While researching the upcoming FIELL book on hair (Hairstyles: Ancient to Present) we came across some very interesting fashions from the court of Louis XVI and Revolutionary France. There is no hair more iconic, perhaps, than Marie Antoinette's elaborately curled and beribboned wigs. Her daringly avant-garde style and her love of fashion took Versailles by storm, and the ladies of court were constantly trying to emulate the Queen's frequently changing coiffure.
As young aristocrats in the 18th Century, women (although in a position of social power) were obviously not in a position to express themselves freely or assertively. Perhaps the young Queen of France used her love of fashion as a way of expressing herself when in all other areas (marriage, politics) she was rather a lost soul. One of the most well known trends of this period was for miniature models of war ships to be placed upon rolling waves of curls, in celebration of French Navy victories against the British. There was also a fashion for bedecking the wig with various decorative ornaments, including birds, vegetables, figurines of shepherds and shepherdesses, even baby dolls (worn when a member of the royal family gave birth.) Wigs were also dyed a variety of colours, pink being an especial favourite.
Gravity-defying hairstyles fell out of favour once Marie Antoinette gave birth to her son and her hair fell out - this sparked a new trend for "Coiffure à l’Enfant" - a simpler, more deconstructed style. As Charlotte Fiell notes in 'Hairstyles: Ancient to Present', "The adoption of this simpler style was also no doubt a recognition of the growing revolutionary sentiment stirring among the French populace – to put it plainly, the follies of excessive tall-wigged coiffures were not politically expedient during this period of increasing social unrest.". The populace was sick of the Queen and her excessive spending on lavish gowns and on her hairdresser Léonard. The storming of the Bastille saw a rapid degeneration of the previously rich lifestyle to be had at Versailles - in an attempt to curry favour with her subjects the Queen adopted a more austere lifestyle. Obviously, this failed, and Marie Antoinette met her violent fate.
With the age of Revolution drawing to a close, in the Directoire period, came the most extraordinarily morbid new fashions; haircuts à la victime were all the rage for men and women - hair either closely and raggedly cropped, or cropped at the back with long curls in front, emulating the style given to those aristocrats unfortunate enough to go to the guillotine.
It is extraordinary to see illustrations of women of this period with shorn hair, in complete contrast to our ideas of the fashion of that time. Dresses were in the style of underclothes, as this was how one met with Madame Guillotine - and a red ribbon was worn around the neck, grimly recalling the manner in which the aristocracy met its end. Even jewellery in the shape of the guillotine was worn.
A marvellous source of imagery for this period, which shows a perfect timeline of changing fashions, is Sofia Coppola's much-referenced Marie Antoinette (2006). Although sometimes derided for the American accents, focus on visuals and rock'n'roll soundtrack, the fact that the film was approved by Antonia Fraser (whose biography of the last Queen of France is considered the last word on the subject) is good enough for me - although it may not be an in-depth study of the politics of the period, the costumes and hair are a glorious celebration, and have obviously been meticulously researched. As Fraser wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair,
"When Sofia asked me lightly, “Would it matter if I leave out the politics?,” I replied with absolute honesty, “Marie Antoinette would have adored that.”
In 1926, Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky designed the Frankfurt Kitchen. At the time, Lihotsky was working for Ernst May at the Municipal Building Department in Frankfurt. The department set out to standardise the design and production of kitchens for social housing, and May commissioned Lihotsky to design a kitchen prototype that would be suitable for installation in every affordable housing project.
Once the Frankfurt Kitchen had been completed, it was fitted in 10,000 homes - this was the first time a fitted kitchen had been successfully installed in such a volume of flats, and as such, it is the prototype for what we know as fitted kitchens today - a streamlined, efficient room which would enable housewives to perform their daily tasks with the minimum of fuss.
After the First World War, affordable rental properties in Frankfurt were scarce, and a huge project was undertaken to provide housing for those in need. In order to efficiently do this, a modernist approach was needed - it had to be economical, both in use of space and funds, and it had to be a standardised, modular system, for ease of production and installation, and eventually, ease of use.
