Swinging Sixties

Swinging Sixties

Fashion for the Youth

In the eighties the new ideas and values spread to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and even China. The deeper meanings of Peace, Love and Community spread through the universality of the music, and the ideas of the pilgrims that had experienced or been influenced by the cauldron of the Sixties.

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Paris and London Effects in Sixties Fashion

Although in politics and economics the 1920’s were predominantly years of conservatism and caution, in cultural life, these years were marked by bold innovation. Paris still eclipsed Berlin in range of cultural activity. The city on the Seine remained what it had been for centuries–the literary and artistic capital of Europe. Indeed, in certain respects Paris increased its earlier lead.

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Fashion and the Counter-Culture

Counter-culture of opposition spread like wild fire with alternate lifestyles blossoming, people coming together and reviving their communal efforts, demonstrated in the Woodstock Art and Music Festival. Various specific fashion styles developed within counter-cultural groups, often organized around pop-music styles and bands, and these became a growing influence on houte couture.

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Design and Ephemerality

For many observers our sole original contribution to the spatial arts is the alternately praised and condemned skyscraper. Foreign critics find in this typically American construction either a triumph of engineering skill comparable to the Roman amphitheaters and baths, or a poorly designed architectural monstrosity.

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Fashion Photographers

Between the wars, and even more in the 1950s, the love affair of black-and-white photography with high fashion gave birth to the frozen perfection of the fashion image. The sharp lines, dark shadow and white light dramatized the angular, exaggerated creations of the New Look period particularly well.

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The “Good Design” Movement

The 1960s were all free love, flower power and pop music but, as the saying goes, if you remember it, you weren’t there. The previous decade’s love of American design was replaced, as Swinging London became the centre of all things groovy. By the mid 1960s the concept of design as a commodity “added”to consumer objects to increase thir value had become economically and culturally integrated into all the capitalist countries of the industrialized world.

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The Alternative Design Movement

In the early 1970s a growing consciousness of the distance between Western conspicous consumption and underdevelopment in the Third World encouraged a number of designers to rethink the social and moral functions of design. Perceptions of the world as a global village gave designers a different idea of their role than as the adjuncts of manufacturing industry.

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The Alternative Design Movement

The Alternative Design Movement

In the early 1970s a growing consciousness of the distance between Western conspicous consumption and underdevelopment in the Third World encouraged a number of designers to rethink the social and moral functions of design. Perceptions of the world as a global village gave designers a different idea of their role than as the adjuncts of manufacturing industry. Victor Papanek’s 1971 book Design for the Real World was one stimulus behind this movement to re-direct design into the service of the underprivileged, whether the impoverished of the Third World or the old and infirm in the West.

Papanek argued that for too long designers had been concerned with little more than creating “toys for adults”. He proposed a number of areas in which designers could contribute to relieving hardship in underdeveloped countries, among them “communication systems, simple educational devices, water filtration, and immunization and inoculation equipment.”

By the mid 1970s a number of Third World design schools had taken responsibility for working not only on goods aimed at western export markets but also on projects which directly helped their own population. At the National Institute of Design at Ahmedabad in India, students worked on a symbol system for contraceptive education; an artificial limb which allowed disabled people to pursue their accustomed lifestyle, and on a range of other goods designed specifically for an Indian market. However, such work remained marginal to mainstream design and failed to undermine the main economic function of design in the century, as the guarantor of added value for goods aimed at a mass society.

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The “Good Design” Movement

The "Good Design" Movement

The 1960s were all free love, flower power and pop music but, as the saying goes, if you remember it, you weren’t there. The previous decade’s love of American design was replaced, as Swinging London became the centre of all things groovy. By the mid 1960s the concept of design as a commodity “added”to consumer objects to increase thir value had become economically and culturally integrated into all the capitalist countries of the industrialized world. Design differentiated products in competition with each other, or else served as a form of national self-identification on the world market.

During the 1950s the reconstructed economies of Germany, Italy and Japan, had sought to restore themselves in international trading through identifying their goods with a paticular product esthetic. For the most part, only goods aimed at a fairly exclusive, wealthy international market were overtly described as incorporating “design”, often with the name of a well-known designer attached to them. Only those companies which aimed their goods at the top end of the market made sure that they were seen by the media as being design-conscious. Others, with a mass market in mind, concentrated more on minimizing the price of their products than on their esthetic content.

The “goog design”movement of these years became a clearly defined cultural phenomenon, supported by museum collections, exhibitions such as the Milan Triennales and conferences, competitions, awards and glossy magazines. A very tightly delineated design culture grew out of this network, and as long as it remained in the hands of an international elite it was easy to identify its ideological function and cultural effects.

Synonymous with the concept of good taste, it preferred minimalism to ostentation and elegance to vulgarity. Well designed products became increasingly identified with a cosmopolitan, middle-class, well-educated lifestyle. Some furniture and electronic equipment manufacturers – Olivetti and Cassinini in Italy; Hille in Britain; Bang& Olufsen in Denmark; Braun in Germany; Sony in Japan; and IBM in the United States -established their identities through their commitment to design and largely depended upon it for their commercial success.

The modernism of past decades had rejected historical influences so, in a spirit of rebellion, 1960s plundered the past for inspiration. The result is a ragbag of styles culled from all over, including Victorian and Edwardian, the 1920s and art nouveau. But it was not just about replicating past styles; everything was given an irreverent twist to make it all its own.

Pop art and op art both had a firm footing in the 1960s. Artists such as Andy Warhol and David Hockney with their pop art references to mass culture (soup cans, comic strips, images of icons like Marilyn Monroe) crossed over into interiors, and on to murals, wallpaper and posters. Similarly, op art with its use of pattern and colour to simulate movement found its way on to everything from furniture to wallpaper. Artists such as Bridget Riley, who works predominantly in black and white, became the vogue. Whether you choose the hippy ethnic look or plastic space age, it will be far out.

The national styles of these goods varied one from another, however, and the modern design movement in Italy had the greatest international impact. Industrial and cultural reconstruction in the years since 1945 had encouraged close collaboration between consumer-goods manufacturers and a group of highly creative architect designers. The economic boom of the years 1958-63, combined with a forward-looking attitude towards new materials and a commitment to an aggressively modern esthetic with its roots in sculpture, resulted in the proliferation of goods for home and office which were associated with a sophisticated, cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Italy’s ability to compete favorably in international markets stemmed primarily from its policy of paying low wages to its workforce rather than from investing in advanced technology. Italian design was limited to those goods which depended on low technology – furniture, household appliances – rather than the more complex electrical and electronic products to which Japan was dedicating its energies. Forbidden by the terms of the postwar settlement to develop an armanents industry, Japan had come to dominate the consumer electronics market, in part because of American industry’s preoccupation with military contracts.

“Italian design” became linked, in the minds of many, with glossy plastic tables and chairs, sumptuous leather armchairs and sofas, sculptural lamps in steel and marble, and other items of household and office equipment which appealed more on the basis of their elegant forms than their technological sophistication.

The exclusivity of Italian design gave rise to an alternative design movement in that country, to challenge the glossy, status-ridden image of mainstream fashion. Linked to social and economic factors such as the students revolution of 1968, the anti- or counter-design movement sought to reunite design in Italy with the cultural base which had inspired it in the early postwar years. Kitsch, stylistic revivalism and irony were used in an attempt to take design out of the hands of industry and to reposition it within the mass culture.

Radical architectural groups based in Florence presented Utopian visions of the future which were destined for the art gallery rather than the factory floor. From the Op–Art movement of the early ’60s came geometric patterns in bright colors, and lots of contrasting shiny and smooth surfaces.

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Fashion Photographers

Fashion Photographers

Between the wars, and even more in the 1950s, the love affair of black-and-white photography with high fashion gave birth to the frozen perfection of the fashion image. The sharp lines, dark shadow and white light dramatized the angular, exaggerated creations of the New Look period particularly well.

American photographer Richard Avedon captured the self-dramatization, the confidence, sophistication and self-mockery of haute couture in his work for Harper’s Bazaar in the early fifties. Avedon and others loved to place their glacial or cavorting models in bizzare or incongruous situations.

By 1960 a new generation of photographers was seeking inspiration from the grainy images of the new cinematic realism of British films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Room at the Top. Their work displaced line drawings as the main medium for fashion illustration, but was at times even more mannered, while the search for novelty could lead to downright eccentricity in choice of angles or location. At times the fashion photograph seemed less to attempt to convey information about the latest styles than to capture the mood of an ensemble, or even to suggest a whole lifestyle.

The fashion photographs of the 1960s made of a high fashion a performance, a street event, a triumph of the will. They also transformed photographic models into celebrities and stars, while the photographers themselves -David Bailey, Lord Snowdon, John French- became household names, heroes of the swinging sixties. Michalengelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up -often taken to epitomize “Swinging London”- involved just such a fashion photographer as its main character.

In the 1970s, the imagery became even more mannered and eccentric, or else banal. Black models appeared more frequently, but models tended to become ever more precious, while some photographers, notably the German Helmut Newton, flirted with an imagery drawn from soft pornography.

Next Page: The “Good Design” Movement

Design and Ephemerality

Design and Ephemerality

For many observers our sole original contribution to the spatial arts is the alternately praised and condemned skyscraper. Foreign critics find in this typically American construction either a triumph of engineering skill comparable to the Roman amphitheaters and baths, or a poorly designed architectural monstrosity.

Most agree that few buildings of this type have reached the excellence of design to be found in American motorcars. Curiously, one of the first skyscrapers designed, a twenty-eight story building by L. S. Buffington, of Minneapolis, was developed from a modification of Richardson’s Romanesque forms into an original structure of more than average dignity.

This edifice, although completed only on paper, seems to have influenced contemporary builders through the unique quality of its interior construction. Buffington, its inventor, defined the skyscraper as “composed of a braced skeleton of steel with (masonry) veneer supported on shelves fastened to the skeleton at each story.” His plans for the new building showed square cast-iron columns anchored to a foundation of concrete reinforced with I beams.

After the depression of 1929, when American businessmen found that the highest skyscrapers could not pay, architects turned to the design of smaller buildings with greater refinement. The discovery of new materials, particularly glass brick and weatherproof metal alloys, and the development of air conditioning led to the design of new building types. The Corning Glass Works Building at 718 Fifth Avenue, New York City, with sculptured details by Sidney Waugh, marks a step forward in design.

Here modern American architectural form reaches a state of refinement comparable to that achieved by the designers of late American motorcars. The function of this building as a display room and offices for Steuben glassware is completely expressed by the immaculate design. Its sparkling glass units, framed in bars of Indiana limestone and nickel silver, suggest the skilled workmanship in the product sold.

The democratization of design became a reality for the first time in the economic boom years of the 1960s, as goods with a strong visual content reached a more youthful audience. Through increased consumption young people in Europe and the United States began to manifest their newly acquired wealth and to assert their “alternative” values.

From the motor-bikes, motorscooters, transistor radios and record-players of the early youth sub-cultures through to the fashion items, graphics, furniture and other lifestyle accessories of the pop sixties, they demanded artefacts which provided them with a means of identifying themselves with each other. Many designers responded to the challenge: in Britain, Mary Quant, Foaie and Tuffin, Ossie Clark, John Stephens and others provided clothing for the new youth market.

The 1960s was a decade of sweeping change throughout the fashion world generating ideas and images which still appear modern today. Whereas fashion had previously been aimed at a wealthy, mature elite, the tastes and preferences of young people now became important. At the beginning of the decade, the market was dominated by Parisian designers of expensive haute couture garments.

Graphics designers Martin Sharp and Michael English produced posters and other pieces of two-dimensional ephemera to accompany the pop music now so central to the new culture. Even furniture designers responded to the new values of expendibility, producing, by the middle of the decade, pieces of furniture which were knockdown, throw-away or blow-up.

More importantly, perhaps, where consumption itself was concerned, the pop revolution brought with it a dramatic change in retailing patterns. New boutiques sprang up aiming their goods – from fashion to ephemera – at the youth market specifically. In doing so, they emphasized the role that the visual and lifestyle aspects of their products play in consumption, stressed individualism rather than anonymous mass production, and focused as much on the visual context of the goods as on the goods themselves. Boutiques relied on peoples buying products for reasons other than those of utility and low price.

This new approach to retailing moved, quickly, beyond the area of fashion into other lifestyle goods. In 1964 the British designer/retailer Terence Conran opened his first Habitat store, its furnishings and household goods appealing to young, educated, fashion-conscious consumers. Selling objects ranging from brightly colored enamel trays and mugs to French Provençal crockery to items of pine furniture, Habitat concentrated less on the individual product than on the total environmental effect of putting together, in a single space, a wide range of objects which expressed the same “taste” values.

A careful selection of goods which together created a visually unified ensemble proved a clever way of selling customers a complete lifestyle even if they left the shop with only a single item. Habitat was the first store to sell goods on the basis of “good taste” to a mass market, and in so doing it set an important precedent which was to become increasingly influential.

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