The Power of Image

Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis just published a new piece in Time Magazine about the power of image and staging. I agree that politics are punctuated by theatrics, and it’s important to get the sets and costumes right. I feel vindicated by Ms. Davis. Back in the mid-90’s, fellow poli-sci classmates at University of New Orleans laughed at me for declaring that Jimmy Carter’s image was decimated by that tragic cardigan he wore while discussing America’s energy problems. They thought I was an idiot. But fuck ’em. I still think if he’d delivered a similar speech in a jauntier ensemble, perhaps he (and I) might not be such subjects of derision.

So today I sat down and thought about what my style inspirations are, just in case I ever have to give an important speech…

Gil Elvgren Pinups
They’re always willing to try new things (sliding down a fireman’s pole, hammering a nail, fixing a car, roasting marshmallows.) Sometimes they’re not particularly skilled at these activities. Yet they handle it all with such good natured aplomb. They look out at you as if to say, “Yeah, I fucked up. But I looked damn good doing it.”

Agatha Christie’s Detective Hercule Poirot
Because he isn’t afraid to embrace his own style, no matter what anyone else says. People routinely make fun of him for being a “funny little foreigner”. But he doesn’t let it faze him. He holds his egg-shaped head up high; avoiding mud puddles in his patent leather shoes and twirling his magnificent waxed mustache.

Andre 3000
The way this man takes classic clothes, mixes them up and makes them uniquely his own is incredible. And he never lets his clothes wear him. That’s the true hallmark of style.

Elizabeth Taylor in “Boom!”
One of my favorite style icons. The obvious go to for this list would be her starring role in “Cleopatra”. But I like her better here, the eccentric rich bitch who lives alone on an island and wanders around her mansion wearing ridiculous headpieces like this one. I also like this somewhat debauched era of Elizabeth Taylor’s life. This was the bitter end of the 60s, when Hollywood was shifting away from the dream factory to making more realistic films. It was the dawn of the “everyday looking” actor. As glamorous movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor weren’t in demand, she found a savvy way to handle the shift in popular taste. She made a string of incredibly weird, outside of the mainstream movies in gorgeous locales. Just one of the hundreds of reasons to love Elizabeth Taylor.

Oscar Wilde
He’s probably my #1 style inspiration: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Tamara Dobson in “Cleopatra Jones”
The fact that she was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen is only part of it. I love that she kicks serious ass in this movie, all while wearing fabulous jumpsuits, fur jackets, stacked heel boots and huge hats. People don’t get much cooler than Cleopatra Jones.

1920s Erotica
The models are so cheeky. You get the sense that everyone on the set is having a laugh together. That’s much sexier than the dead-eyed porn of today. Humor and confidence are very sexy to me.

Auntie Mame
Auntie Mame bounces back from life’s set backs and puts bigots in their place with grace and wit. She epitomizes joie de vivre…Plus she wears plenty of feather trimmed gowns and knows how to glide down a spiral staircase with pizazz.

Truman Capote’s Infamous Book Jacket Photo
It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1948 this author photo for “Other Voices, Other Rooms” was scandalous. In a time when men weren’t openly gay, Truman Capote reclines on that sofa, making damn sure you know there’s no fucking way he’s staying in the closet. The way he boldly stares into the camera is as naked as anything in the pages of Playboy magazine. It’s naked ambition, need for attention and confidence in his talent. No author before had used a photo quite like it.

Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
The power and elegance he radiates in this film never cease to amaze me. Plus, I love people who can travel to other countries and wear the native clothes casually; without that annoying, “Look at me! I’m so multicultural!” attitude.

Dia De Los Muertos Art
Mocking death is the best way to live life.

And finally…Sharon Stone in “The Quick and the Dead”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this scene when she first strides into the saloon. Bottom line: if you ever see me delivering an important speech, you’d better believe I’m channeling this:


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