Explore a century of Art Deco design, and see how designers and artists are still finding fresh takes for the Roaring 2020s.
The 2020s marks a century since the heyday of Art Deco—the glamorous visual style based on geometric forms and luxurious colors and materials. One of the early modernist movements, the Art Deco style has remained enduringly popular, continuing to be a key reference for designers, artists and photographers today.
Here we look back at 100 years of Art Deco, and how the style has continually evolved in the decades since the 1920s. From how Biba led a Deco revival in the 1960s to how Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby reignited Deco hysteria for the 21st century, Art Deco has never been out of fashion for long.
With The Roaring 2020s one of the major Creative Trends set to define design in the year ahead, there’s never been a better time to inject your designs with Jazz Age glamor. Discover Art Deco-inspired graphics, photos, illustrations, and templates in the Shutterstock library.
Image by contributor alaver.
The Origins of Art Deco
After the end of the First World War, the world was determined to shape a radically different future. Innovative new machinery, economic growth, and new social freedoms provided the “boom” context in which Art Deco developed.
The Art Deco style originated in France before the War, but it started to gain traction on an international scale after the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925. It’s from this exhibition that the style takes its name, short for Arts Décoratifs.
Soon adopted by designers and artists in Europe, America and further afield (see below), Art Deco was a total style, meaning that it was applied across a broad range of visual fields, including architecture, furniture, jewelry, graphic design, art, and fashion.
Speed, a design for a radiator ornament by the American sculptor Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1925). Image from Wikipedia Commons.
Defined by geometric shapes, abstract graphics, lavish color palettes, and a sense of movement and energy, Art Deco was the defining visual hallmark of luxury, glamor, and industrial progression during the 1920s.
Sky-high buildings, such as the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building in New York, were constructed rapidly in Art Deco style and decorated with opulent interiors to match. Posters and magazines were designed in dynamic Deco style, celebrating the glamorous allure of flapper girls and enticing consumers with ads for Coca-Cola, cocktails, and exotic travel.
Detail of the Chrysler building facade, a skyscraper built in Art Deco style in 1930. Image by contributor meunierd.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Art Deco took on a more subdued personality, but the creative output was no less beautiful. Metallic accents and exotic materials were replaced with earthier color palettes, and the influence of other Modernist movements, such as the Bauhaus School in Germany, can be seen in the retention of geometric shapes and abstract forms.
Art Deco Goes Global
The Art Deco style was hugely influenced by European colonialism and the idea of the “exotic.” Lifting artistic references from Asia, Africa, and Mesoamerica, Art Deco was a stylistic melting pot of international influences and various design styles.
The exotic associations of Art Deco further intensified with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. The ensuing Egyptomania was a major influence on Art Deco, with Egyptian motifs, colors, and styles frequently adopted in the design of jewelry, ceramics, and interiors.
The extraordinary facade of Jewish House or Egyptian House in Valencia, Spain, which was built by Juan Francisco Guardiola Martinez in 1930. Image by contributor vidalgo.
As well as being influenced by other cultures, Art Deco also went on to shape the architectural backdrop of many cities worldwide, often as a result of being European colonies. Shanghai in China, Mumbai in India, and Casablanca in Morocco are known today for their wealth of Art Deco architecture. Eritrea in East Africa has also attracted renewed interest from tourists due to its extraordinary Art Deco buildings—relics of its Italian colonial history.
A cinema in Art Deco style in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital. Image by contributor JM Travel Photography.
The Art Deco style also spread widely across Europe and America during the 1920s and 1930s. Some of the finest examples of preserved Art Deco architecture and sculpture can be found in France, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Budapest, and London.
The style also pops up in some even more surprising places. The Moscow subway was designed in a Soviet Art Deco style, and Cuba is defined by its colorfully-painted Art Deco buildings, erected to appeal to American tourists.
A colorful street in Santiago de Cuba demonstrates a distinctly Cuban interpretation of Art Deco style. Image by contributor Jerome LABOUYRIE.
