I have to admit that Art Deco was not my first love. When I first began to think about art in a serious way, it was Art Nouveau that attracted me: it’s sinuous lines and flowers and romance seemed … sweet – and as a fairly sweet young thing myself (hey, that’s how I remember myself…), I was quite smitten. I loved everything Belle Epoque and used to wonder just how I would manage to ride sidesaddle in a crinoline while holding a parasol (now there’s an image for you!), or just how interesting it would be to be in a horse-drawn carriage in the Bois de Boulognes or the Champs Elysees…
But, as most young women are, I was a little fickle with my loves, and Art Nouveau (and crinolines, sidesaddle horseback riding and Toulouse Lautrec) gave way to the bold and brash world of Art Deco. Now here was something I could relate to – big colors, strong lines, women who wore great clothes and smoked … I was hooked!
To me, Art Deco is one of the most fascinating periods for poster design – and design in general. Starting roughly in 1925, with the French Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, (later shorted to Arts Deco) graphic and ornamental design began to move away from the flourishes and sweetness of Art Nouveau, toward bold colors and strong graphic design and typography.
The original aim of the exhibition was to establish France as the tastemaker when it came to fashion and design. French displays dominated the exhibition and Paris itself was put on show as the most fashionable of cities. (Wouldn’t you love to be part of a society where men wear hats? And take them off in the presence of ladies? And where ‘lady’ was a term of respect? I love the photo of Paris circa 1925 below…)
While every period thinks it is the newest and most modern, Art Deco really was radically different from anything that had come before it. Suddenly women were free of the constraints that had literally held them back for decades (up until the 1920s most women wore corsets), and fashions began to allow women to show their … ankles (for the first time).
entertainers in Paris during this period were also risqué in new and different ways:
Nightclub acts featuring a practically nude Josephine Baker opened on October 2, 1925 at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees;
Mistinguett – also known as Jeanne Bourgeois – was enthralling audiences with her performances (and her legs, which were insured for 500,000 francs); And the Ballets Russes – with its Bakst designed costumes and sets – could always be counted on lavish and lush full-length productions sans pareil…
When I opened L’Affichiste, I decided to focus on posters that were produced between the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. I thought then (and still believe) that those two distinctive periods in design – roughly 1900-1940 – gave rise to some of the best artists, and some of the most memorable posters ever produced.