Art Deco & The Past, Present, and Future of Design
Updated: Jun 3
In the years straddled by World War I and World War II, America saw a “Roaring 1920s”, known as a time of dramatic social, political, and economic change. For the first time in the young nation’s history, more Americans were living in cities than on farms, the nation’s wealth doubled in a decade, and many Americans found themselves in the uncomfortable new position of “consumer” of mass-produced goods. For all of the changes that occurred, there are a few that stick out as iconic of the era.
The rise of the flapper girl, speakeasies, the automobile, and Prohibition all come to mind when pondering the cultural moment of the 20s; overarching all of these cultural “firsts” was a rapidly popularized design sensibility that would come to visually define all of these icons and more – it is permanently embedded in the 20s’ Zeitgeist (the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as
shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time).
Inspired by post-war economic development, new methods in mass production, and a “future-forward” sentiment, Art Deco presented the 1920s with a spitting image of its own values, which can be seen built into the design of skyscrapers and vases alike. Today, it remains one of the few styles which has been revived time and again, and which never falls too far out of favor before the next generation picks it up, dusts it off, and finds that it tells the story of their era’s reality too.
Predecessors to the movement
The term Art Deco cannot be understood without a brief acknowledgment of the movements which preceded it. The Arts & Crafts movement, according to The Art Story, was founded in the 19th Century United Kingdom, by city-dwellers who we disenchanted with the impersonal and mechanized direction of society. As a reactionary movement away from industrial coldness, Arts & Crafts embraced a return to high quality materials, imagery of nature and the forms of medieval art, and the belief that art had the power to reshape society for the better.
Arts & Crafts existed in many variations, including Art Nouveau – the precursor to Art Deco. Aimed at modernizing design and escaping popular historical styles, this movement drew inspiration from both geometric and organic forms, resulting in an aesthetic that emphasized linear contours and elegant designs that united natural forms such as stems and blossoms. At its core, though, the movement was committed to dismantling the hierarchy of traditional arts (painting and sculpture) over craft-based, decorative arts. While Art Nouveau died out far before World War I, it paved the way for the subject of our discussion, Art Deco.
1920s: Art Deco
An iconic style, Art Deco was announced to the world at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. While it was new to international visitors, the movement had already been in development for more than a decade in Europe. Designed by the French government, it set out to highlight the new style moderne of architecture, interior decoration, furniture, glass, jewelry and other decorative arts in Europe and throughout the world. The Style Moderne presented at the expo later became known as "Art Deco", after the name of the Exposition.
Like all design movements, Art Deco is characterized by a number of bold and eye-catching visual cues, such as: repetition, simplified figures and shapes, linear and geometric designs, long lines, crisp edges, and the use of materials such as bakelite, stainless steel, and chrome. Why were these design principles so important to the Art Deco Movement? And why were they so “of the moment” during the 1920s?
Art Deco built off of a foundation laid by Bauhaus principles, the de Stijl movement, Cubism, Constructivism, and Futurism. The movement was also quick to adopt new technologies meaning materials were not always the most traditional. According to Art Critique, ‘It grew out of a yearning, aggressive desire to be rid of the past and embrace the future in all its man-made, machine-driven glory.’ Essentially, it was a pre-modern attempt at modernism; it encapsulated the worries, hopes, and fears of the epoch and made them into functional pieces of art.
1980s: Art Deco Revivalism
While Art Deco experienced revivals in both the 60s and 70s, it was in the 1980s that the style had its most distinctive and radical revival yet. Ushered in by the the Italian avant-garde – Memphis Group, Studio Alchimia and Archizoom Associati – a new and distinctively “80s” aesthetic emerged from their postmodern rejuvenation of the ‘anti-rational’ Radical Design movement. Each of these design groups added their own particular flair to the Deco concept, adding a mix of natural and experimental materials, and blending contrasting color palettes and patterns.
Although it was initially considered to be laughable in taste, the Memphis Style in particular went on to gain a cult-like following in the 1980s. The Italian group’s output included furniture, interiors, graphics, and architecture; Art Deco geometric forms, pop art-inspired color palettes, and 1950s kitsch all joined hands and became a quintessential style of the 80s which would influence art, fashion, interior design, and architecture.The radical became mainstream, just as it had when Art Deco first emerged in the 20s.
Today, there is a “meta” revivalism of the Art Deco style that has rapidly taken the vintage world by storm, that is, the 1980s Deco Revival pieces are being revived, not the authentic 1920s pieces themselves. Instead, the 80s rendition of the original style is regaining popularity, becoming more collectible, and is being revived itself in modern design!
Most notable is the rising trends include ceramic curves on ‘80s modern vases and lamps, rounded and geometric furniture pieces. Alongside the revival of these Deco-style pieces, other 1980s styles are returning to the forefront of vintage obsession and the interior design fringe. Brutalist structures and “Memphis-Milano” geometric styles are popping up rapidly amongst some of Gen Z’s most influential vintage enthusiasts and dealers.
Why now? It’s hard to pinpoint just why the Deco sensibility, and its copycat 80’s counterpart have found a new home on the 2020 vintage scene. Perhaps it is a homage to the roaring twenties, as we are entering our own version of the 20s (albeit, not so gracefully). Or perhaps our zeitgeist, one of technological overload and exponential growth evokes the same themes of industrialism, mass production, and futurism that spurred the original movement.
Regardless of its origins, we are gladly welcoming back the Art Deco style and sensibility at Yesterday’s News. It is exciting for us to see our customer’s embrace Deco pieces with open arms, and it is a whole new adventure for us to delve into the 80’s revival and accept that the “new” has actually become old. We have a variety of Deco and Deco-Revival pieces at our shop, and are keeping our eyes peeled for any unique patterns, styles, and designs that catch our eye. Here's just a few examples of recent finds:
See some of our most recent 80s Deco finds on Instagram, and let us know what you think about the meta-revival we are witnessing today! Are you a fan? Not a fan? Let us know your thoughts below.