Deco Revivals During the 20th Century
After the Second World War, Art Deco in its original form fell out of fashion in Europe and America. New modernist-influenced styles gained popularity during the 1950s, the best-known perhaps being Mid-Century Modern. Simpler and less ornate in style than Art Deco, the public developed a taste for a more minimal modernism during this period.
However, Art Deco never truly vanished. Its influence was keenly felt during several revivals over the course of the 20th century.
In the 1960s the glamor of Art Deco was resurrected by fashion house Biba. Designer Barbara Hulanicki founded the postal boutique in the UK in 1963. Biba’s aesthetic was heavily influenced by Art Deco and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The company went on to open a store in an Art Deco building on Kensington High Street, and the brand became hugely successful, with models like Twiggy sporting outfits inspired by a fusion of Art Deco and Swinging Sixties culture.
The Biba aesthetic fused a 1960s nightlife aesthetic with Art Deco and Art Nouveau references. Image by contributor iconogenic.
During the 1970s Art Deco was still a style commonly referenced by designers, who adapted the style to evoke luxury and glamor. In fashion magazines like Vogue, Art Deco-inspired clothing and makeup got a 1970s rock edge. The aesthetic was best demonstrated by shots of iconic model Anjelica Huston, taken by photographer Irving Penn.
Interest in the 1920s and the Art Deco aesthetic was also spurred on by the release of the 1974 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. The commercial success of musical gangster movie Bugsy Malone, which was released in 1976 and made a star of Jodie Foster, also contributed.
In the 1980s Art Deco experienced its most radical revival yet—as a key influence for the Memphis Group. The Italian group’s output is referred to as Memphis Style, with furniture, interiors, graphics, and architecture constructed in a heady fusion of Art Deco geometric forms, pop art-inspired color palettes, and 1950s kitsch.
Bel Air Chair by Peter Shire for Memphis, 1981. Image by contributor Edison Veiga.
Although initially considered to be in bad taste by many critics, the Memphis Style went on to gain a cult following during the 1980s. The popularity of the style coincided with the release and subsequent popularity of Miami-set gangster movie Scarface (1984), which was filmed against a backdrop of Art Deco architecture and Memphis-kitsch interiors.
Art Deco buildings and hotels line the historic Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami. Image by contributor Richard Goldberg.
Art Deco’s aesthetic beauty and its association with luxury, glamor, and good times has ensured its enduring popularity into the 21st century.
Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby helped to bring the opulence and allure of Art Deco’s exuberant heyday to a new audience in 2013.
The Art Deco-styled set of The Great Gatsby (2013), directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. Image courtesy of WarnerBros.
Always popular as a style for event and wedding stationery, Art Deco has been rediscovered and reinterpreted in other mediums by a range of designers and artists.
Shutterstock contributor alaver creates contemporary interpretations of Art Deco posters, paying tribute to the golden age of travel posters.
Image by contributor alaver.
Design studio Asís created a brand identity for Paris-based Snob Hôtel. The branding demonstrates an elegantly restrained version of the Art Deco aesthetic, with geometric type, burnished metallics, and a deep, cosseting color scheme.
Brand identity for Snob Paris Hotel by Asís.
In interior design, Art Deco still holds a timeless appeal, with designers looking to the more subdued 1930s for an interpretation of Deco that works seamlessly in contemporary settings.
Here, interior designer and 3D artist Apostolis Christo rendered a classical apartment in supremely refined Art Deco style for this project titled .ADAGIO.
Interior design by Apostolis Christo.
Why Does Art Deco Have Enduring Appeal?
With the Roaring 2020s upon us, we are naturally looking back centennially to reflect on the differences and similarities between then and now. It’s clear that the world has changed drastically since the 1920s, so it’s extraordinary that designers are still able to find fresh inspiration and relevance in Art Deco, a style that was conceived more than a century ago.
The enduring appeal of Art Deco lies in its glamorous association and eternally stylish aesthetic. It’s escapist and fantastical, symbolic of decadence, fun and partying—and who doesn’t need a bit of escapism in the 2020 climate?
With searches for gold patterns up by +4,223%, and ‘20s retro up +189%, Shutterstock users are looking to ornate geometric patterns and vintage-inspired illustrations to add a dash of Jazz Age style to their designs.
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