Goodbye Robert Venturi

I went to college at the height of the anti-modernist, semantic, deconstruction period. While this encouraged great debate and analysis, it made for lousy cocktail party conversation. The modernists had ruined the world with their evil black box buildings. They created banal and boring buildings. The graphic design was fine in its time, but didn’t work in a multi-cultural world of complex messaging. If something didn’t have at least five historical typographic references and a nod to rococo, it was a failure. More was more. Five varnishes and 12 colors, no problem. A plethora of meaningless forms, sounds pretty. And while you're at it, can you add some Greek columns and floral wallpaper?

I recall seeing The Fountainhead in Film History. In this scene (above) Howard Roark, our modernist hero, is asked to add columns and decorative bits to his pure building. He won't, of course. After the film many students disagreed with his position. They were insistent that the hideous post-modern applications brought his building to life.

In my Junior year, my comfortable post-modern world was turned upside down. I visited one of my professors who lived in a Richard Neutra house in Silverlake. I expected her house to be cold, impersonal, clinical, and boring. But, it was a revelation. The structure had harmony, grace, and elegance. It was surrounded by eucalyptus trees and was warm and inviting. Every space, from a doorway to a hall, was beautifully proportioned. How could I have been so wrong? How much time had I wasted deriding the true one God? I was converted. Today, this scene from The Fountainhead is painful to watch as the pure and simple beauty of the structure is vulgarized and abused like putting Grace Kelly in hooker heels, hot pink overalls, and a tie-dye t-shirt.


The Fall of Society

Grace Kelly's last film before she became Her Serene HighnessThe Princess of Monaco, was High Society. High Society is a remake of The Philadelphia Story, which is about waspy rich people who misbehave. Grace Kelly is the spoiled rich girl with an icy heart. Before her wedding to a fussy and uptight man, Frank Sinatra shows up as a writer for the trashy tabloid Spy magazine. Yes, Spy magazine, but not the 1980s one. Bing Crosby is Kelly's ex-husband and happens to be throwing a jazz festival with Louis Armstrong. It's wonderfully Hollywood. Everything in the house is brand spankin' new and big. I love the incredibly hip patio furniture that was obviously on a set in Culver City. The film looks fantastic. The songs, when not sung by Kelly, are swell.

But there is a giant elephant in the room. Bing Crosby is the true romantic interest for Grace Kelly, but he's older than her grandfather. It's creepy. And Frank Sinatra is lurking around the property leering at Kelly. The reality of a dusty old mansion with ancient broken lamps that shock you when turned on doesn't fit here.

I would like to remake High Society, but with realism, like Trainspotting. This is how it could work: The main character (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is divorced and bitter, with a filthy mouth. She lives with her hateful sister and alcoholic mother at the family estate with cat urine and a filthy kitchen. Her ancient, creepy ex-husband, who moved next door, (Harry Dean Stanton), stares at her through windows. "I liked it when you dried yourself with the pink towel," he could say. The tabloid reporter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an immoral opportunist, who spends a good deal of the film secretly playing with the family dachshund in both an abusive and almost sensual way. I'd drop the songs, they get in the way of the scenes with screaming followed by tense silences. Of course, the film cannot end with the heiress reuniting with the ex-husband. It will be left open for interpretation, with a final scene of the heiress standing on the verandah with broken rattan furniture and empty Mountain Dew cans, staring at herself in the reflection of a window.

What a Fool Believes

Every 20 years or so, I come back into fashion. I consider my style to be classic, which allows me to buy the same items year after year regardless of current trends. Typically, if I like something, I’ll buy several. I don’t want to be stuck if khakis change and become more “European”. Recently, I’ve seen some articles about the return of “Preppy”. Some may argue, but I’m not preppy, I think I’m just stuck in 1962.

This leads me to some of the atrocities I’ve seen made in the name of “Preppy”. Today, I’ll rant about the embroidered motif articles. I admit I have some motif belts from J. Press. There’s nothing wrong with a nice anchor, American flag, nautical flag, or whale belt. But that’s where it should stop. And I make a point of wearing my belts under an un-tucked shirt. Like my nautical print boxers, only I know I’m wearing them. Let me be blunt here, and I know some will be hopping mad about this; embroidered motif pants on men are bad. You don’t look funny, preppy, or classic. You look like a raging fool.

As for women, classic is good. Grace Kelly, Babe Paley, Slim Aarons, C.Z. Guest classic is correct. As my mother has pointed out, the whale motif skirts, or strawberry motif wrap dresses, simply de-sexualizes a woman. And, yes, you also look like a raging fool.

So my advice is to stop the madness. I don’t care how hip you think the green whale print pants are. Moderation is good in eating and fashion. However, I must point out in fairness, that moderation and drinking is bad for a cocktail party.


Heather Adams 1984

My niece, Izabelle, is 11, and like most proud uncles, I think she’s remarkably beautiful. When I saw her last, I, of course, gave her many compliments. But like many young girls today, she didn’t seem to want to wear the kinds of clothes I thought would look nice. She has long, beautiful hair, but I’ve always believed that young girls should have a nice Grace Kelly bob. I told my Kristin, my sister-in-law and Ian, my brother, and they both looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t see what’s wrong with a nice bob,” I told them, I’d be happy to buy her a good kilt, sweaters and faux pearls (it’s unseemly to let 11 year old girls wear real pearls to school). Once again, the look like I’m crazy. “She’ll get beat up,” they told me.

I tried to convince Izabelle how nice this would look and showed her photos of my sister, Heather, when she was in high school in the 80s. Heather had a perfect bob and good classic style and it worked for her. I even found Belinda Carlisle’s video for Mad About You and pointed out that she was very cool and had a nice bob. Now, I’m not allowed to take Izabelle shopping, and when I suggested I buy her a gift certificate to Brooks Brothers, I was nudged toward iTunes. But I’m on the lookout for a nice madras headband. I can sneak that to her.

Heather Adams, 1985