The Victoria and Albert Museum in London drew a firm connection between Art Deco and Hollywood. Film, the most powerful medium of the modern age, established Art Deco as a global style. In Hollywood Art Deco reached its full potential for fantasy, glamour and mass popularity. In films such as Our Dancing Daughters, Grand Hotel, 42nd Street and the musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Hollywood spun a magical web of luxury, youth, beauty, upward mobility, sexual liberation and rampant consumerism. Stars like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford played racy, modern heroines who embodied Art Deco chic.
Ashtray and cigarette holder, bakelite roll tops
Waves of European émigré designers, directors, writers, actors and producers brought the Art Deco aesthetic to Hollywood. However, the values and culture their films conveyed were no longer European. The Hollywood dream was played out against a backdrop of fantastic Art Deco hotels, night-clubs, ocean liners and skyscrapers. Offering a heady cocktail of modern themes and high style, the films proved irresistible to millions worldwide.
Starlet Showcase blog has great images from Hollywood’s glamour days of the pre-WW2 era. One photo has many women doing synchronised water ballet in a fabulous Deco set. Even by Hollywood standards, it was over-the-top.
Chrome scent bottle shaped as the SS Normandie, Jean Patou, 1935
Every household object could be easily decorated in the Deco style. But it seems to me that some objects were particularly suited - those related glamorous, naughty and luxurious uses: alcohol, smoking, greyhounds, makeup, jewellery, fast cars, fast planes and fast ships.
Greyhound desk set, aluminium and marble
Easy and Elegant Life said people turned to the cinema to raise spirits, and put on a happy face. A whole generation went a little crazy celebrating the end of The War to End All Wars. The Golden Age celebrated glamorous sophistication.
Of course the Great Depression started in most countries in 1929 and lasted throughout most of the 1930s. Not many people did very well out of the Depression, and unemployment was rife. Even those who managed to hold on to decently paid jobs were careful about how they spent their income. So it was assumed that going to the cinema once a week was an indulgence that would make the Depression feel marginally less depressive.
Examine an American Art Deco chrome plated cigarette lighter c1930 where the user had to rotate the propeller clockwise to ignite the lighter. I don’t suppose anyone believed it was a priceless object, but it certainly was fun to own and to use. Same with the matching American ashtray and cigarette holder, with bakelite roll tops photographed at the top of this post.
Drinking cocktails, every now and again, would also made stressed people feel happier and more relaxed. The cocktail and smoking objects may have looked flashy, but they were usually not very expensive. Base metals were often used instead of pure silver or pure gold, and the decorative elements were usually painted or etched, rather than precious or semi precious jewels being used.
With alcoholic objects, there was yet another element. Prohibition in the USA continued throughout the period from 1920-1933, during which the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned nationally. That made the use of alcohol even more glamorous, even naughtier, but only in the USA.
cigarette lighter (L) and compact (R)
A greyhound desk set (picture above) had two covered ink wells for holding inks. The stately greyhounds and the pen holder were made of polished aluminium, while the ink wells were made of finely faceted crystal and fitted with polished aluminium tops and supports. It all sat elegantly on a cream-colored marble base with polished aluminium disks for feet.
My favourite object was a combination camera powder compact (picture above) with brown and cream enamelling. It has a section for powder, cigarettes and a lipstick holder inserted into the end. Not a very large or important object, but a woman pulling this compact out of her handbag in the 1930s would have felt quite glamorous.
When pure silver was used, it was very glamorous indeed. Black onyx glass cocktail shakers (picture below), each with sterling silver decorative overlays and silver tops, were very expensive when they were made. A large, streamlined silver flask c1930 (picture below) in a masculine design was also indicative of the period. I particularly liked the bold stripes down the front, with a space for monogramming.
Black onyx glass cocktail shakers, USA, at Pullman Gallery
sterling silver flask, c1930, Ralph Lauren
So Art Deco involved the use of up-to-date materials, emphasising Hollywood glamour and style where possible, providing a simplicity of design. A modern elegance and the use of streamlined geometry were associated with the Deco era, raising rather ordinary household objects to something a bit more impressive.
For the most glitzy, most streamlined, most Hollywood-inspired Deco objects made in the USA, see the book American Modern, 1925-1940: Design for a New Age by Stewart J. Johnson. This book, the companion volume to an exhibition that opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, showcased the most influential works. From chairs, dinnerware and textiles to lamps, cocktail sets and clocks, these glamorous objects still bowl the viewer over.
American Modern, by by Stewart J. Johnson
Objects Not Paintings presented a very interesting but slightly less glamorous piece of Deco. Note that the tray and chocolate bowl, made of glass, wood and gilded metal, was from Germany and not from the USA. Clearly European artists, the very people who created Art Deco in the first place, tried hard to emulate the glamour and glitz of American pieces. This very modern cocktail shaker set (picture below) was designed by Jean Després, French master of the streamlined aesthetic of the machine age.
cocktail shaker set, by Jean Depres, c1930