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                                                             Design Styles

                                      by Alex Brown

 

                                       

1.0     INTRODUCTION

 

The story of style in the applied arts since the mid to late fifties has been dominated by various new forces, including social and economic factors and certain aspects of technical and scientific progress. A major shaping force has been the complex pattern of CONSUMERISM in our society, creating new markets for design. A significant new voice has made itself heard--that of the young, who for the first time, in the mid-fifties, staked their own claim as creators of style, found their own heroes and music, and therefore were recognized as a rich market by designers and manufacturers. As jet travel and television became an integral part of life cosmopolitan awareness and rapid distribution of information and ideas which they produced have had a marked impact on which style is absorbed at a popular level.

 

In the 1950s a new affluence was generated by the growth economy and revitalized post-war industry. As the pattern of consumerism became essential to the economic structure of highly industrialized manufacturing nations, it engendered a cycle of obsolescence and renewal. The wheels of industry and comrnerce, oiled by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of advertising, both in print and on television, were kept in motion by a wide middle-class market whose appetite for the new was constantly stimulated.

 

This market was enjoying the luxury of disposable income and its style consciousness nurtured and exploited by designers and manufacturers, was the very cornerstone of consumerism. A demand  was created for constant stylistic evolution within a vast array of luxury goods and labour-saving devices, and, indeed, within categories of basic household goods and appliances, the functional form of which should in theory be impervious to fashion.

 

2.0     STYLE AND FASHION

 

In a society based on growth, few products escape the cyclical force of fashion.

 

Today's Design Centre approved object rapidly becomes out of date but ironically a very small number of designs achieve the glory of being dubbed 'classics', in recognition of the supposedly timeless qualities for which they are revered. Our society demands a rapid turnover in styles and ideas, and since the late fifties the applied arts have been dominated by middle class consumerism, and by an ever inventive avant-garde of designers whose

 

ideas have often only found popular acceptance in a somewhat diluted form. Style consciousness and design awareness have been greatly stimulated by the proliferation of colour magazines attached to newspapers dedicated to materialistic concerns. The British Sunday Times newspaper launched its colour magazine in 1962 and set a rapidly followed precedent for mass-circulation supplements, providing instant information on questions of fashion and style. The fluid integration of advertising and editorial features in such magazines has proved a clever marketing device. More specialized publications have targetted specific sectors of the market, and by proffering images of a sophisticated life-style attainable through consumer goods have done much to promote fashionable styles and to perpetuate the cycle of consumerism.

 

Prominent among such magazines are the up-market fashion journals 'Vogue' and 'Harpers Bazaar', more popular womens magazines such as 'Elle' and 'Marie Clair', mens magazines such as 'Playboy' launched in 1953 and the French 'Lui', launched in 1964, the last two were just as interested in selling products, style and gadgetry as with selling female glamour; design magazines such as the British 'Design' or the Italian veteran 'Domus', and interior design magazines such as French 'Art et Decor', the  British 'House and Garden' and American 'House Beautiful'.

 

3.0     ADVERTIZING AND THE NEW MARKETS

 

The late Fifties saw the birth of advertising as we know it today, a high powered business dedicated to the developement of insidiously effective marketing techniques; it involved new design concepts and a whole new professional jargon of product packaging, market reearch, corporate images and house styles. Madison avenue became the legendary centre, inspiring international counterparts, for the activities of the new professionals, the copy-writers, art directors and account executives who were to play so crucial a role in this age of newfound affluence.

 

A significant new market category was the urban young, who around 1955 began to assert their own stylistic ambitions in the United States and in certain European countries, notably Britain. They found a collective identity through the rhythm of the new Rock and Roll, through rebellious young movie heroes such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, and through certain aspects of style, particularly fashion and dance.

 

1955 was a key point in this explosion of youthful style, the year in which James Dean starred in Rebel Without a Cause and met his tragic death. In 1955 Rock and Roll hit the headlines: a taste, rooted in ethnic American rhythm and blues, became a popular cult and gave birth to an industry which has been at the forefront of stylistic innovation, not just in music itself but in affiliated areas, including graphic design, fashion and, recently, video imagery.

 

In 1955 Mary Quant opened her first Bazaar boutique in the King's Road, Chelsea, a highly

symbolic event in the story of fashion. For fashion was to become dominated by the tastes and demands of a popular young market whose priorites were novelty and stylishness.

 

4.0     POP ART AND POP CULTURE

 

No art movement of recent decades has been so influencial within styles and the applied arts at a popular level than  'Pop Art'.

 

It can be seen as the new urban art, relying upon the 'widely accepted trivia of the  commonplace world, as seen in movies, television, comic strips, newspapers, girlie magazines, "glossies", high fashion, "high camp", car styling, billboards and other advertising.' Pop artists scrutinized, usually without direct comment, the strange visual vernacular of the new midcentury urban 'folk' art of commercial signs, symbols, emblems and imagery, which was being absorbed within the collective subconscious. Pop was an exploration, at times even a glorification, of the gaudy, the transient and the superficial aspects of a consumer society.

 

In 1956 Pop was born. The Whitechapel Art Gallery held an exhibition, 'This is Tomorrow', in which Richard Hamilton showed his painting which included a giant front-of-house cinema publicity cut-out of a robot carrying an unconscious girl and superimposed with an image of Marilyn Monroe, her first appearance as a Pop cult figure. Hamilton defined the ingredients of Pop Art as: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, glamorous and Big Business.

 

In the United States, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Warhol, Tom Wesselman and others using the language of product packaging, from beans to Campbell's Soup tins, comic strips, advertising hoardings and pin ups.

 

5.0     POP DESIGN

 

Pop art at once reflected and glorified mass-market culture and injected a new vigour into the applied arts. Pop suggested a new palette of colours and gave a fresh, ironical edge to the imagery of popular culture.

 

The Pop ethic positively encouraged designers to exploit vulgarity, brashness and bright colour, and to use synthetic or disposable materials in contexts in which they would formerly have been unacceptable. Pop has had a lasting effect on design in a wide variety of media, including interiors, graphics and fashion.

 

Pop has spawned furniture in bright, primary coloured plastics and in boldly printed fold-

 

away cardboard; it has inspired, notably in Britain and Italy, witty sculptural furniture in

brash, synthetic materials reminiscent of the sculptures of Claus Oldenburg.

 

Italian Pop furniture was one aspect of the Italian design community's wide-ranging intellectual approach which, since the Sixties, has made Italy the most progressive country in many areas of the applied arts.

 

6.0     MODERNISM TO HI TECH        

 

Parallel to the explosion of Pop was the steady revival from the mid-fifties of Modernism in a revamped style but similar to its original, pre-war, rectilinear mode. This  phase of purist Modernism emerged as the decorative and sculptural experiments of the euphoric post-war period were losing their appeal. So at the same time that Pop sowing the seeds of a counter-culture based on the superficial and the ephemeral, a new generation of Modernists was once more debating ideas of absolutes and of timeless good design.

 

The pursuit of pure lines and forms, uncluttered, unadorned sufaces and rigidly rationalized grids was increasingly evident from the mid-fifties, in furniture and interior design, in various aspects of product design and in graphics, notably in the layout of the printed page.

 

7.0     THE INTERNATIONAL STYLE

 

Modernism was now an established style and now found favour within the main-stream of applied art and represented an educated, cosmopolitan modernity. The new International Modernism became the adopted style of big business around the world, expensive understatement symbolizing success in the reception areas of Corporate offices. In an age of jet travel, it provided the conceptual basis for the large commercial design projects of an increasingly urbanized society within such contexts as contract office-planning and the design of airport concourses. The style was taken up by a professional middle class which considered itself the arbiter of good taste.

 

In furniture design the  purist designs of early Modern designers such as Mies Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer became international classics.

 

The new Modernism found able designers internationally, notably the furniture designers,  Robin Day, working for the British company Hille, and poul Kjaerholm for the Danish manufacturers E. Kold Christiansen. A new rationalism entered the rich design language of Italy in the Sixties, within an open minded and experiemtal climate which was to give Italian designers an international`pre-eminence from the Sixties into the Eighties .

 

In graphic design the new Modernism became manifest around 1960 in the trend towards a clean, even clinical, style for magazine and book design, and for promotional and

 

corporate graphics. The new graphics owed much to the Constructivist style advocated by the Bauhaus, and ranged from the purist grid-structured austerity of layouts by Max Bill to more dramatic or witty designs.

 

Modernist ideas have enjoyed a constant following since their reappraisal in the Fifties despite the movement's detractors of the late seventies and eighties and the evolution of the Post-Modernist movement.

