Deriving its name from the famous 1925 ‘Exposition Internationale des Art Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ the Art Deco movement lasted roughly 30 years, spanning from 1910 to 1939, incorporating both World War I and World War II. It began with a rejection of Victorian values as artists started using bold and exotic colors, exciting the public imagination.
Art Deco emerged as a reaction to Art Nouveau concepts, with Charles Rennie Mackintosh of Scotland and Josef Hoffmann of Vienna acting as reformers of the excessive Art Nouveau naturalism, their works in 1900 indicating what was to appear in the following decades. The foundation of the Wiener Werkstaette by Hoffmann in the year 1903 contributed to the production of the earliest Art Deco designs, while Hoffmann’s austere Palais Stoclet in Brussels, with its mosaic murals by Gustave Klimt marked the preliminary transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco style during the early period of 1905-1911.
These concepts were introduced in Paris in 1910 with an exhibition of decorative arts from Munich and Vienna at the Louvre. On display was a new style based on a simplification of the early 19th-century neoclassical Biedermeier style and of peasant art, or folk art, quite the antithesis of Art Nouveau. Another significant event in Paris in 1910 was the presentation by the Ballet Russe de Serge Diaghilev of Scheherazade. Leon Bakst had concocted oriental sets and costumes in dazzling, barbaric colors; this brought a demand in the fashion world for exoticism, soon answered by the couturier Paul Poiret. In 1912, Poiret created his own design school, the Atelier Martine, to further his Art Deco ideas. By the 1920’s the effects of cubist painting were seen in advertising and product designs. Coco Chanel used cubist colors and forms in creating women’s fashions, which she adorned with Art Deco jewelry.
The birth of the new style was favored by another psychological factor which is common to most post-war periods. Years of misery and privation are nearly always followed by a few years of extravagance. Everyone wants novelties and things they have never seen before, forget the past, wipe out everything that remind them of it, and create a bright new world.
For six years, all the artists of Europe and America worked towards this end, and so abundant and original was the output of this short span of time that many regard it as an entire generation. Changes in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century must also be taken into account. The history of costume in past ages is described by defining the stages every 20 or 30 years, as opposed to modern times where every season seems to bring a comparatively new way of dressing. The advent of short, light clothes which totally changed the female shape was very important.
Another revolutionary feature was the fact that never before, except perhaps during the Directory period in France, had women’s clothes been so simple. The skirt and bodice which had been through every possible variation disappeared in favor of the ‘little dress’, which the most eminent critics unhesitatingly compared to the Greek Chiton. The silhouette had never been so long and flat. Slender, athletic women wore short, shingled hair, tunic dresses and tailored tweeds. Couturiers’ models were called ‘100 m.p.h.’, ‘top speed’ and the like and, these dynamic clothes called for an absolutely new style of jewelry.
Coco Chanel in the 1920’s launched her sporty yet elegant and classy fashions, which were to remain in vogue for some time. Her classical two-piece suits, accompanied by yards of strings of pearls, natural or imitation, and gold or gilt chains, became the indispensable day wear for all fashionable women while evening wear was best epitomized by the long and feminine dresses crated by renowned couturiers such as Madeleine Vionnet, cut diagonally and draped with precious and gleaming silks and satins, which tightly embraced the figure. In order to follow the revolutionary innovations in fashion, jewelry changed accordingly. The large floral spray brooches of the 19th century were not suited to these dynamic garments, neither were the early 20th century corsage ornaments or the constricting and uncomfortable dog collars.
The new style also owed a great deal to various artistic movements particularly the Bauhaus in Germany founded in 1919 by Gropious in collaboration with masters like Klee and Kandinsky. The Bauhaus promoted a return in arts and crafts to basic, formal concepts, free from superfluous ornamentation, where aesthetic ideals were combined with functionalism. The aesthetic revolution initiated by the Bauhaus did not perhaps affect jewelry immediately, but its influence would be obvious a few years later, as would that of the groups such as Valori Plastici, Neue Sachlichkeit, de Stijl and Neo-Plasticism which were emerging all over Europe.
The International Style in architecture developed at the same time, and after 1925 it considerably influenced the final phase of Art Deco. Along with the German Bauhaus school, the work of Le Corbusier and other International Style architects effected a change from the earlier, more decorative phase of Art Deco toward a simpler, bolder approach which was to become typical of the 1930s.
This was the spirit of the program for the 1925 Exhibition of Decorative Arts. It was thought advisable to hold a preliminary exhibition in 1924 in the Pavillon de Marsan at the Louvres and this rehearsal greatly improved the quality of the final product.