Elle Decor: The Grand Book of French Styleby Francois Baudot, Jean Demachy
Author Biography: Franois Baudot has
If there is one book that will look elegant on every coffee table this season, this is it. Compiled by the editors of Elle Decor, the definitive voice of good taste, this rich collection of interiors-from eclectic and eccentric to classic chic-can inspire every reader looking for a little "je ne sais quoi" for their home.
Author Biography: Franois Baudot has written many books on fashion and style and is the French Elle Decor journalist specializing in style. Jean Demachy has been the creator and publisher of French Elle Decor for 10 years.
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- 1ST NORTH
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- 9.41(w) x 11.58(h) x 0.95(d)
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Elle Decor: The Grand Book of French Style
By Francois Baudot Jean Demachy
Bulfinch PressFilipacchi, Sonodip
All right reserved.
Chapter One1930s and 40s style
The final decades of the 20th century saw the decorative arts of the interwar period become one of the liveliest fields of inspiration, discovery, and collectibility. In the early 1980s came the rediscovery of Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941), whose work is now universally imitated. Such is the remarkable reevaluation of the decorative artists, the interior designers, and the craftsmen of the 1930s and 1940s that their work is now viewed alongside the finest products of design coming from areas like ethnic art or historic furniture. The criteria shared by all the elements in this mosaic of trends are the quality and discreet charm attributed to times that have passed.
Between the abstractness of 20th-century avant-garde and the starkness and purity of returning Neoclassicism, cabinet-makers, wrought-iron artists, interior designers, and painters of the interwar period managed to steer a middle course between modernist coolness and the unvarying elements of French tradition.
The history of styles is a story of continual revival. Aside from reasons of economy and aesthetics, prompting many of our contemporaries to scour the Marche aux Puces - the largest and oldest fleamarket in Paris - and antique or junk shops to furnish their interiors, fashions come and go. All the while they regularly influence the market, the prices of objects and, eventually, the art of interior design. The second half of the 20th century has witnessed a frenetic rereading of the decorative arts of the first half. Art Nouveau and then Art Deco have thus been appreciated the second time around at least as much as they were during their creators' own periods. Certain exceptional pieces have reached prices even higher than the finest 18th-century objects.
And quite rightly so. Some of these modern pieces have as much quality, originality, and rarity value even, as the most prestigious works of the cabinet-makers, ornamentalists, or craftsmen of the Age of Enlightenment.
The eccentric few, be they artists, lawyers, couturiers, or the merely curious, who in the 1960s - to the bemusement of many - combed the newly emergent bric-a-brac merchants for perhaps a Galle vase or a chair by Ruhlmann, now belong to the highest echelons of collectors. Retro style has influenced an entire era. Contributing to the trend were the appeal of off-the-rack clothes and 1960s decor: from neo-Tiffany to the cubism of the TV-sofa, via a whole cinema (Borsalino and Company).
Buoyed by success, the young dealers specializing in the 1930s have abandoned the Porte de Clignancourt, where the Marche aux Puces is located, or Les Halles for the inner sanctum of the pioneers of Art Nouveau and Art Deco: the area between the Rue de Seine and Rue Bonaparte.
Now that such modern antiques are outside the price range of incoming collectors, the children of the age of advertising are looking to an even more recent period: the 1950s. From the earliest juke boxes to American cast-off stock, you can get hold of whatever you want from the kitsch of the 1950s, and there is quality too that would do credit to any collection.
As for the way pop culture has emerged in decoration, this has led to highly individual expression. Often aggressive in their bad taste, the exponents of that specific retro fashion might find themselves more at home in a sociological study than in a magazine of decoration.
However, they evidently don't interest today's enthusiasts, who in their keenness to renew acquaintance with the great tradition of past decorative artists have turned instead to the 930s and 1940s. For, until the 1990s our own period seemed to have forgotten that particular stage in the history of styles. As it needed a name, it was given that of the "40s". This ambiguous title itself explains the awkward, even downtrodden, reputation of that period of decoration. For many families in 1940, interior decoration was just about one of the last things on their minds.
The fact is that the so-called "40s" style actually went back to the mid-30s and carried on into the late 50s. The "40s" art of decoration was less creative than early styles, and is therefore harder to define. Moreover, one hesitates sometimes to dub as "antique" (and price accordingly) products originating from Ramsay, Bagues, Spade, Devoluy, and so on - all businesses whose showcases, seemingly only yesterday, epitomized to youthful and rebellious eyes the worst bourgeois conventions.
Yet as time passes, over and over again we have seen previous judgments revised. The pendulum swings for every fashion. And the inescapable reality is that after a period of rejection - a period which seems to get ever shorter - the fashion reappears and is widely acclaimed.
As modernism advances, so our appetite for times gone by seems to grow. the "40s" style is a concrete expression of the last great period of French artisanship, with its expertise, its cult of classicism, and its innate sense of the finely finished.
How sad it is that the company of great furniture-makers, those heirs to the cabinet-markers of the Ancient Regime, neither resisted not came to terms with mass production, the system imposed by new trademarks such as Knoll, Mobilier International, Herman Miller, and others. It is indisputable that, against their plurality, the "40s" style was actually a last stand for individuality.
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Meet the Author
Jean Demachy has been the creator and publisher of French Elle Decor for 10 years.
Francois Baudot has written many books on fashion and style and is the French Elle Decor journalist specializing in style.
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