 

8.0     DEVELOPMENTS OF MODERNISM

 

A conscious reaction to the absolutism, purism and minimalism of the Modernist ethic did take place and Modernism has to some extent changed its character. Utopian pretensions have been cast aside and the movement has come to represent a somewhat elitist approach to design, blending intellectual rigour and concern with style.

 

The form language of Modernism has evolved and in the late Seventies, developed a new style, born as an offshoot of Modern Functionalism. Hi-Tech, or the Industrial Style. This popularized the concept of using available industrial products, such as metal sheeting, medical trolleys, studded rubber flooring laboratory glassware in domestic or commercial contexts. The style had been used with considerable chic in the design of shop interiors, notably in London by the entrepeneur Joseph Ettedgui, whose Sloane Square shop was designed in a sophisticated version of the style by the architects Norman Foster Associates.

 

9.0     YOUTHFUL INFLUENCES ON STYLE

 

Since the mid Fifties in the United States the influence of youth has made itself felt in those aspects of style - self-abandonment and dance - that are central to what sociologists might call: ritual. The young, that is, teenagers and those in their early twenties, always concerned with fashion and style, have been encouraged to spend their disposable income on personal adornment, fashion accessories and make-up, and on pop music and its affiliated products. The young have also proved an eager market for fashionable sporting paraphernalia from hula-hoops, through surfboards, skateboards, roller skates, to the fitness fad work-out fashions of the Eighties.

 

They soon had their counterparts in Europe, in the Teddyboy Dandies of Britain and the Existentialist students of Paris, but it was the American young who first attracted attention as a market force. This style-conscious generation of the late fifties has been glorified in such films as 'American Graffitti' (1973) and the clothes and hairstyles, cars, music and drive-ins have been romanticized as part of the folklore of adolescence.

 

London became a focal point for the young in the Sixties. The Beatles' Era. The phenomenon of Swinging London was the end product of a pursuit of style by a loose knit group of young professionals, artist, designers and performers who created a hub of  excitment in music, fashion, art, photography, graphic art and other aspects of design.

 

This British counter culture owed much to the POP art movement for it too was charcterized by a brashness of colour and approach, a sense of impermaence and a  delight in novelty and the superficial. Its most obvious symbols were cheap, eye-catching fun fashions and the bold, gaudy and the Pop frontages of the new boutiques.

 

10.0    SIXTIES STYLE

 

In April 1965, 'Harper's Bazaar' devoted an issue to the explosion of youthful talent on both sides of the Atlantic, presenting features on Pop Art, Space-age and Op-Art fashions and the new heroes, among them Bob Dylan and Jean Shrimpton.

 

Paris, bastion of traditional values in fashion, was not impervious to the powerful voice of youth. Two young fashion designers evolved dramatically new fashion concepts: Andre Courreges with Op-Art, Science Fiction Clothes of the Future, launched in 1965 amid enormous publicity, and Paco Rabanne with his provocative metal and plastic clothes which hit the headlines the following year.

 

Space-age images were very topical in the mid-to-late Sixties, the years in which America's youngest president, John Kennedy, had vowed to set a man on the moon. Futuristic styles could be found in fashion, in furniture design, in advertising and, in their purest form, on MOVIE celluloid in such lavish productions as Barbarella and 2001 A Space Odessey.

 

POP MUSIC and its associated drug culture were a rich source of inspiration fbr graphic imagery in the psychedelic art of the late sixties. Characterized by hallucinogenic clashing colours and complex, often virtually illegible, organic lettering, this art was drawn from various cult sources. It included Art Nouveau, Surrealist, mystical, Pop, Op, cartoon and other motifs for rock concert posters at the Fillmore Auditorium. In London, the artists Michael English and Nigel Weymouth produced extraordinary psychedelic graphics.

 

The Beatles promoted the psychedelic style as patrons of a group of young Dutch artists who created rich colourful graphics, with more than a hint of Surrealism. They are best remembered for decorating the Apple store opened by the Beatles in Baker Street. The Beatles animated film 'Yellow Submarine' of 1968 was a remarkable synthesis of fashionable graphic imagery, including purely psychedelic imagery.

