It all happened with a roar. The previous decade’s gentle love of soft, and pale, and all things natural was left in the dust; run down by a tootsie in a big black and silver monster of a car. The 1920’s were about speed!
Black and White with loud screeches of brights. Sleek and shiny and diamond hard was the new now. Time to join the Jazz Age baby-or scram!
Industry and the machine ruled. Man-made Blacks and Whites were suddenly so much more modern than Art Nouveau neutrals.
When another color was added to this high key mix, it came from the factory-not from the forest.
We can blame it on France. It was, after all the “Exposition Internationale des Art Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes,” in 1925, in Paris, that started the whole thing. Thankfully some smart person shortened the show’s name to “Art Deco” and the new style took off like a rocket.
It affected absolutely everything: interiors, architecture, automobiles, fashion, furniture, fabrics, dishware-and even dogs.
No more poodles please. Everything had to be fast and smooth, and definitely Black or White.
Geometry was everywhere. Circles, squares, triangles and straight lines were made into patterns.
Shapes were based on modern inventions-like planes and trains and cars and bombs.
And just like these products of commerce, finishes were refined and polished and all business.
Chrome was king. But all things Gold, plus gorgeous jarring jewel tones, became very fashionable after the sensational 1922 discovery in Egypt of King Tut’s tomb.
In fact, exoticsm in all forms influenced 1920’s decor. Glossy lacquers from Asia introduced cinnabar reds, jade greens and Imperial yellows; while a fascination with the African continent meant ivory plus zebra and tiger patterns.
Sharkskin, eggshell and unfamiliar woods from afar changed provincial decorating forever.
In France, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann mixed ivory and exotic veneers in unexpected machine-age shapes for furniture as well as interiors. Designer Eileen Gray used metals and lacquer to celebrate the modernity of the moment.
British shipping heiress Nancy Cunard shocked fashion in silver lame’ and armloads of massive African ivory bangles, while Josephine Baker (from Saint Louis) scandalized Europe in a little leopard skin-and little else!
In America, 1920s Hollywood fell in love with the new lexicon. The Art Deco influence was everywhere. Sharp angled movie sets of skyscrapers, mansions made of mirrors, impossibly endless interiors-all in glorious Black and White.
Even the stars seemed to be designed for “Screen Deco”-Charlie Chaplin in his Black hair, Black moustache and Black suit, or Louise Brooks with her Black bob and shimmering white pearls.
Looking at the work of some of today’s great designers, the Jazz Age seems to just keep playing on. Understandably, it’s not difficult to be seduced by luxurious design, lustrous finishes and high key colors. What was progressive then still looks pretty progressive now.
As the defining movement of a decade, Art Deco was definitely dynamic-and it still is.