A sales pitch, masquerading as architectural analysis ...
(I wasn't sure where to post this, but when I saw that the last post here was from TLOZ I knew it was the right place) ...
Photomontage by Kahn & Selesnick
By HERBERT MUSCHAMP
September 3, 2006
In the chronicles of Western civilization, postmodern architecture deserves to be remembered for at least one signal achievement. Thanks to this movement’s revival of decorative facades and ornamental crowns, far fewer architects today are likely to become offended when their skyscrapers are likened to perfume bottles. Many even recognize that the comparison is often intended as a compliment. Few new buildings, tall or short, match the aesthetic appeal of the flacons, vials and jars that crowd the perfume and cosmetics counters at department stores and duty-free shops all over the world. They are my favorite skyline.
The men’s wear designer Hedi Slimane has just unveiled a new line of skin treatments for men that would be the making of many a downtown central business district. The hapless planners of ground zero may want to snap up reproduction rights before Slimane’s designs get duped for some spanking-new city in western China. The new line, for Dior Homme, is called Dermo System but may as well be christened Male Vanity Makeover Plaza, for its sleek high-design packaging reflects the encouraging extent to which cosmetics have replaced architecture in the projection of the masculine psyche. Today’s forward-thinking man, it seems, would much rather have the inner plush that comes from youthful collagen. For these souls, Slimane’s Dermo System will be immensely more alluring than a sleek high rise with a glass skin. Designed to reverse the effects of time on the urban epidermis, the quartet of products promises to enhance the visage that stares back at us from every reflective surface in town.
I gave them a try. They did prolong the tight sensation you get after splashing your face with cold water. Possibly I prefer my skin to get loose and baggy as the day wears on. But at least they didn’t induce the marron glacé complexion of Hurd Hatfield in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” And I’m terribly sad that I had to send back the bottles. Surprisingly, for a designer long associated with the skinny silhouette, the bottles Slimane created for these elixirs tend toward the chunky. Squarish, but with rounded corners, they would have a hard time trying on Slimane’s clothes without splitting the seams. (Perhaps the message is that a man’s skin can be too thin.) Still, designed in strict accord with the classical principles of the golden section, or something awfully like it, they gave my bathroom shelfscape an inspiring Continental flair.
The containers for all four skin products employ the motif of the rusticated column. This iconic form came into widespread use in the late 18th century, when architects were seeking to effect a cultural renewal by designs that recalled primitive origins. Along with the deployment of pure geometric shapes — circles, spheres, squares — the rusticated column reflected a desire to break with the ornate forms of Baroque and Rococo buildings and return to an era before life had been corrupted by the conflicts and compromises of history. In theory, the restoration of these primitive archetypes would promote the emergence of a society based on reason.
As the art historian Robert Rosenblum demonstrated in his epochal work, “Transformations in Late 18th-Century Art,” this craving for new beginnings has persisted into our own day. Question: What do green buildings, self-help books and “Dr. 90210” have in common? Answer: The rage for makeovers.
And so a thread of continuity runs from the rusticated 18th-century colonnade to a quartet of products designed to restore the skin to the condition it was before its owner embarked upon the hazards of adulthood. And if we are determined by habit to explore such links in interpreting the skins of new buildings, it would be frivolous to shy away from acknowledging them in the design of products created to renew our skins.
I am being only a little silly. The greater hilarity arrived in the 1980’s with the type of presentation architects began to work up in order to convince their corporate clients that the design they were about to build was destined to take its place in the grand tradition of period-defining monuments that extends from Amenhotep to the great commercial hacks of our own inspiring day. More nearly resembling an art history lecture than a sales pitch, this type of presentation was the result of two converging trends. History was back, supposedly by popular demand, because the public was thought to be fed up with modernity and wasn’t going to take it anymore. Corporations, meanwhile, had fallen to new lows in public esteem: the predatory multinationals were much talked about. As a result, the demand for corporate-image cleansing became intense. Architecture became an effective means of meeting this demand, and allusions to architectural history became one of the most popular image-cleansing products on the market.
Postmodern buildings did not merely look like cosmetics packaging, in other words. They also performed a function nearly identical to the miracle potions inside the jars. They were equivalent to treatments with caviar, “active mud,” extracts of seaweed, algae and the blossoms of tropical trees hidden deep within parts of the rain forest previously unexplored by modern man.
Classical ornament was thought to be particularly restorative. An Art Deco ziggurat was as good as a pore tightener. Treated with a pediment and a few pilasters of hot cast stone, a corporation could walk proudly down the street knowing that amorous eyes were turned in its direction. And there was certainly no shortage of rusticated bases. These were frequently rendered in colored glass — maroon and forest green were real winners — banded with brass strips. Every single one of them could trace its ancestry all the way back to the Pantheon, Hadrian’s Villa or at least the full-scale replica of the Parthenon in downtown Nashville. Good genes, even in cityscapes, make for a radiant complexion.
And so, will you please join me now as we cut the ribbon for the most profound urban development of the 21st century! Dior International Male Makeover Plaza, a mixed-use 24-hour complex, offers you a stunning selection of condos for those delicate skin areas: the eyes, the jaw line and those crepe folds along the neck. You may choose from Repairing Moisturizing Emulsion, in a supertall tower, or two medium-rise blocks, Soothing Moisturizing Lotion and Soothing Revitalizing Serum. Finally, in a dramatically slender cylinder, there is Soothing Revitalizing Eye Serum, our observation tower for alert but puffy eyes. Daniel Libeskind would almost certainly call it the Wand of Remembrance. Not ready to buy? No problem! Visit our Male Vanity Day Spa! Our aestheticians are specially trained to work on the deep cellular level where the DNA of aggression, desire and self-image are formed.
You’ll walk out a new man! No more disturbing fantasies about pulling down whole neighborhood blocks and erecting rows of tall, shiny things with atriums. Instead, you’ll reach for a jar of our new miracle vanishing crème! Those troubling visions will disappear like magic! And so will all those worry lines, the deep furrows of anxiety. You’ll have a certain glow about you. An esprit de jeunesse. And you will feel loved as never before.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company