 

11.0    SEVENTIES PUNK

 

The most forceful manifestation of young style after psychedelia and the hippie cult  was the British PUNK phenomenon of around 1976-7. Punk was a counter-culture founded on raw-edged music and half-formed REBELLIOUS philosophies. Its impact on fashion

 

graphics was considerable and it rapidly entered the vernacular of avant-garde design, suggesting a cynical visual language with a quasi-subversive chic. Zandra Rhodes' torn silk dresses of 1977 were a sophisticated version of the aggressive punk uniform and one was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum for its costume collection - street style to museum within a season. The deliberate haphazardness of punk graphics became the basis for so-called New Wave graphics which, in a highly-polished and stylish form, have had a lasting influence on the Eighties as part of the ongoing radical or anti design movement which found its most vociferous exponents in Italy.

 

13.0    ITALY: THE NEW LANDSCAPE OF STYLE

 

In 1972 the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented an exhibition: 'Italy: the New Domsestic Landscape', in recognition of the major contributions made through the previous decade by Italian designers not only in terms of its tangible products, but above all in terms of its radical intellectual debate.

 

"'The emergence of Italy during the last decade as the dominant force in consumer product design', he wrote, 'has influenced the  work of every other European country and is now having its effect in the United States.

 

Italian designers who worked in close harmony with Italy's manufacturers, developing designs for furniture, light fittings, domestic and office equipment for series production. Their collective approach might be characterized as a kind of neo-Modernism, motivated by a desire to find rational and aesthetically satisfying solutions to design problems without feeling restricted by dogmatic functionalism  For the Italians, style, visual and tactile quality, elegance and a certain understated panache have tempered the austerity of pure functionalism.

 

Firms renowned for this distinctive Italian look, which combined practical servicability and considerable stylishness, were the furniture manufacturers Cassina, Tecno and Kartell, the lighting manufacturers Flos and Artemide, and manufacturers of electrical goods, metalwork and plastics including Olivetti, Brionvega and Alessj.

 

The Milanese firm of Cassina achieved an outstanding synthesis of unfussy, elegant modern design and a respect for traditional materials incorporating leather, wood and marble, as well as steel and glass.

 

14.0    RADICAL ITALIAN DESIGNERS

 

The radical Italian 'ant-design' movement gained momentum in the Sixties through the work of several designers and design studios who saw one of their prime responsibilities as the stimulation, if necessary by shock tactics of debate on the purposes of design. In the Vanguard were Ettore Sottsass, Jr. regarded as the father-figure of the radical design movement, Gaetano Pesce and the two experimental design studios founded in Florence in 1966, Archizoom and Superstudio.

 

The Venice Biennale of 1964 had been crucial in bringing American Pop to Italy, and the radicals drew on Pop imagery as if to underline the transient character of all design. Sottsass was also influenced by the iconoclastic character of British Pop.  There was an element of provocation in the radica1s' determination to create objects which, broke the accepted canons of design. Sottsass was both the most stylish and subversive, as in the series of prototype cupboards in printed laminates which he designed in 1966.

 

15.0    THE RISE OF JAPANESE DESIGN

 

Japanese culture was discovered by the western world in the 1860s. Not until a century later did Japan, on the foundations of a flourishing economy, start significantly to absorb aspects of western and particularly American culture. The 1964 Olympics, staged in Tokyo, and the Osaka World Fair of 1970, the last grand-scale international fair, were crucial in encouraging cultural exchange.

 

In the past two decades there has been a distinct polarization of Japanese philosophy on questions of style and design in the applied arts: on the one hand, Japan has been anxious to preserve and adapt to modern contexts her traditional values and styles, a process of enlightened evolution; on the other hand, she has learned valuable lessons from the West, and many Japanese designers have shown a strong appetite for all the superficial symbols of western Pop culture and have recycled these symbols in their own iconography.

 

16.0    JAPANESE DESIGN CHARACTER

 

Traditional features of Japanese design include: fine craft, love of compactness, modularity and simplicity, even decorated objects having a quality of clarity and an almost mystical respect for the forms and symbols evolved through history.

 

Many of these features can be seen in the impeccable miniaturization of Japanese technological designs: an informative parallel might be drawn between the compactness of a Sony Walkman and a traditional lacquer inlay. Traditional qualities in modern guise characterize the simple, modular furniture of Shiro Kuramata. The Japanese spirit is evident in designs by the sculptor Isamo Noguchi for lamps, created for American manufacturers and much copied.

 

A young generation of Japanese fashion designers has, in the Eigthties made aconsiderable impact in the West with styles evolved from Japanes cultural heritage. Isse Miyake is the most celebrated and the most talented.

