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.
Among the pioneers of the late-century poster mania were Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha. Chéret’s invention of the colour lithography technique in the mid-1860s was instrumental in turning the boulevards of Paris into virtual art galleries, where passers-by delighted in seeing this new, colourful form of modern art displayed. The posters’ subjects included the exciting night-life of Paris, its cabarets and theatres, and the newly flourishing luxury goods market – its fashion and fragrance available in the new department stores springing up over the city, consequences of the heady boomtime.
These path-breaking poster artists were influenced by a myriad of sources, including Japanese ukiyo-e, the woodblock prints which depicted its own world of luxury consumption and entertainment enjoyed by the merchant class. From this source comes the absence of shading, the use of block colours and thick black outlines characteristic of many Belle Époque posters. Japan had opened its doors to the West in the 1850s for the first time in centuries, and despite its unmistakeably Parisian character, poster art as much as any other cultural phenomena of the time reflected an increase in world cultural exchange owing to a period of expanding global trade and transportation.
Quinquina Dubonnet, Apéritif, Dans tous les Cafés by Jules Chéret, 1895
Belle Époque Paris could boast a vast cultural wealth – the impressionist composers, Debussy, Satie and Saint-Saens lived and worked there along with the painters Picasso and Matisse; Stravinsky first achieved international renown with his ballet scores performed in Paris; the novelists Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Marcel Proust all developed their radical visions of industrial modernity within its perimeter. Its brasseries, cabarets and cafes were beloved by tourists and sophisticated locals alike. Paris at that time was called ‘Ville Lumière’, the city of light, famed for the rows of gaslights that shone along its grands boulevards, and then for the pioneering electric lights which came into use in the 1870s. It was also, incidentally, home to the first neon advertising, displayed in 1912. During that era Paris hosted three universal expositions; in 1878, 1889 and 1900 – huge events celebrating the art, fashion, commerce and technology of the city.
Amidst this cultural fecundity, Chéret’s colourful art posters elevated the advertising poster to a work of art. Initially regarded as monstrosities by critics, the efforts of Chéret, Toulouse-Lautrec and others turned the commercial poster into a genuine art form, celebrated by writers and featured in exhibitions and books. In 1896 Chéret capitalised on the mania for posters by bringing out a monthly collection of the finest art posters printed in miniature form for private, home viewing by subscribers. It was the connoisseurs, the collectors and entrepreneurs who preserved the poster tradition.
Lance Parfum Rodo by Alphonse Mucha, 1896
There are notable parallels between Belle Époque Paris and post-war Paris, where a revival of fashion, luxury consumer culture and advertising art came together as a beacon to the world: peace and newfound economic prosperity, with an attendant cultural optimism, were hallmarks of this era. Without the collectors, critics and dealers of old, the posters of the Belle Époque might have fallen into obscurity. The same is true of the commercial art that followed in the 1940s and 1950s advertisements for fashion and luxury goods. We hope that our work at Vintage Advertising Art helps to preserve and protect that cultural tradition for the future.
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’?