Art Deco got its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs and Industriels Modernes, in Paris.  It started in France, but spread across the entire world and touched every design discipline.

The idea behind the movement was to take all the excitement about machines and the modern age, and turn them into glamorous fashion.  It is still ornamental, but the forms are made more abstract or streamlined – and the overall effect was meant to be fun, daring and luxurious.  The french wanted to make machines sophisticated and sexy – and behind this all was faith that machines would make the world a better place.  The ornament could be applied to everything, from paintings and sculpture to buildings and clothing.  Many of the works feel dramatic.










The thing that is fun about deco is that they abstracted or streamlined just about anything – from ziggurats, chinese textile motifs, botanical shapes, geometric shapes, mayan temples, church carvings etc.  Anything could be turned into Deco.   it was wildly inclusive, a playground for designers and architects.  The style was a perfect match for the roaring 20s, and when the Great Depression hit, the forms became simpler and materials less expensive – leading to Streamline Moderne.

The two factors that killed art deco were – 1. The rise of International Style Modernism and 2. World War II.  Things had to be practical, not frivolous, efficient rather than luxurious and decadent.  What is so sad about this is that at the end of deco, ornament was replaced with no ornament at all – for the first time in the history of civilization.  We threw it all away, and in the 4 generation that have passed, we have forgotten what the forms mean and we and have no new language of our own.  Since deco is based in modernity, it seems like a good place to start the conversation again.  We can take the idea of machines as we know them now – and turn them into fashion just as parisians did 100 years ago.


TOP IMAGE:  Sinclair Oil Company Building, Fort Worth TX, 1930.  One of the finest examples of a style known as “Zigzag Moderne.”

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