Luxury consumption in the West dates back as far the time of the Romans and the Etruscans. While Rome initially eschewed lavish consumption habits, the Empire’s conquest of more pleasure-loving peoples such as the Greeks led to them absorbing some of their traditions and making peace with the art of luxury. Similarly, during the Middle Ages in Europe, luxury was frowned upon as a disruptive extravagance and laws were even drawn up to stipulate which classes of people could wear what clothes.
By Faith Duval –
Many of the works of vintage advertising art on our website were created to advertise lingerie, such as this gorgeous piece of vintage art created in 1937 for Cadolle:
The company is named after its founder, Herminie Cadolle (1845–1926), who Life magazine called the inventor of the modern bra.
In fact, the bra had no single inventor. Many different people, all around the same time, had roughly the same idea – and Herminie Cadolle was among them.
Corsets had been briefly unpopular during the French Revolution of 1789, when they were associated with the aristocracy. But they soon returned to prominence as the political mood settled again. It would take another revolution to conclusively unseat the corset.
By Faith Duval –
Alphonse Mucha was an artist whose work in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century defined the style that came to be known as Art Nouveau. Yet Mucha rejected the label, insisting that he followed no artistic fashions and was inspired by his native country’s folk art and his own aesthetic preferences alone. A Czech nationalist, Mucha eventually saw his political desires come to fruition in the formation of an independent Czechoslovakian nation-state after the First World War.
A Parisian Cafe by Ilya Repin, 1875
By Faith Duval –
The commercial art of the 1940s and 1950s, to which Vintage Advertising Art is dedicated, represents the swansong of the grand tradition of French advertising art. That tradition can be traced back to the poster art of late nineteenth century Paris. Paris at this time was going through the Belle Époque, the so-called ‘beautiful era’, a long period of peacetime prosperity spanning the 1870s to the First World War. It has come to be seen as a time of enjoyment and innocence, predating the horrors of world war and the economic convulsions to come.
By Edith Gregor –
Visitors to this website may have seen some of the gorgeous vintage ads originally created for the biscuit brand Lefèvre-Utile. Down the years many illustrious French artists have created posters for this much-loved brand.
Such artists include the giant of ad art René Gruau. He lent his ink and his eye to LU in 1955, in an image (shown below) that embodies both Gruau’s own aesthetics and the well-established spirit of Lefèvre-Utile. Visible are the bold, black outlines and the bright, block colours so characteristic of his work. The subjects depicted—an elegant, society woman and her sweet little girl—are both appropriate to the LU brand.
‘I’ve got a Brillo box and I say it’s art
It’s the same one you can buy at any supermarket’
—Lou Reed and John Cale, ‘Style it Takes‘ from Songs for Drella
By John Hopkins –
The relationship between art and advertising has been tense at times.
Victorian painter John Everett Millais was infuriated when he discovered that his painting ‘Bubbles’ was being used in an ad campaign for Pears soap. William Powell Frith felt similarly dismayed when Lever’s used his ‘The New Frock’ to promote Sunlight Soap. With no control over copyright, these men were sad to see their work used and (in their view) abused by advertisers.
But art and advertising have not always been at each other’s necks.
By Faith Duval –
You may recognise the name ‘Lelong’ from some of the gorgeous advertisements for fashionable women’s clothing and perfumes on our website. But Lelong has a place in the history books for more than just his talents as a businessman and couturier. Lelong’s actions during the Second World War may just have saved French fashion from a terrible oblivion.
The story goes: when the Nazis occupied France in 1940, they set about trying to relocate the entirety of French haute couture to Berlin. Standing against them was Lucien Lelong, at that time the president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He insisted that French fashion depended on thousands of skilled artisans in numerous small ateliers across the country. This wealth of knowledge and craftsmanship, he insisted, could not simply be transplanted to another country: the industry would fall apart.
By Laureen Simons –
Chanel No. 5 is not for nothing one of the most famous perfumes in the world today.
But this iconic fragrance may have been born by pure accident.
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was leading the fashion world in the 1920s. An immensely talented designer and business woman, Chanel was an icon of the Jazz Age. An idol to flapper girls everywhere, Chanel combined the qualities of the respectable society lady and the mistress in one. When she decided to conquer the world of perfumery at the beginning of the 1920s, she wanted to create a fragrance that represented both those elements of her character. She wanted a perfume for the modern woman, more liberated than ever before after the end of the Great War and the victories of the women’s movement.
By John McDonald –
Remember the black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
Its designer was Hubert de Givenchy.
That dress exemplifies his simple, modern approach to couture, and was perfectly apt for the time- 1961.
Givenchy helped to define French style in the ’50s, an optimistic decade from which come many of the works of vintage advertising art featured on our site.
So who was Hubert de Givenchy, the man behind the famous ‘little black dress’?