 

In contrast, signs of western influence are widely apparent at street level, in the ubiquitous

international language of petrol stations, fast-food outlets, neon signs and advertising hoardings. The Japanese display a seemingly insatiable appetite for slick western commercial photography and for the symbolic brand images of western society, from Coca-Cola to McDonald's. Young Japanese graphic artists and illustrators, working in Japan and the United States, have developed styles which draw together many of the features of western culture. Motifs from American Pop culture, Hyper-realism and western erotic photography are fused in hybrid graphic works with a polish that is distinctly Japanese.

 

In Japanese interior and Architectural design, a very distinct and powerful style has emerged. Eg. Arata Isozaki, Tadeo Ando and Shin Takematsu in architecture and Yasuo Kondo and Uchida in Interior Design.

 

17.0    PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Commercial photographic images are a major ingredient of our visual diet in magazines, hoardings and such contexts as brochures, catalogues, calendars, packaging, etc. Commercial photography thrives as a means of creating highly polished images of a stylized and glamourized view of the world in order to sell a product or a service. It owes its development to the post-war boom in consumerism, the increased scale and sophistication of advertising, the refinement of colour film, colour separation and printing processes, and the increased quality and popularity of colour magazines.

 

The major categories of commercial photography are advertising in its countless guises, including product photography and photo-illustration, fashion, beauty and certain categories of photography which are neither reportage nor aspire to be fine art, yet which can be fascinating social documents of considerable aesthetic quality.

 

Commercial photographers play a crucial role in our consumer society, creating the images of a lifestyle to which we are constantly encouraged to aspire. They create glamourized images of women and give a heightened visual appeal to the products which are the economic mainstay of our society, be it a hamburger, a perfume or an automobile.

 

18.0    POSTMODERN STYLE: MEMPHIS

 

The fashionable, and often controversial, topic of Post-Modernism is central to the applied arts today. This label has been used for a variety of decorative styles which have in common the designer's reaction against what is seen as the sterility of Modernism.

Post-Modernism represents a search for a style of design to enrich and entertain the spirit with visually familiar points of reference, and to stimulate aesthetic responses with the shock of novel forms, patterns, colours and contrasts.

 

Ettore Sottsass Jr., a key figure in the Italian Radical Design movement has become a spokesman of the influential Italian Post-Modernist movement, particularly as it affects

 

domestic design. As a member of the Alchymia design studio, founded in Milan in 1976 Sottsass, suggested a new language of furniture and object design. The Alchymia style was characterized by bright, playful colours and lively contrasts, laminates printed with patterns like magnified noodles or granules, and logic defying forms sloping shelves, asymmetrical chairs and tables.  The foundation of the Memphis design studio in Milan led by Sottsass transformed a subversive, avant-garde concept into high fashion and this chic version of PostModernism has had a considerable influence on style in design. Their ideas have filtered through to many areas of design for mass-production and have inspired a new international style in graphic and object design.

 

19.0    OTHER INFLUENTIAL SOURCES OF DESIGN        

 

Post-Modernism has found its advocates internationally in such figures as the American architect-designer Michael Graves, who has created eclectic furniture for Memphis and other manufacturers; and in the British architectural historian Charles Jencks, who should be credited with giving the movement its label and whose London home is an elaborate excerise in the metaphors of Post Modern decoration.

 

Contemporary decorative graphics owe much to Post Modernism and also to the diverse influences of British New Wave graphics, Fifties revival motifs and fashionable Pop imagery. The Los Angeles company Paper Moon graphics has, since the late Seventies, produced a wide range of ephemeral graphics, including greeting cards and stationery which encompasses the full range of current fashions.

 

Modernism meanwhile is far from defunct. Its considerable commercial success in the Eighties is proven by The re-issued designs by Rene Herbst, Eileen Gray, Robert Mallet-Stevens and other first generation Modernists, swelling the list of 'classic' designs by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer already available. Modernism today Modernism flourishes in the Knoll International style, and the rationalism of the movement's founders is perpetuated in the work of designers internationally. In the world of fashion, the more interesting phenomena of the last few years include the translation by a group of Japanese designers of ethnic traditions into high fashion, and the enormous success of western fashion styles based on the current cult of fitness. The 1984 Olympics gave an added spur to this fad. Exciting designers include Calvin Klein, Georgio Armani, Donna Karen and Norma Zamali in America, the former known for classic, easy styles, the latter for stylishy cut day and evening wear and swimwear;

 

 

End

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