In recent seasons we have seen a resurgence of key Fifties design and stylistic codes on both the runway and in the household. But what is it about that era that has inspired so many? In the run up to design week here in Milan, we’ve tried to answer that question.
Design and fashion are both elements that permeate the everyday sphere and are therefore close to our hearts, and central in our lives. Design is not only about beauty, but also functionality, and while fashion has evolved way past the concept of modesty and keeping warm, at the end, those function remains. It is rare that a trend might influence both fashion and design simultaneously, and when that happens, the trend, along with its values, is completely absorbed by the consumers and by society. Often, trends address a context, in the case of the 50s; it is the context that makes this phenomenon so interesting.
Fifties inspired silhouettes from the Dolce&Gabbana SS12 Fashion show.
As experienced in the Twenties, for example, the decades which followed war were ripe with innovation and enthusiasm. Even though in many countries, for example Britain, rations were still in place as reconstruction was draining the resources, people’s inventive and imagination ran free. The Fifties however were punctuated by conflict: starting with the Korean War and ending with the Vietnam War, and all the wile the Cold War between the USA and the USSR was at its peak, where espionage, nuclear warfare and demise where real and actual risks. These sometimes extreme conditions may actually be credited with many of the technological advances undertaken in the decade, and the desire for change and the subsequent innovation that ensued.
Eames lounge chair and ottoman produced by Vitra.
Creativity was rife, in music, film, art, and of course fashion. The Fifties saw the birth of icons such as Elvis Presley, Federico Fellini, Jackson Pollock and of course Christian Dior and his new look, which has bewitched so many contemporary designers today.
Relative globalisation, as well as TV and Radio also saw the cult of the celebrity come to the fore. Marilyn Monroe above all exemplified the new found interest by the public and the media in other people’s lives.
A modern classic: 50s inspired Smeg fridge.
True emancipation for women was still more than a decade away, but within the constraints of the home, women received a degree of independence. Technological advances and the wish to streamline activities, as well as the fact that more women were entering the work place and therefore had less time to spend around the house, determined the rise of the domestic appliance. Fridges, toasters, mixers and cookers entered the household and revolutionised in a significant way the kitchen.
Iconic Saarinen Tulip dining table and chairs, produced by Knoll.
This is not a history lesson, and yes, many of these points made bout the Fifties context may be well known, but, consider the world we live in today and the context which the creative classes have to draw from. There are many similarities to be drawn, and perhaps, this is what has seduced so many people to the Fifties aesthetic. We’re in full blown economic gloom, conflicts are simmering, or full blown, the old powers are struggling against the newer players on the world stage. Nevertheless technology thrives, creativity runs rampant and the will to fight, to feel renewed, almost purified by the fires of today make us all want to rise like the phoenix tomorrow. Perhaps, the Fifties aesthetic is a subliminal message to make us look forward, rather than look back.
Written by: Valentina Zannoni
Photo credits: Dolce&Gabbana