoes, dark sunglasses, watches, handbags and luggage are the best inventory that is able to let their owner unload the logo onto onlookers. In architecture, they may be telling a story of a sculptural symphony of titanium but really people see it as the museum being rich enough to have a Gehry in their city. But strangely enough, it also works in reverse proportion, where value is diluted if the logo noise is loud. The absence of obvious indications means connoisseurship is needed to read the code of luxury. For example, the single red line for Prada. And architecture works on this level too, with details that are signature to a particular architect that are left for fellow designers to decode.

Jewelry remains a vital element to convey luxury in getting dressed because it underlines the desire for order, for composition, for intelligence. Beyond the primary symbolic power: that of announcing an order as inflexible as that of things, it is humanity's poetic imagination that was able to conceive of stones that were made to wear. And the piece of jewelry reigns over clothing not because it is absolutely precious but because it plays a crucial role in making clothing mean something (Barthes, 64).

All the jewels in the chosen films revolve around the innocence and infamy of the value of the gemstone -- the naivete and respect holly golightly has for them, the means to an end john robie sees in them, the indifference but display of the them nonetheless for the socialites in La Dolce Vita.

In this, luxury is an inadvertent shortcut to find meaning in a transitory world and luxury is always socially constructed.

“Borrowed value” is a technique that a lot of branding companies utilize because proximity generates worth; in other words, value leaks.

The Stendhal Syndrome is “a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world. It is named after the famous 19th century French author Stendhal (pseudonym of Henri-Marie Beyle), who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence, Italy in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.” [wikipedia]

But there can also be more modern equivalents to this condition.

Take for example Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with Holly Golightly’s reverie’s in the store Tiffany & Co curing her of the “mean reds”:
“Not that I give a hoot about jewelry…[it’s] the quietness and the proud look of it…that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.” (39, Capote)

There is the emotional attachment to even the most confected displays of luxury. It is due to the concept of proximity to value. The fairytale-like stories that make our minds associate the self within the dream. Because value resides in the perception of the object, (as Rolling Stones coined the phrase) perception IS reality.

First I must define “old luxury”. Old style luxury is based on actual patina of old age. The notion of authenticity is upheld by official records. It stems from traditional roots of aristocracy and is a rare item. That is not to say it deserves to be valued more highly than other items, because as I mentioned before, it is still a socially constructed assumption. [expand here] New luxury on the other hand is all in the marketing and packaging, because once the production is tied to machines and computers, you have to tell a story in order to separate it from the rest of the pack. And advertising, contrary to popular belief does not invent desire, it just expresses desire with the hopes of exploiting it over and over (157, Twitchell). Every “new luxury” store attempts to manufacture desire through its spaces. I want to explore which are the most effective ways, and what we can learn about ourselves (and our society) in the process.

Luxury is hard to define because more often than not, money is not an indication, only a repercussion. The issues of quality, taste, and rarity all feed into its formalization. And of course, that is a large part of its allure. And a collection of items that exemplify luxury speaks to a certain aspect of cultural literacy, a litmus of aesthetic sense, a pulse on the proverbial. At a time when attention and care to the individual object is rapidly decreasing, the importance of things in general seem to be on the exponential rise. So this synthesis comes at an opportune time to reassess where the archetype of things mass-produced originate. The golden age of Hollywood is an era that encapsulates glamour at its cinematic height. From the lavishly costumed and expensively marketed studio beauties, to Technicolor's three-strip colour process yielding saturated cinematography, to more scenes filmed in exotic locations (now somewhat familiarized with ease of air travel and World War Two), the 1950s and 1960s produced a bevy of intoxicatingly glamorous films befitting the burgeoning consumer economy (Pomerance, 15).


Roland Barthes wrote in "The Language of Fashion":
Man invented clothing for four reasons:
1. as protection against harsh weather
2. out of modesty for hiding nudity
3. for ornamentation to get noticed
4. the function of meaning, in order to carry out a signifying activity; a profoundly social act right at the heart of the dialectic of society (beyond modesty, ornamentation, protection)

There is no doubt a link between certain types of dress that pertain to certain professions, social classes, religions, towns, etc. And this conscious coding in clothing is exactly why great writers such as Baudelaire, Edgar Poe, Michelet, and Proust, have always been preoccupied with clothing in their works. They understood that clothing is an element that "involved the whole of being". (Barthes, 96)

Then, it is only fitting that costume design in the film industry plays one of the most significant roles in creating a character. As Audrey Hepburn had once described in an interview about her praise for Hubert Givenchy:

He was "a personality-maker and a psychiatrist..." providing her with a look that gave her the confidence to act. "It was...an enormous help to know that I looked the part...Then the rest wasn't so tough anymore. Givenchy's lovely simple clothes [gave me] the feeling of being whoever I played." (Source: Christie's)

Audrey Hepburn's iconic wardrobe in Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of the main aspects of what makes this film a classic. Hepburn travelled to Paris herself to handpick this young designer and boldly overstepped the monolithic Edith Head (and her reign as Head Costume Designer at Paramount for many years). Head was credited the "Wardrobe Supervisor", an incredible insult for a designer of her calibre. However, she had full control as Costume Designer in To Catch a Thief (and was nominated for an Academy Award in Best Costume Design, though she did not win), giving an incredible boost to Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in their iconic roles of epitomized glamour.

