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Seeing Through Clothes -- And a Brand


Summer Travel Number., Digital ID 824776, New York Public Library2008 is the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Ann Hollander’s Seeing Through Clothes. This publication is a significant one: it opened the door to a variety and versatility of subsequent academic research on clothing and dress. Refreshing, too, was Hollander’s intermixing of fine art, film, popular print, and advertising imagery. The author also dealt frankly with the implicit sexual and popular culture penchant for certain body types during historical periods. Her take on the modern era is fabulous. Here’s one line: “The rise of decorative art and decorative design permitted the citizens of Western Europe to accustom their eyes to visions of themselves as shapes.”(page 336) 

My eye was caught by a small article in last Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Styles section. A youthful artist, Karen Kilimnik, who recently exhibited a small showing of paintings of blue skies, confessed to a deep love for the English perfume maker Penhaligon’s Bluebell scent. Way to go, Karen! She frankly admits to be drawn by the blatant English heritage packaging, but the exquisite smell, “like fresh-cut grass,” is the main attraction.

Scille à fleurs en cloche [Bluebell],Scilla campanulata, Digital ID 1155770, New York Public LibraryI’ve been wearing Penhaligon perfume since the days of Princess Diana’s wedding, and yes, I agree with Karen’s suspicions that the story of Diana’s love for Bluebell could be bogus. But then, I’d rather it wasn’t. You’re looking at a woman, after all, whose wedding ring is a reproduction of Diana’s famous sapphire engagement ring…

Fairy tales or not, Penhaligon is my idea of a successful brand that provides the wearer with a distinctive scent and romantic context. 


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