December 1, 2023

Such impulses were put on hold in Europe when World War I escalated, and by the time the conflict was over, the organic inflection and utopian trippiness of Art Nouveau in France (and soon thereafter in the rest of the world) had subsided and waned. from Art Deco, a sobriquet derived from the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925. The futuristic geometry of the style expressed in the 1930 Chrysler Building and the domed radios housed in every European dormitory were a tacit assumption that machines and the unvarnished surfaces they produced could no longer be repulsed and should. While the best Art Deco pieces were still made by hand, the maker’s mark and any imperfections have been avoided and replaced with glassy surfaces, often in lacquer or chrome. There were still plenty of Asian references, but they were more Chinese – dragons, pagodas, foo dogs – than Japanese. After the revolution of 1911, which destroyed imperial rule and created the Republic of China, there was renewed global interest in culture. A number of French museum exhibitions, including the Musée Guimet, which opened in 1889 and exhibited works from Asia, allowed artisans to see real Chinese art and objects rather than relying on their own idealized orientalist inventions. Seafaring had become a lot easier than it had been since Japan opened, and designers, including Louis Cartier, were sending representatives to Asian countries.

But there remained an unspoken sense among such creators that refined, naturalistic elegance was still the province of the Japanese. Early 20th-century dressmaker and costume designer Paul Poiret made kimono coats, controversial for their shapelessness, for wealthy bohemians, and couturiers in the 1920s were intrigued by the potential of draped fabrics and loose silhouettes. (Back when Japonisme was sweeping Paris, women were still stuck in Victorian-era corsetry.) In 1925, designer Jacques Worth embroidered a dress and cape with a Japanese motif by the Swiss-French artist Jean Dunand, who often worked in lacquer . Two years later, Coco Chanel showed off her own version of silk crepe knotted at the neck with a gold chrysanthemum pattern and sleeves that ended in a padded hem reminiscent of the Fuki, the bottom edge of a kimono. As Western women became increasingly public, a market developed for accessories that can be worn with these new items of clothing: lipstick holders, cigarette boxes, powder compacts, and tiny jewelry cases that can be worn around the wrist. At Van Cleef & Arpels, some of them were modeled inro, the small boxes made of wood, leather, metal, ivory or paper that Japanese men hung on their obi (kimonos have no pockets) to carry tobacco or medicinal herbs. A 1924 version made of gold, jade and diamonds showed a stylized plant motif on black enamel.

The worldwide spread of Art Déco also provided a coda for the long history of Japanese influence: Now for the first time a Western aesthetic – albeit one with roots in the East – bounced back to Asia. As remarkable as the Japanese elements that continued to influence Art Deco was how thoroughly the movement conquered Japan. It was not viewed as just another western lens on the archipelago, but rather as the truest incarnation of the west. Like the flappers (les garçonnes, in France), young Japanese women, called moga, moved their hair, smoked cigarettes and listened to jazz, defying the image of the idealized courtesans of early ukiyo-e; It was also around this time that Japan closed the loop by increasingly adopting Western-style military practices to pursue its own imperial ambitions.