Monday, May 20, 2013
The period between the World Wars has always fascinated me, and for a number of reasons, too. Fashion was never chicer, homes never looked more cocktail party ready, and cars reached the pinnacle of their sleek elegance. But the other reason for my interest is that this era also saw a lot of innovations that captured people's imaginations. Take, for example, the airplane.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many social swells were besotted with the airplane, a fascination that was fostered by no less than Vogue, which encouraged its female readers to buy their own recreational planes. (As one Vogue article noted, "As surely as the woman of yesterday was born to ride in a limousine, the woman of today was born to fly in an aeroplane.") A number of society ladies engaged in such high-flying pursuits, including the Duchess of Bedford, who unfortunately disappeared in her plane during a trip from Woburn Abbey.
One had to dress the part, wearing aviation attire designed by Poiret and Patou. In fact, the Vicomtesse de Sibour (née Violette Selfridge, daughter of Gordon Selfridge) went flying around the world with her husband, and because their small plane meant small luggage, Violette brought along four beige Patou outfits to get her through the journey in style.
Airplanes, or rather, the airplane motif, sometimes made their way into the home, appearing on wallpaper and fabric. One such wallpaper, which you'll find below, was Aeroplane. Designed by Raymond McGrath, an Australian architect, during the early 1930s, the paper was thought to have been conceived for the house of an aviatrix. (The house, referred to as Rudderbar, was never built.) I can just see this paper in the late 1920s home of the fictional Phryne Fisher, who, like many of her trailblazing female counterparts, knew how to pilot a plane.
As World War II approached, the airplane motif began to appear as a symbol of a different kind of freedom, one from Nazi tyranny. Patriots, both in the U.K. and here in the U.S., proudly wore airplane-emblazoned attire as both an act of support for their troops and of defiance against the enemy.
Although airplanes may no longer hold the same appeal that they once did (frankly, they make me think of germs spreading through the air and passengers walking barefoot to the bathrooms,) it's interesting to see how they once inspired fashions for the body and for the home.
P.S.- If you want to watch a brief 1928 film clip that shows Mr. Selfridge sending off his daughter and son-in-law on their airplane trip around the world, click here.
Aeroplane wallpaper, designed in the early 1930s by Raymond McGrath, is still available today through Bradbury & Bradbury.
In 1926, Vogue suggested wearing a "knitted chiné woollen suit by J. Suzanne Talbot" when flying.
The interior of John Hay Whitney's two-motored Sikorsky Amphibian looked more like a residential interior than a plane.
An Art Deco Airplane Smoker's Companion, designed by J.A. Henckels in the 1930s, is available through M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans.
Vogue featured planes announcing the Paris openings on their March 1932 cover. This image is available for sale as a print through the Conde Nast store.
Victory V cotton dress fabric, printed in 1941 by the Calico Printers' Association of Manchester, England, was just one patriotic dress fabric produced during the Second World War. The border features a pattern of three dots and a dash, which was Morse code for "Victory". (Collection of Victoria & Albert Museum)
Photo at top: Amelia Earhart, the most famous aviatrix of all.