Monday, March 28, 2016

The Style of the Century (not really)

     Bevis Hillier. The Style of the Century (2nd edition, 1998) I can’t tell the intended audience of this book. The title suggests a systematic overview, but Hillier’s narrative is personal and unbalanced. He did a study of Art Deco (he claims he coined the term), and provides a good deal of interesting information about its development and revival in the 1970s. But on the other styles, Hillier gives us what amounts to gossip. He’s not only a name-dropper, he’s incurious about anything done outside his circle. The result is finally unsatisfying. For example, he know little about cars, so the interchange between car styling and consumer design generally isn’t discussed. Most of Hillier’s examples, especially the ones he chooses to illustrate, are on the fringes of fashion and had little influence on the styles of the century.
     As a source-book of some of the more outre attempts by designers and stylists, the book has value, especially since Hillier was an active player. He curated a number of exhibitions and shows, and knew many of the artists. But as an overview of how styles developed, he’s unreliable. He ignores how and why fashion develops into style. He’s oblivious to the interesting question of why some fashions remain mere passing fads and others  define a style. The final chapter, written by Kate McIntyre is a more systematic survey of the last two decades of the 20th century. But its chief interest is the predictions that turned out to be wrong. **½

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