Art Deco and the Birth of Glamour
by Paige McKirahan
In a time when the stock market followed the length of lady’s skirts, a new era of art and fashion urged us away from the soft tightness of Art Nouveau and marked the beginning of bigger experimentation within these mediums. This new movement, affectionately known as the Art Deco era, spanned from the ‘20s to the mid ‘30s and brought airy silhouettes, abstraction, and fantasy to the forefront at the conclusion of World War I in 1918. After women took up hard physical work in the absence of men, they had no interest in returning to the constrictive lifestyle guidelines they once were forced to adhere to. The ‘20s became an age of financial prosperity and luxury aesthetics, with the youthful generation taking hold of post war society and creating a type of culture that prompted innovation and celebrated eccentricity.
As the economy grew, hemlines slowly climbed; by 1919, we saw skirt lengths hit mid-calf and they continued creeping up to hit the knee in 1925. During this time, dress forms moved to a more semi- fitted silhouette with dropped waists, starkly contrasting the corseted, high-waisted style of the preceding era. Up to this point, fashion had never seen a silhouette of this type and it allowed designers to innovate with new methods of seaming, draping, beading, and fabric use. Menswear and sportswear busted onto the scene and opened the door for the use of knits, leather, and rayon, all of which became important materials of the time. Of course, as we all know, this is the era of the flapper; this short lived phenomenon was a physical embodiment of glamour and the rejection of societal norms popularized in what is referred to as the Jazz Age.
Dresses by Coco Chanel c. 1925
(photo credit to langantiques.com)
Though Art Deco does continue with the 20th centuries’ celebration of the female figure, it takes a more sensuous approach with semi- abstract depictions of the body. Contemporary artistic movements such as cubism and futurism seeped into clothing design, favoring the styles’ interests in technological and geometric structures. This age also found inspiration in industrial landscapes with metallic color palettes and clean lines. Aside from the modern influence of the time, jewelry and clothing also found inspiration in archeological discoveries in Egypt; design motifs including pyramids, lotus blossoms, scarabs, and anything to do with ancient pharaohs became enormously popular along with Indian, Persian, and Chinese aesthetics.
Art Deco jewelry played with the geometric and industrial based trademarks of the movement and there were essentially two major schools of jewelry design: bijoutiers-artises and bijoutiers- joailliers. The former emphasized design over monetary value and the ladder used more precious materials to outline designs and compliment diamonds, prioritizing glamour over construction. Gold began to lose its popularity as platinum and its cheaper substitute, osimor, came into circulation as it was strong and required less metal to securely hold gems. Earrings had sharp corners and were feminine, accessorizing shorter hairstyles that were popularized in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Necklace lengths became longer in order to compliment shorter hemlines and deeper necklines, commonly featuring geometric pendants or tassels. Pearl necklaces were also a staple as the production of cultured pearls allowed them to be created in mass quantities. Popular jewelry materials of the time included a variety of synthetic plastics, such as bakelite, and other wares that could imitate gemstones, bone, and other expensive natural materials.
Art Deco Cartier Necklace c. 1929
(photo credit to langantiques.com)
Though fashion had to be rationed in the 1930s when the stock market crashed, jewelry arts seemed to continue to thrive and were revolutionized to become the focal points of outfits as buying and creating new clothing was not a priority. Large brooches, flashy ear clips, thick bracelets, and ornate dress clips were adorned with gemstones and diamonds in an almost theatrical way, allowing women of the time to create endless looks despite their limited wardrobes.
The key designers of this period, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, were well known rivals and fashion icons. Lovers of art and glamour, they are cornerstones in this new revolution of women’s style and created pieces that are still discussed in modern times. Chanel began her career in fashion in the early 1900s, but truly became a household name when she launched Chanel No. 5 in the early ‘20s. Then, in 1925, she released the now emblematic Chanel suit; the collarless jacket and well fitted skirt borrowed motifs from menswear and allowed women to move away from confining garments and into a new realm of comfort and freedom. Her little black dress design also was also revolutionary because it framed black as something that could be glamorous rather than a color used for mourning. Her bag designs were in a league of their own, being some of the first to incorporate shoulder straps and her classic double C logo. These Chanel pieces have endured for almost a century and have been seen in some of the most historically significant moments of all time (think Jackie O’s pink Chanel suit!).
Chanel’s iconic suit and little black dress worn by none other than Audrey Hepburn
(image credit to Google images)
Elsa Schiaparelli was a couture- minded designer who found most of her inspiration from artists of the era. She was a nonconformist, using eclectic and unique aesthetics to create clothing that were art pieces in their own right. She collaborated with artists frequently and Salvador Dali became her creator of choice as his surrealist tone complimented her outrageous taste. They created designs that are still coveted in both the fashion and art worlds and they can be seen in The Met where they celebrate her genius in their costume institute. She truly emerged into fashion when she presented her first collection of sweaters in 1927; the designs featured geometric shapes and were hand knit in her apartment in Paris. The groundbreaking couturiere then began using visible zippers in her pieces, which was unheard of at the time being a fairly new invention. She created a swimsuit with a built in bra and brought colored hosiery to the forefront of fashion, shooting herself to superstar status. Like Chanel, she also created a legendary perfume line and has been a true gift to pop culture for decades.
Schiaparelli and Dali’s most iconic collaborations
(photo credit to Google images)
As our generation rapidly moves towards a new ‘20s, it would be remiss to not wonder what types of trends we will see in a decade that has historically been so beloved in pop culture. Everyone from haute couture designers to filmmakers adored the Art Deco aesthetic and have paid homage to the glamourous style of the era with revivals occurring frequently throughout the past 100 years. Chicago and The Great Gatsby gave us a glimpses of the period on the big screen and designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Galliano, and Diane von Furstenberg resurrected this aesthetic on the runway. We see the 1920s as an of idealized portrayal of youth, glamour, sexuality, and this romanticization has only been strengthened over time. To prepare for the new roaring ‘20s, search our collection for some Art Deco pieces that truly never go out of style! Here some of our favorites: