Two decades, precisely delimited by the years 1918 and 1938-39 meant swirling in a wild eddy for the whole world. The reaction to the end of the World War I was very strong. Many things changed; theatre props, art, architecture, fashion and also the lifestyle. The wealthy, who went through the war without any harm, or who even profited from it, the increasing influence of mafia and its profits, mainly in America, those who quickly grew rich thanks to clever investments in the stock exchange, the emergence of new social classes and thus the development of industry and building industry, art…all this was in sharp contrast with the poor social classes which grew even more numerous after the Stock Market crash of Wall Street. Nevertheless, the joyfulness of the end of war, the thought that something like that would never happen again and that the time of merrymaking had come, seized the whole world for a few years. People danced; charleston and swing, jazz entered the music scene, Hollywood was going through its golden age, ladies became skinny jolly creatures with smooth short `boyish` hairstyle called garcon (boy).
Passionate, cheerful and at the same time obscure days did not pass by even our country. We also had the heady feeling of the arrival of a new age which would be better and more beautiful than ever before. The development of cinematography largely contributed in bringing us a multitude of dreams. The film stars of that time also contributed to the creation of these dreams – let’s name e.g. Adina Mandlová, Lída Baarová, Hugo Haas, Oldřich Nový, Hana Vítová, Vlasta Burian and many others. These people also had their part in the process of creation and promotion of an imaginary world, yet many of them fell victims to it and ended up as a wreck.
The kind face of that time can be seen for example in the film version of Hrabal’s Postřižiny – as the symbol of the 1920’s was: to shorten, to shorten and to shorten again. Thus the manager’s wife, inspired by the popular dancer Josephine Baker, cuts her hair short. She also shortens her skirts by the latest fashion. The trend of short skirts went allegedly so far that the lower hem of the skirt was almost above the knees! As we know, distances were also getting shorter thanks to the telephone, the radio and the automobile. These achievements of civilization found a wider use, as the population was getting richer. On the contrary, the silhouette was getting longer. Ladies often underwent slimming programmes to fit the shape of I – that is a slim pole without any breasts or hips, with a short straight hairstyle. What the ladies lost in volume, they gained in jewellery. Gentlemen gradually changed their tailcoats for suits and everyday fashion inclined towards more sporting outfits. After all, it would not be very comfortable to travel in a buggy dressed in a crinoline. With the pace of life going faster and faster, sports became more popular. Some of the favourite sports were for instance rowing races, tennis or running. Women could assert themselves in different professions. It wasn’t such a big problem anymore, to be a female doctor or a lawyer, a trader and the like. Ladies‘ wardrobes started being filled with trousers, which they originally only wore at home and these trousers gradually took over skirts and dresses for ever. The world managed to change a lot in the course of those twenty years. Both rises and falls, wealth and poverty, healthy lifestyle and drugs, corruption, prohibition, inflation, the stock market crash and the bankruptcy of many companies and banks, increases in suicides…and World War II. And still, many of those who witnessed that time remember it with nostalgia and those who did not experience it still dream about it. Maybe during those twenty years the world didn’t go crazy because people thought that there was no other imminent danger. Maybe they felt somewhere deep inside of them that there is still something in the air, that the war that had just ended was not the last one…
Different styles were gradually taking shape in different countries. These styles had some common features, though. Le Corbusiere influenced France, Bauhaus Germany, De Stilj the Netherlands, constructivism the Soviet Union. Our country was influenced by a circle of people working for the magazine Stavba and an avant-garde artistic circle Devetsil. All these tendencies finally met in one single style named Functionalism. This name was derived from the conception of modern architecture that a building and its outer and inner layout have to fully conform to its purpose. Decorative features, that were so popular in Art Nouveau, were suppressed because they were useless. The principles of Functionalism were declared in 1928 at the International Congress of Modern Architecture. Angular, geometrical buildings were being constructed, which, however, didn’t lack elegance and originality whether they were factories or private villas, or even hotels, administrative buildings or apartment blocks. There are many functionalistic buildings in Prague. The most well known are e.g. Veletržní palác, Černá růže with its passage Na Příkopech, villa neighbourhood Ořechovka with the famous villa of Dr Muller by architect Adolf Loos, the Barrandov terraces or Thomayer hospital in Krc.