Modern housewives needed modern innovations which improved hygiene and quality of life, such as electricity, gas, and running water. Everything has its place, and everything works perfectly - this was no longer a privilege for the upper classes, but a standard level of lifestyle that was to be made available to the masses. As described on the Museum der Dinge and Werkbundarchiv website (who have an intact original Frankfurt Kitchen on display):
"The Frankfurt Kitchen illustrates key principles of the 1920s: objectivity, functionalism, and above all standardisation. The concept of standardisation was connected not only with production techniques, but also reflected the ideological position of the Bauhaus and Werkbund activists, who saw the uniform design of everyday objects as a contribution towards levelling the differences between classes."
Posted by Isabel
On a recent trip to Berlin I visited the magnificient Museum der Dinge and Werkbundarchiv - this unique museum and archive is home to thousands of fascinating objects, examples of modern day 'things' as well as objects collected and curated with the intention of showcasing badly designed kitsch 'fancy goods', which are then displayed in parallel with the beautifully designed and expertly crafted objects of the Deutscher Werkbund.
The Deutscher Werkbund was founded in 1907 with the objective of balancing new industrial mass production methods with the craftmanship and quality that defines a well designed product. The ease and cheapness of mass production meant that many corners were being cut and reproductions being made. Wood veneer and faux tortoiseshell featured heavily in the museum to illustrate this point (as well as a memorably hideous reproduction-baroque wood veneer bench covered in cupids which, unfortunately, I can't find an image of).
In 1909, art historian and museum director Gustav E. Pazaurek opened up a “Cabinet of Bad Taste” in the Stuttgart State Crafts Museum. Pazaurek was a strong advocate of the Werkbund aesthetic, and he collected over 900 objects of such astounding ugliness that they highlighted the need for guidelines for what is "good" and what is "bad".
Although his Cabinet of Bad Taste was put into storage in 1933, the Museum der Dinge dug it all out and they now display what can only be described as a smorgasbord of tat. In Stephen Bayley's wonderful upcoming book for FIELL, "Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything", he talks about Pazaurek's bad taste manifesto, on which he based his collection:
"Pazaurek had established a systematic checklist to describe aesthetic crimes. Although his views were inevitably formed by very different circumstances (in the Germany of 1909 the proto-Modernism of the Deustcher Werkbund was tussling, not always successfully, with a democratic preference for Jodelstil), officials at the Museum der Dinge found that the 1909 checklist remains curiously relevant as a test for taste.
Pazaurek determined that there were five categories of errors that could lead to ugliness: Material Mistakes, Design Mistakes, Decorative Mistakes, Kitsch Mistakes and Contemporary Mistakes.
Among all reformers of consumer consciousness and art education, Bauhaus included, Pazaurek’s Principles have never been surpassed for their detail and thoroughness."
Founders of the Werkbund included such design bigwigs as Peter Behrens, Bruno Paul, and Josef Maria Olbrich. Prioritising function over form, the members of the Werkbund wanted to promote a utilitarian aesthetic that they saw as beneficial to both designers and society, and which would ease the transition from small workshop-type craftmanship to mass production. After the First World War, there was a need for consumer products that had to be met cheaply and quickly. To reconcile this need with their principles of good design, and to simplify the process, the Werkbund set out to standardise design, to make it more utilitarian, and less decoratively frou-frou.
In 1924, the Werkbund published "Form ohne Ornament (Form Without Ornament)", a sort of guide to Functionalism, and the beauty of the undecorated surface. The Werkbund was fraught with tension between two factions, those who promoted the new Functionalism and mass production, and those (including Walter Gropius) who championed craftmanship and individualism.
In addition to Werkbund designs and Pazaurek's collection of horrors, the museum showcases examples of design up to the present day, including a marvellous collection of vintage Apple products. This museum is essentially a giant time capsule - if we are defined by the "things" of our time, then this collection gives us a series of defining snapshots of human taste over the past century.
Looking at this unique collection, and at the juxtaposition of kitsch and tasteful design, it is easy to see which is beautiful and which is ugly. But quite often, it's the ugly stuff that catches your eye.
Posted by Isabel