Art Deco is generally defined as the period of design between the world wars. This varies from place to place as the world was much bigger in those days and trends were slower to spread than they are today. For example, Art Deco buildings, often known as P&O buildings here, were still being built well after World War 2 in Australia. There are many fine examples of this architecture to be found in every state of Australia as well as around the world. The name Art Deco is derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art) held in Paris in 1925, but the design movement had its beginnings in the Art Nouveau period.
Art Deco became the style of the pleasure palaces; hotels, cocktail bars, ocean liners, skyscrapers and cinemas that flourished during the thirties, particularly in the western world. This sleek yet detailed style reflected the aspirations and desires of a society that had endured the great stock market crash of 1929, symbolising youth, glamour, fun and fantasy as evidenced in film of that era. After the crash the luxury good market all but disappeared and consumer goods were marked with socialist reform principals from Modernism which began to change the look of Art Deco.
Form and function began to merge with avante garde art movements influencing the process. In gowns the bias cut was prominent giving a more fluid draping look, emphasising the female form in stark contrast to the boyish silhouette of the 1920s. Gowns became figure hugging with sweeping skirts and complex bodice designs with an almost architectural look. Zippers were introduced in the thirties and elastic replaced much of the traditional boning.?
During the thirties the musical reigned supreme and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced their way through life in a never ending swirl of colour and movement. Movies like Grand Hotel (1932), 42nd Street (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Gold Diggers (1935) were bright, fun and quite light hearted in nature. Many portrayed the ethos of “the show must go on” this was Hollywood’s justification for such extravagant displays of luxury and excess during such dismal and bleak times.
An Australian designer of the era was George Orry-Kelly, who between 1932 and 1944, was chief costume designer for Warner Brothers. Born in Kiama, New South Wales, George left Australia for New York in 1921, sharing a flat with Cary Grant who helped him break into Hollywood by showing his sketches to Jack Warner. He is credited in films as simply Orry-Kelly. A volatile man, who was one of the first openly gay men in Hollywood, he clashed on many occasions with the studio system leading to his dismal from Warner Bros in 1944. He went on to freelance among the major studios and to win 3 Academy Awards for his designs, including the costumes for Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot 1959” and dressed many of the great Hollywood legends.