Revisiting Art Deco in the UK

Authored by: Anne Massey

The Routledge Companion to Art Deco

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781472485144
eBook ISBN: 9780429032165
Adobe ISBN:


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Art Deco is an enticing and rich object of study for the design historian. Transient and ­ephemeral, fashionable and popular, it was the style of modernity and of the masses. The term is used in this chapter to denote a style, predominant in the 1920s and 1930s, which was showcased at the Paris 1925 Exposition international des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes, then made an impact in the US, and subsequently spread throughout the world as an exciting, democratic, and popular symbol of progress. This chapter reconsiders the adoption and adaptation of the style in the UK, combining approaches taken from design history and recent work in the study of the contemporary interior with reference to Hollywood Beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture (Massey 2000). The adoption of Art Deco in the UK in the 1930s is complex and came at a moment when the global presence of Britain and its Empire was coming increasingly under threat. The contemporary, British perception of Art Deco was that it represented a heady combination of superior French haute couture styling and American commercial success. Although it was seen as a threat by cultural commentators, who instead promoted its antithesis, modernism, there is no doubting its popularity amongst the lower middle and working classes. As Jonathan Woodham observed: “The Art Deco Style exerted a significant impact in Britain across the many design media and was a highly commercial style, including many items at the cheap, novelty end of the market” (Woodham 1997, 84).

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