Similarly, the costuming in La Dolce Vita, even in black and white, gave this film its aura of glamour. It is said that Federico Fellini was inpsired by Cristobal Balenciaga's "Sack Dress" (1957) for the storyline of La Dolce Vita. Brunello Rondi, Fellini's co-screenwriter and long-time collaborator, confirmed that "the fashion of women's sack dresses which possessed that sense of luxurious butterflying out around a body that might be physically beautiful but not morally so; these sack dresses struck Fellini because they rendered a woman very gorgeous who could, instead, be a skeleton of squalor and solitude inside." Balenciaga was an innovator in fabrics, and his sculptural creations were the most celebrated in haute couture of the 1950s and 1960s. And beyond this initial inspiration through fashion, the tone is continued throughout the movie, with Anita Eckberg's strapless black gown and Anouk Aimee's simple black sheath dress. "The transparent mesh at the decolletage and the back makes it incredibly sexy and restrained," says Jay Weissberg, Variety's film critic based in Rome. "Roman women tend to love clothes that create an impression of strength as well as femininity."

However, apparel and guise cannot hold their own without a fitting environment to display them within.

Spaces of Expenditure

Spaces of expenditure undergo an evolutionary process. New typologies are born, gain popularity, fade, or continually evolve.

Today, rather than shopping occurring within a city, the city is constituted within the shopping. Through this evolution of spaces of expenditure, shopping has become the driving force of urbanity. It has become such an effective catalyst because (1) it is prone to bringing together heterogeneous aspects of urbanity into a connected experience and (2) it does not stay a separate element of the city but rather evens out a density of events that maximizes the promotion of urban activity (Koolhaas, GTS, 194) Perhaps so much so that shopping has flattened the public space, due to the ubiquity of brands and the enormity of international commercialization. [Family Tree of Designer]

Yet historically, the concept of Western public life has always developed parallel to the marketplace. The ancient Greek agora served as a meeting place as well as a platform for sportsmen and political figures. The large, usually rectangular space was surrounded by buildings where public records, important documents, and daily business was run. The stoa, a long building with columns that formed the edge of the agora, was where all the shops were located. The buying and selling of exotic merchandise took place here. Some examples are ivory and gems from Egypt, elephants from India, silk from China, wool from Greece, dye from eastern countries, and grain from areas around the Black Sea. (Source:?)

And in the 1690 France, fashion became a method of escapism, as the world beyond the sheltered couture microcosm was full of countryside famine, war threats, bankruptcy of the nation and brutal winters (DeJean, 44).

The café scene was first made fashionable in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighbourhood. They made it chic, and made it cher (DeJean, 11). It also attracted a very different type of clientele than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. It became a place that elegant women went to show off their latest fashion and hair.

And with this new fashion, shopping was also reinvented. Prior to the age of Louis XIV, fashion was often negotiated through home visits. People rarely shopped in public as the conditions were not designed for shoppers to linger. They were more like storehouses for merchandise with no attention to décor. The bottom half of the shop’s shutters folded down to make a table on which the products were displayed, and the top half folded upwards to form an awning. Thus, customers would remain in the street, never entering the premises. It was revolutionary to show off a range of offerings with displays inside the space. To have luxury goods in surroundingss that were worthy of the purchasers, to entice consumers into the store with designated window displays, these concepts were all new (DeJean, 12). And shoppers were waited on by attractive shopgirls dressed in the latest fashion, a tactic completely unique to the Parisian scene. As precursors to the chic boutiques we now know, many original high-end shops by the century’s end already began to cluster at, the still famed, rue Saint-Honoré.

