Sunday, 19 May 2013

Unconventional Style Icons: Glenn Gould


About two years ago I wrote a post titled "Unknown Style Icons: Natacha Rambova", about the eccentric 1920's costume designer and wife of Rudolph Valentino. I really intended to do a whole series of posts on some of my personal style icons who are generally not identified as so by the mainstream media. However, a random reader wrote me an appalled e-mail telling me sarcastically that "he was very glad I had at long last discovered Rambova but that she was by no means unknown and I should research more before talking without having a clue". That made me feel like such a loser I stopped altogether the unknown style icons series. But, hang it, after two years I've finally gotten over it (sensitive, me?) and decided to start it again, only this time I'll call it "Unconventional Style Icons" so as to not attract more hate mail calling me an ignorant idiot. 
Anyway, after Natacha Rambova I give you Glenn Gould.

Admittedly, Mr. Gould's style is the least important thing about him. You are looking at one of the biggest musical geniuses of last century. I know the word "genius" is thrown around way too frivolously these days, but in this case it applies. Glenn, who was born in Toronto in 1932, could read music before he could read words. As a baby he would play with the family piano, not by randomly hitting the keys but rather by pressing one key at a time and carefully listening to each sound and its evolution. By the time he was 13 he gave his first concert and at 25 he embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union. He had his very own views on music and believed a performer should be - rather than just a machine playing someone else's compositions - a true interpreter, bringing a new sound to an already known score. Also, besides a genius, he was a hopeless eccentric. 

Before he sat down to play the piano (on his very low wooden chair, a present from his father which he carried to all his performances), Glenn had to make sure the temperature in the room was extremely warm (he was constantly cold).While playing, he invariably hummed to the music, which gave sound technicians many a headache during recording sessions. He disliked being touched; in fact, he didn't much enjoy human company in general and felt better around animals.All these quirks obviously shaped his "nutty genius" style, which to be honest attains levels of cool otherwise only reached by the Japanese.

I must also mention Mr. Gould had the good looks of a young Ethan Hawke, which also helped (why hasn't anyone made a movie about his life starring Ethan yet by the way?)

I guess he didn't give much importance to the way he looked, and that's exactly what made Glenn so irresistibly cool: his hair was seldom combed and always too long, his suits were mismatched, his trousers were too wide, his shirt rarely tucked in and more often than not unpressed.

Because he always felt cold, he used to wear heavy woolen fabrics, big coats, thick sweaters, scarves, knitted mittens and leather gloves (sometimes one on top of the other. Has Junya Watanabe drawn inspiration from the photo above yet?). All these details added up to create a unique style which in my opinion is truly unique and inspirational.What do you think?

Having steadily studied classical music from the age of 2 to 18, I was familiar with Glenn Gould before I was familiar with Michael Jackson. I know both his music and his persona are not everyone's cup of tea and some people think he is just "too much"; but I'm a fan. Besides admiring his brilliantly creative intrpretations, I've always been partial to him partly tanks to his ambivalent feelings towards people and the fact that he had even more aversion to cold than I do. Over the years he has become one of my icons, and I'm not just talking about style. Even though he had tons of it.

PS: If you would like to know more about this genius, here is a really interesting documentary featuring lots of original footage of Glenn and his inimitable "allure".

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