Color in the 1920s-Razzle, Dazzle and all that Jazz

The swinging 1920s, from Erte. Image:

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!

A 1926 Royce Silver Ghost makes racy inspiration for the laundry room. Images: (top); (bottom)

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!

Decorator Hutton Wilkinson (with wife) channels the roaring 20s. Images: (left); (right)

Industry and the machine ruled. Man-made Blacks and Whites were suddenly so much more modern than Art Nouveau neutrals.

A high contrast 1920s Eileen Gray interior with shots of bright color. Image:

When another color was added to this high key mix, it came from the factory-not from the forest.

A Modern kitchen meets a Moderne Art Deco vase. Images: (left); (right)

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.

Jeanne Lanvin’s Albert Rateau designed apartment and a new Lanvin Blue bar. Images: (top);

It affected absolutely everything: interiors, architecture, automobiles, fashion, furniture, fabrics, dishware-and even dogs.

The Zig and Zags on everything then, make great graphic ideas for today. Images: (left); (center); (right); (bottom)

No more poodles please. Everything had to be fast and smooth, and definitely Black or White.

Artist Louis Icart knew that sleek seriously counted. Image:

Geometry was everywhere. Circles, squares, triangles and straight lines were made into patterns.

The Deco circle makes a gleaming comeback.

Images: (top); (left); (right); (bottom)

Shapes were based on modern inventions-like planes and trains and cars and bombs.

Silver still looks good for cocktails.

Images: (top); (bottom)

And just like these products of commerce, finishes were refined and polished and all business.

And Silver rooms still shine. Images: Stephen Tennant photographed by Cecil Beaton, (left); (right)

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.

“Egyptomania” was all the rage, and can still stimulate great color ideas. Images: (top); (left); (right)

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.

An exotic Chinese mask pin in jade and fleeing zebras were typical of the time. Images: (left); (right)

Sharkskin, eggshell and unfamiliar woods from afar changed provincial decorating forever.

Decorating is still influenced by the ’20’s love of any thing from abroad. Images: (top); (bottom)

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.

Two Twenty’s Superstars. Images: (top); (bottom)

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!

Nancy Cunard being very bling. Images: photo by Man Ray (left); photo by Cecil Beaton (right)

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.

Chaplin, Crawford and Brooks gave Hollywood high style.

Images: (left); (center); (right)

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.

The glamour of the movies comes home. Image:

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.

Stephen Sills (top) and Kelly Wearstler (bottom) fearlessly keep the Twenties Roaring! Images: (top); (bottom)

As the defining movement of a decade, Art Deco was definitely dynamic-and it still is.

An Erte ending. Image:

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