Since I started to research the topic of glamour for a book, I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had about it - and hardly ever came away without strong opinions being expressed.
As a nation, we're obsessed by it, whether it is poring over Madonna's latest outfit or marvelling at the minuscule size of Victoria Beckham's jeans. We voraciously consume the details of the glamorous lives of others, endlessly fascinated by their excessive lifestyles - the private jets, the exotic holidays, the OTT wardrobes. And while it's all too easy to dismiss this as superficial candyfloss, in many ways it is central to our aspirations as a society.
'Never underestimate the power of glamour. It's life-enhancing and even the plainest woman can be glamorous,' says lifestyle journalist Lucia Van Der Post in her book Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me. She added that glamour 'is quite different from beauty. It depends a lot on a sense of personal style and some inner confidence, which isn't easy to come by but can be cultivated'.
Glamour, unlike natural beauty or intelligence, is a manufactured quality. Every glamorous woman or man has worked to create their own seductive image, and it does not matter whether they were rich or well-born to begin with. As such, it is something to which we can all aspire, so the promise of it is a huge driving force in the economy.
Today's celebrity culture is indisputably founded on glamour. Although, potentially, we could all be stars, the truth is that most of us don't make it. As a result, we're fascinated by the ones who do because they have often come from backgrounds similar to our own. Girl's Aloud star Cheryl Cole is a case in point. 'A few years ago, Cheryl was a wide- eyed wannabe from Newcastle who could only dream of living a showbiz lifestyle and
marrying a footballer,' reported OK! magazine in November 2006. 'But the ambitious glamour-puss will be spending her first Christmas as a wife and enjoying the spoils from the multi-platinum sales of Girls Aloud's greatest hits album.'
In these two sentences, the key to her rise was identified with three qualities: her ambition, her dreaming of a showbiz lifestyle and her glossy appearance. And while this aspirational ideal has had its place in every era, from the courtesans of 19th-century France to silver screen sirens such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, in our multi-media age we are more obsessed with it than ever before. And this is largely due to a few key people.
No one knew more about the showmanship, spectacle, luxury, colour and sex appeal that goes into making a glamorous illusion than the designer Gianni Versace, who was responsible for much of our idea of what contemporary glamour is all about.
Versace's allure lay in his mastery of the magical arts of transformation. He was a modern Merlin with the power to make dreams come true. This is the man who, with the loan of one revealing safety-pinned black dress for the premiere of the film Four Weddings And A Funeral, turned little-known actress Elizabeth Hurley into an overnight sex goddess and public figure. The unstated promise of every Versace catwalk show and advertising spread was that his clothes could do the same for any woman.
The lavish window displays of Versace stores on London's Bond Street, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and Via Montenapoleone in Milan confirmed that the brashest and sexiest garments in the world could be bought by anyone.
Marlene Dietrich was not classically beautiful, but had an irresistible allure
The only stumbling blocks were cost and also, perhaps, a fear of not being equal to the physical ideal the designer propagated in his advertisements. For most, therefore, his creations remained tantalisingly out of reach. But this, too, was part of the glamour.
Versace is also often credited with having created the phenomenon of the uberglossy supermodels. While several had achieved high exposure in the Eighties, Versace enhanced their profile. He signed models exclusively for his shows and then used them collectively in his 1994-95 advertising campaign, shot by Richard Avedon.
Other fashion houses followed suit and soon no show was complete without them. Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer became as well-known in the Nineties as the Hollywood stars of the Golden Age. The supermodels were iconic because of the special place they occupied in the dreams of society. They could persuade people to buy even at a time when spending was down.
And while the worlds of cinema and fashion had created glamorous stars, it wasn't until the birth of the pop video and MTV that the music industry did likewise.
Perhaps no one more than Madonna turned 20thcentury glamour into a repertoire to be harnessed and manipulated at will. Though Madonna's music was derivative, if catchy and danceable, her visual style was a concoction of virgin and whore, Catholic and pagan, high fashion and Hollywood parody.
Madonna's star quality was of a ruthlessly eclectic kind. She forged a collaboration with designers including the Italian duo Dolce & Gabbana and appeared in a Versace advertising campaign. But it was the idea of glamour she derived from childhood memories of watching old movies that was her biggest influence.
The video for her song Vogue recreated the atmospheric style of the studio photographers and saw the singer disguise herself as the stars who inspired her, while the lyrics gave name-checks to Dietrich, Monroe, Harlow, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, Lana Turner and Ginger Rogers, as well as Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
There is something eternally alluring about the old-fashioned glamour of those stars of the silver screen. And no one has capitalised on this more successfully in recent years than Dita von Teese, a performer and model who reinvented the showbusiness glamour of the Forties.
Her straight black hair, creamy white skin, blood-red lips and shapely body, combined with her trademark acts of bathing in a huge Martini glass or emerging from a giant gold compact, created a magical world of dreams and illusion - some of the most vital aspects of glamour.
Purple reign: Dita von Teese is the queen of reinventing glamour from a bygone era
However, in harking back to a bygone era, von Teese is an exception. Today the most common manifestation of contemporary glamour comes in the form of starlets such as Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Mischa Barton and Jessica Simpson.
The marketed dream of a better life has always required role models who illustrated enviable lifestyles and gave them concrete form. Instrumental in creating their image are stylists such as Rachel Zoe, who even wrote a book entitled Style A To Zoe: The Art Of Fashion, Beauty And Everything Glamorous.
'My kind of glamour combines California ease with New York high life,' she wrote. 'It favours modern, even if it's vintage. It's browned to a deep bain de soleil tan and best served up with a glass of champagne.'
Zoe saw herself as a fairy godmother not just to her young stars, but to any woman who dreamed she could 'create a better reality' for herself. Glamour was about trying harder and wanting a better life and then enjoying the rewards of designer clothes and a flashy car.
'There is something magical about glamour, but it doesn't just happen with a twitch of the nose or snap of the fingers,' she warned her readers. Dreaming is an essential part of glamour, which is why it's so important to us today. It's the modern American Dream that says that irrespective of where you were born or how rich your parents were, you can achieve glamour.
That promise is an incredibly intoxicating and potent thing. You have only to look at Victoria Beckham to understand quite how powerful it has the potential to be. Her style book, full of advice, presented Victoria as living out an alluring fantasy.
She shared with readers the dreams she had cultivated as a girl and pointed to the inspiration she drew from 'the fashion icons of the last century: Grace Kelly, Jackie Onassis and my image-for-all-seasons, Audrey Hepburn.'
The key to her persona is exclusivity combined with accessibility; through her, millions could imagine themselves mingling with film stars and married to a top footballer.
Books such as Victoria's and Zoe's offer advice on how everyday normal lives can be glamorised, how red-carpet moments can become part of ordinary lives. They point to discipline, grooming, self-presentation, ambition and shopping. Glamour links the rare, the remote and the desirable with the accessible. It connects the girl from Kent with the Olympus of Hollywood.
It is a powerful sales tool that is used by stores, clubs, advertisers, restaurants and travel companies. As such, it has become a part of the texture of everyday life.
Once, glamour was a remote fantasy that fuelled daydreams and aspirations. For most people today, it is an escape - less a remote fantasy than a temporary experience that can enrich the mundane.