Therefore, convincing people to buy for the sake of buying was initiated. Thus, shopping became a whole experience, not just another chore. The market became a shopping theatre where consumers spent money because they felt that their lives were somehow transformed for the better by the event. Value was no longer only about price and performance but rather by other factors: aesthetics, elegance, and atmosphere. It was the early ad campaign, with a hefty dose of emotion and drama, promoting status and pleasure by choosing to indulge the self with a particular purchase (DeJean, 19). This is also what instilled the creation of the modern tourism industry. The earliest appearance of “tourism” by the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1872, “born in the 17th c. Englishmen were first to practice it” and the favoured destination was Paris. The first modern guidebook published in 1690-172 introduced foreign visitors to Paris with notes not just on the major monuments but of a new kind of advice: what to eat, where to stay and most importantly, where to shop. And with Paris as the first city anywhere to illuminate its streets after dark on a regular and permanent basis, the shopping hours could be extended, and nightlife would be ever more lengthy, sociable, and entertaining (DeJean, 202-209). The city of lights was also the city of seduction, through installing innovative but basic infrastructure.

In the 1700s, British consumption was fueled by the global trade in eastern luxuries. There was also the introduction of new goods made with modern materials and methods called "semi-luxury". This meant that even though the main selling points seemed to be accurately copied, it still lacked the uniqueness of upper-class quality. At the same time, presentation and selling techniques were developed further, as exteriors of shops were painted and adorned, and interiors were furnished for a more inviting shopping experience. The invention of glass display cases and entire glass storefronts opened up a new world of possibilities of display. (Chung, 512). Because of this, the historian Maxine Berg, posited that "the 18th century is the defining moment in history of consumer culture of the west." (Gundle, 71)

Then in the 1800s, the emergence of the Parisian arcade transformed public life by creating an artificial connectivity beyond the sidewalk. An amalgamation of passage and shopping, the arcade linked previously disjointed areas of the city. Baudelaire was one of the first to write about the flaneur: "a person who walks the city in order to experience it." To be enraptured by the dazzling displays, shop windows, and finery, the commercial sector replicates these qualities en masse. And these ephemeral experiences are curiously unforgettable. They implant themselves as a feature of the city and become a common grammar for the language of luxury. And though people are attracted to these areas, there are financial and cultural obstacles that make acquisition a problem. So strategies of enticement were developed on the basis of showmanship, magic, and religion (Gundle, 73). [to be addressed in later section] Though the aristocracy may no longer dominate consumption, they still have a strong role as tastemakers. Manipulating wants, needs, and aspirations, great efforts in how goods were shown endowed certain areas with an appeal that went much beyond a regular urban street grid (Manhattan in Breakfast at Tiffany's), a quiet fishing town off the Mediterranean (Cannes in To Catch a Thief), and a town struggling to get back on its feet after the Second World War (Rome in La Dolce Vita).


The milieux


The locations of La Dolce Vita often refer back to antiquity, not only because it is impossible to escape the past of the eternal city, but also because connotations of luxury must always hint at a resplendent history. From the opening shot of the Statue of Christ being flown in by a helicopter past the Acquedotto Claudio to the frolick through the Fontana di Trevi, the film points to a society that is not satisfied with a world of spiritual pleasures, but rather of world of man made spectacle -- that relies on media, movie stars, and gossip journalism to rescue it from boredom (Source: Burke, 86). The hustle and bustle of the cafe society around the famous Via Veneto is most aptly captured by Paparazzo (from which the term paparazzi was coined*). This was reflective on and off screen, as the numerous establishments that were created to cater for this film and tourist industry boom in Rome became flooded with stars, and consequently, paparazzi. The aristocracy sequence repeatedly refers further and further back to its rich roots, starting from the drive out to the Castle of Bassano di Sutri until the seance in the dilapidated 500-year old villa on its grounds. And on the other side of this narrative is the strive for modern glamour, represented in the housing of Steiner in the EUR. His intellectualism though, still does not save him from his own suicide. And all the while, the protagonist, Marcello, by virtue of his profession, of gossip journalist, as well as mental disposition remains an outsider, trying to transform from a mere observer but cannot ever fully realize his purpose beyond that.

*The character of Paparazzo, the news photographer (played by Walter Santesso) who works with Marcello, is the origin of the word paparazzi used in many languages to describe intrusive photographers. As to the origin of the character's name itself, Fellini scholar Peter Bondanella argues that although "it is indeed an Italian family name, the word is probably a corruption of the word papataceo, a large and bothersome mosquito. Ennio Flaiano, the film's co-screenwriter and creator of Paparazzo, reports that he took the name from a character in a novel by George Gissing." Gissing's character, Signor Paparazzo, is found in his travel book, By the Ionian Sea (1901). Source


The primary difference between the milieu of Breakfast at Tiffany's compared to the other two is the fact of the Manhattan street grid. As Rem Koolhaas wrote in "Delirious New York", the grid imposes an:

"indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality. Through the plotting of its streets and blocks it announces that the subjugation, if not obliteration, of nature is its true ambition. All blocks are the same; their equivalence invalidates, at once, all the systems of articulation and differntiation that have guided the design of traditional cities. The Grid makes the history of architecture and all previous lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It forces Manhattan’s builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another."

