Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

EVERYBODY’S doing it, even the V&A” squeaks the design feature in an upmarket glossy magazine... “Have a film-star fantasy moment and allow yourself to be seduced by the opulence of Art Deco.”

London’s designers, now on full Art Deco alert in response to the V&A exhibition, offer handprinted wallpapers using Deco for the inspirational look – “if you just copied Art Deco it might look old-fashioned” – Fired Earth have come up with ten paint colours including Flapper Pink and Ocean Liner, Linley does mirrored surfaces set into walnut and Liberty’s shimmies to its two-tone taffeta.

The V&A Art Deco show comments that the 1925 Paris exhibition at which the genre was really launched “aimed to establish Paris as the world centre for shopping”, and the style soon catered for the tastes of as many buyers as possible; cheap and jazzy in cocktail glasses and ashtrays or, at the glamour end, cabinets made out of sharkskin, gold and mahogany.

The book of the show is terrific; the show itself less so. Art Deco 1910-1939 is the exhibition’s lead publication and offers 40 features by Art Deco experts, including the curators, on the outpouring of creativity during the 1920s and l930s, an era described by Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby and The Last Tycoon as fuelled by all “the nervous energy stored up and unexpended in the war”.

The geometric, bold, exotic, urban, streamlined, glitzy style, all adornment, artifice and extravagance, although born on the Continent, soon dispatched its European character and went global. And this is where the book succeeds well; in separating Deco’s geographic strands as well as examining the main style mixes.

In four substantial parts, with an introduction by Charlotte Benton and Tim Benton, Part 2 covers sources and iconography and includes a feature by Professor Frayling, rector of the RCA, on Egyptomania, while Anna Jackson writes on the East’s inspiration and Ghislaine Wood discusses the distinctive flavour of Africa in Art Deco.

The catalytically defining moment for Art Deco of the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs is reviewed in Part 3, while Part 4 traces the spread of Deco, through features on architecture, delicious Art Deco book bindings and book jackets.

It includes Clare Phillips on the new forms, colour combinations and cuts of stones now immediately recognisable as Art Deco jewellery, and a chapter by Valerie Mendes, the fashion historian, includes a look at the “simultaneous” geometrically patterned abstract creations of the Ukrainian-born designer Sonia Delaunay.

Deco travelled to all corners of the world, to South Africa, Australia, India, Argentina and even China. Part 5, the Deco World, journeys there too.

One of the best chapters is Indo-Deco, by Amin Jaffer, the V&A’s man on furniture and interiors of colonial India, who looks at Art Deco’s elite style which found enthusiastic buyers among a handful of princes, including Yeshwant Rao Holkar, Maharajah of Indore in 1930.

The picture of the Maharajah Mahendrasinhji Lakhdiraj’s bedroom in his new palace built at Morvi between 1931 and 1944 is all pleasure dome and high carnival Art Deco deluxe.

Ghislaine Wood, one of the show’s curators, who believes Deco was the most important art movement of the 20th century because the style went worldwide, writes a final piece on the rise, fall and rediscovery of Art Deco as lessons in the history of style.

Art Deco 1910-1939 has masses of fabulous photographs of this visually stunning of art movements and is a full-scale historical survey of a style that transformed skylines from New York to Shanghai and pulled along everything that could be designed, or redesigned – cinemas and theatre sets, cigarette packaging and evening wear, luxury liners and cars.
Art Deco influenced everything from the plates we ate off and the ashtrays in which we stubbed out our Senior Service cigarettes.

This book has to be a top contender for one of the best titles of the year.