Saturday, July 3, 2010

period design in context

In design for any given period, nothing stands alone, and all aspects of culture resonate with the same set of aesthetics. Clothing, product design, architecture, typestyles, hairstyles, makeup, music, spoken and written word, even the way people move: all are of their time.

On so many people's lips lately is the show, Mad Men. Finally I gave in and watched a few episodes. To me, as a show-- that is to say, as an experience-- it is like an accident I'm compelled to look at. Nobody is sympathetic, nobody is happy, and it's hard to watch when everyone seems doomed by all the alcohol and smoking. But what the show does understand is that you don't just dress people in so many vintage clothes or do a few cartoonish period sets. Everything in the room must visually resonate with the time period, and this show, for the most part, does an eerily good job of just that (although in a highly stylized manner).

With this in the back of my mind, I noted this passage as I re-read Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film" from early in their shoot:

The Paquin people must have used what materials they could find [for this black and white film] without worrying about color. In spite of that, this fortuitous contrast of colors is dazzling and probably more exciting than if it had been deliberately chosen. As soon as Mila, Nane, Jeannot, Michel and Josette are dressed, made up and bewigged, and wander about the garden, the farm, stone-work, windows and doors come to life. In our modern clothes we all look like intruders, ridiculous ghosts.

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