Art and Literature
In the course of the twenty years an original style called Art Deco came into existence. Its main focus were utility objects: jewels, statues, tea and coffee pots and other dishes, cutlery, furniture, textile, wallpapers…the idea was to include as many objects as possible that everyone could afford. Thanks to the development of industry, it was possible to make one expensive design and then make much cheaper copies of it. This way, most people from different social classes could buy house equipment of a high aesthetic value. Taste, elegance, style, they all reflected in everyday routine. It didn’t matter whether people were drinking tea or going to get some rolls. Although Art Deco derived into a certain extent from Art Nouveau motives, it created a completely distinctive attitude towards decor.. It was simplified, flower motives were replaced by geometrical patterns or animal and human figures. Nonetheless this decoration penetrated everything. Sugar bowls, stained glass windows, broaches, lamps, statues, armchairs, rugs, ear rings, everything that you could possibly think of was under the influence of Art Deco.
Painting and sculpture were a different chapter. They were still under the influence of cubism and expressionism and a new style, surrealism, was making its way. There was no space for decor. Emotions, dreams, phantasms, that is what predominated. Some of the famous artists of that time were Mondrian, Kandinskij, Picasso, Leger, in our country Toyen, Štýrský, Síma, and photographers Sudek, Rossler, Drtikol.
Literature, on the other hand, was on thin ice of futurism and dadaism. There was an unrestrained attitude to life: games, imagination, waiting for tomorrow. This is what was brought by
Apollinaire, Tzara, Breton, or the Czech poets Teige, Biebl, Nezval, Seifert, Holan and many others.
Fashion was a substantial feature of that time. It was the beginning of big fashion houses such as Chanel, Nina Ricci, Jeanne Lanivin and others and from Czechs Hana Podolska, who, amongst others, designed clothes for many actresses.
Women and Art Deco
It started in the 1920’s, continued in the 1960’s and today it is here again. A skinny boyish body without breasts and hips. A very short hair cut flattened by gel in the evening when people were going out. Dresses made of soft fluid materials that were, especially in the evening, decorated with beads, embroidery or fringes. Headgear was a must – a hat, usually a narrow one with a wide brim or, on the contrary, a bell-shaped hat closely fitting the head, sometimes with decoration. Evening headgear was much more daring – a headband richly decorated with beads or feathers. Fur boas were also the fashion, just as shoes made of soft leather in golden or silver colours. The cut of dresses was quite simple – long, straight hitched up blouse with a belt below waist, more or less on the hips, and a longer or shorter skirt sometimes crimped or pleated. This outfit was complemented with a short coat. Sometimes, instead of this three piece ensemble, women wore a skirt suit. In the winter, the outfit was complemented with a long coat with a large furry collar. Gloves and handbags were commonplace. Evening dresses, equally short, were made of softer often gauzy materials which exposed the piece of clothes underneath. In the 1930’s the rigid matchstick line got softer, ladies started to crimp their hair and skirts were longer again. Evening dresses were full length again. The shoulder line became round and sometimes frills were added. However; even this softer trend did not last long and between the years 1936 – 37 women started wearing pads and suits got a more rigid form which lead to clothes bearing similarities with uniforms.
Men and Art Deco
Men’s outfit did not change as dramatically as women’s. Nevertheless, even here we can find some substantial changes. First of all, men stopped wearing tailcoats and wore more comfortable tuxedos instead and a suit composed of a morning dress and striped trousers. They also started wearing colourful shirts and the only fast changing accessory, i.e. the tie, was not worn as frequently as before. As for details, we must mention cuff links. There was no gentleman without cuff links. They were of different shapes. Richer people sometimes even had gold cuff links with a little brilliant on them. Such man’s wife had really a ‘treasure‘at home.
Sources: Fashion Encyclopaedia, Architectonic Prague, Art Deco – picture guidebook, Wikipedia