“I think the quality of sexiness comes from within. It is something that is in you or it isn't and it really doesn't have much to do with breasts or thighs or the pout of your lips. “ - Sophia Loren
One of the great puzzles facing designers is why people like the things they do! Why are people’s ideas of what is beautiful so varied?
And what virus is it that sweeps across the lands establishing a universal sense that a certain shape or style epitomizes the stylistic moment?
You can consider this in the microcosm of something as specific as which colors people currently favor or in the macrocosm of a general preference for either rounded edges…
or sharper edges...
It used to be that styles in interior design were slower to change than fashion. After all, it takes a long time for appliance manufacturers to switch from avocado green to titanium silver finishes what with factories having to tool up. Now, however, fashion and interior decoration are intermingled (every couturier seems to have a line of home furnishings or accessories), seamlessly leading from runways to living rooms.
Ralph Lauren was the first fashion designer to establish a home décor line. In 1978 he established Ralph Lauren Home, which included bedding, bath, and home accessories. Since then it has expanded to include furniture, tableware, even accessories for your beloved pooch.
What Armani shows on the runway is reflected in his chairs and coffee cups.
So, all this is preface to saying that understanding aesthetics can be very interesting – the modes of beauty so inter-connected.
What is beautiful?
I am always searching for absolutes. Are there any? Is there a standard of beauty that transcends time and the vagaries of fashion?
Since classical proportions are based on the human form, it seems that understanding what is humanly beautiful might be a starting point in solving the puzzle.
While the Greek ideal of the male figure, a finely muscled form, is pretty much the same in popular perception, things seem to have changed for the ideal woman.
mid-5th century Athenian sculpture depicting either Zeus or Posiedon.
21st century Adonis, Daniel Craig.
(and if you don’t care for him, may I offer you a selection from this bevy of beefcake?)
In men it’s obviously NOT about the thighs!
“The flower is a jumble of thighs, the sun's harem - the most oriental thing imaginable. “ - Malcolm De Chazal
But these days the fashionable ideal of a beautiful female form is vastly different from other ages. This difference shows in the overall attenuation and thinning of a woman’s shape. All of this is common knowledge; however, what strikes me as interesting is breaking this down into a study of thighs… yes, thighs.
In the current obsession with short shorts, bare skin, or decorative leggings, slender thighs have become hallmarks of our present ideal of beauty.
At the Louvre recently, I took a few minutes to study some sculptures from various angles. These pictures pretty much sum up the classical view of the female form. After all, Aphrodite was the very goddess of beauty.
Here is a pictorial history of some artist’s view of what is beautiful (or sacred) in the human figure:
The ancient Egyptian ideal of beauty.
Crouching Aphrodite (Venus Accroupie), a second century marble sculpture of the Imperial Roman Era, based on an original Greek statue of 3rd Century BC, also at the Museé de Louvre in Paris.
Michelangelo’s Leda and the Swan
Venus at the Mirror by Peter Paul Rubens, 1614-15
Olympia by Edward Manet, 1863
The Edwardian ideal of beauty.
The Ziegfeld Girls epitomized the unfurling beauty of the 1920’s
1940’s pin up Betty Grable
… and perhaps the last “classical” beauty, Marilyn Monroe.
“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” - Marilyn Monroe
First generation Barbie 1959
Almost from the moment Barbie arrived, she has received a lot of criticism. While many suggest that Barbie represents an unattainable body ideal that damages girls’ self-esteem, the doll’s defenders have argued that Barbie is, after all, “just a toy” and is unlikely to create any lasting psychological effects. In 1995 researchers Jacqueline Urla and Alan Swedlund published “The anthropometry of Barbie: Unsettling ideals of the feminine body in popular culture.” In 2004 they followed up with “Measuring Up to Barbie: Ideals of the Feminine Body in Popular Culture.” Their determination… that if Barbie’s dimensions were scaled to that of a living woman, her measurements would be 32 -17-28, thus making Barbie clinically anorexic.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that what followed through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and on into the 21st century was the adoration of the “waif”.
60’s fashion icon Twiggy
In the 70’s and 80’s the super slender model as the image of ideal beauty.
90’s fashion model, Kate Moss, was known as “the waif”.
The 21st century ideal???
Is it true what they say, “You can never be too rich or too thin”?
Since our perception of beauty has a lot of connections to sexual appeal and perceived fertility, the last images seem a bit surprising.
"Let me shipwreck in your thighs." — Dylan Thomas (Under Milk Wood)
But thighs are still undeniably sexy, being close to the significant area – or they can also just be cute or part of an otherwise innocent fashion statement. Non-supermodels seldom reach the area of high fashion, but the current perception of beauty definitely favors the slimmer legs more than any other era.
The amazing physique of tennis great Venus Williams clearly indicates that despite fashion, a healthy, beautiful body is still appealing.
My thoughts on the aesthetics of it all?
In the end, silly fashion that emphasizes the starved physique is like an interior that is cold and blah –
… it may satisfy our cravings for sophistication and a certain elitism… high fashion indeed…
skinny exterior skinny interior
But in the end, a softened, nurtured ambiance will win the battle – whether in love or decorating.
classically beautiful interior classically beautiful exterior
Vive les classics!
“When she reached for her skirt, a carelessly raised foot revealed a patch of soil on each pad of her sweetly diminished toes. Another mole the size of a farthing on her thigh and something purplish on her calf--a strawberry mark, a scar. Not blemishes. Adornments.”- Ian McEwan (Atonement)