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The Glamour Factory – National Portrait Gallery

Posted by on 12/10/2011 • Categorised in Art

What fun I had getting ‘glammed up’ at The Glamour Factory, part of National Portrait Gallery’s Late Shift Extra series! Dressed to fit the black-and-white cinema theme, hundreds of girls and boys took part in this extraordinary gallery event. With Hendrick’s gin or champagne on hand, everyone was ready to experience glamour, old Hollywood style.

Aimed at reaching and opening up the Gallery to new audiences, The Glamour Factory was organised to complement the Glamour of the Gods exhibition which celebrates Hollywood’s past icons such as Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and in many cases includes the defining images that launched their careers. The exhibition highlights the creativity of the photographers, many of whom are forgotten today, working for the major Hollywood studios in their ‘Golden Era’. The photographs show how plain, mortal actors and actresses were idealised and became exaggerated versions of themselves through the art of photography. They are portraits of beautiful gods and goddesses living in a parallel universe.

The Glamour Factory provided a contemporary twist on the traditional form of the portrait exhibition by adding music and expert commentary and by allowing for audience participation: seven ‘Stars in-the-Making’ departments transformed visitors into Hollywood icons left and right. Other popular rooms included a vintage-visage Makeover by Illamasque; Strike-a-Pose classes in the NPG photography studio; and live music and dance in the Broken Hearts Cocktail Lounge. My favourite room contained an old typewriter where visitors were invited to define ‘glamour’ in the form of a ‘tweet’. Underlining the rift between the 1930s and 2011, a live Twitter feed on ‘Glamour’ was projected on a screen next to a collection of the typed tweets pinned to a board.

The highlight of the evening though was a panel debate on Glamour which brought together five distinguished people involved in the fashion world; chaired by Pamela Church-Gibson (Reader in Cultural and Historical Studies, London College of Fashion,) with panellists Ted Polhemus (anthropologist and writer), Grace Woodward (stylist and fashion broadcaster) and Semir Zeki (Professor of Neuroaesthetics, UCL) and Janty Yates (Academy Award-Winning costume designer, Gladiator). They discussed everything from ‘the definition of Glamour’ to ‘manufacturing stars in vintage Hollywood’ to ‘the manipulation of images today to create glamour and modern celebrities’. Audience members even had an opportunity to ask questions, and caused quite a bit of debate by the panellists!

The Glamour Factory was a wonderful one-off event but the Late Shift runs every Thursday and Friday until 9pm, bringing the community together and offering an array of activities to coincide with exhibitions currently running at the National Portrait Gallery. ( I’m already planning my next Late Shift at the Gallery and you should plan to be there too!

The Glamour of the Gods Exhibition runs from July to 23 October 2011; Tickets: £6 (concessions £5.50/£5).

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