And since Manhattan itself is finite and the 2028 blocks of the grid fixed, the city and each specific experience within it becomes a mosaic of episodes superimposed upon this grid. The grid starts to collect meaning and cachet in certain areas that are by no means static, but carry hierarchies among themselves. Golightly understood this on the most subtle of levels yet exhibited them in the most overt ways. Her obsession over the Tiffany & Co. flagship store and her weekly visits up to Sing-Sing Prison gave her the full spectrum of this dynamic at work. As a "real phoney", she believed in the power of the fashionable milieux of the city to transform her from an impoverished Texan farm girl (she dropped her original name Lulamae Barnes) into a metropolitan savvy socialite.


To Catch a Thief sits in between the previous two films, in that though there is a history to draw upon, this milieux is of a different breed, apart from the Italian aristocracy and the New York socialite. It is the playing grounds of the international jet set.

The Carlton Hotel in Cannes, is said to be "undisputed headquarters of motion picture industry deal-making" and the most esteemed place to stay during the Cannes Film Festival. And being the location where most of the film is set, the hotel becomes a character onto itself:

"A hotel is a plot – a cybernetic universe with its own laws generating random but fortuitous collisions between human beings who would never have met elsewhere. It offers a fertile cross-section through the population, a richly textured interface between social castes, a field for the comedy of clashing manners, and a neutral background of routine operations to give every incident dramatic relief." (Source: Koolhaas, 124)

All the progressive moments of the film occur in the darker recesses of the chambers, the splendour of the dining hall, and the precarious tiled rooftops. John Robie, the retired jewel thief, tries to prove his innocence to the nouveau riche within this new fashionable milieux.

Glamour and the City

Daniell Scotti, Starlet on Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
George Daniell, 1955
vintage silver print

A fundamental prerequisite to glamour is the city. Glamour requires a high degree of urbanity because there must be the right combination of wealth, beauty, power, and publicity present in order to catalyze the reactions of luxury.

The city of the 20th century presented a society that was high in social and geographical mobility. The age of debutante balls and established aristocratic order was fading rapidly, while at the same time the elevation of outsiders became easier and more common. Money, merit, and beauty were now the criteria for power, rather than birth. There was also a fluidity to travel and the evolving economy that allowed for fresh new personalities, fashions, and places to inspire new stories. This heterogeneous mix was exactly what the press and media fed upon. A plethora of routes to self-transformation were possible in this capitalist, distinctly bourgeois scene all primed to seduce the public.

First and foremost, it is the visual inclusiveness of the city that allows for the seduction to occur. As a primary condition, the public must have front row seats to the display of the first class. Prominent people may aim to impress one another, but what truly boosts their celebrity or infamy is their absorption into the general public. And contrary to simple logic, this pursuit unifies, rather than divides, societies. When the city acts as the playground for the spectacle and display of life, the participation at public events and commercial institutions becomes a common pursuit of aesthetic and social effects. Desirability was a matter of portraying patterns of consumption, display, and entertainment. This is what constituted the "fashionable milieux".

The fashionable milieux is an area that has acquired an aura of desirability due to its associations with the privileged. With the proper balance of exclusivity and accessibility, a certain location propels itself beyond a mere centre for social interaction, but rather into an institution of glamour. These enclaves, mainly the commercial and entertainment sectors of a metropolis, become absorbed in the fabric of the city, concretizing and diffusing these moments of luxury -- in the mind of its inhabitants and all those others who become exposed to it.

And it is not even so important whether to distinguish the authentic from the false when it comes to glamour, because the idea itself is based on falsities:

The word "glamour" is an anglicized version of "glamer" (in use in Low Scotch since 1800s) referring to the "supposed influence of a charm on the eye, causing it to see objects differently from what they really are." According to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, published in 1879, some possible origins are "glimbr" (splendour) or "glamskygn" (squint-eyed). So "glamour" was always used to speak about the ability to transform, beguile, bluff through chimeras, and always into something more luxurious. And it's not a coincidence that glamour is one of the only words where even the American spelling adopts the -our ending instead of the regular -or one (e.g. labor, harbor). Even the Conde Nast magazine "Glamour", founded in 1939, has always spelt the title the European way, reinforcing the European influence on what typifies sophisticated style. (Ralph Lauren released a perfume in 2000 called "Glamourous", a very curious misspelling aimed to emphasize the -our spelling).

Thus, certain locations had transformed into landscapes of continuous narratives of the glamorous. To see and be seen in these areas epitomized the opulent incarnate in architecture, always within certain formulas that emblematize luxury.