POP! Design Culture Fashion 1956-1976
Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain & Annamarie Stapleton
London: ACC Editions, 2012
Hardcover. 254 p. ISBN 978-1851496907. £35.00 / $59.95
Reviewed by Georges-Claude Guilbert
Université François Rabelais (Tours)
This book is an exhibition catalogue, but it functions perfectly as a highly desirable self-sufficient product. POP! Design Culture Fashion 1956-1976 ran from July 2012 to October 2012 at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street (a museum that is very much worth a visit, notably for the building itself). ACC stands for Antique Collectors’ Club, and indeed the feeling one gets when turning the pages of this big book is one of envy: it would be so wonderful to own some of those tremendous collectors’ items. For the objects on display during the exhibition, it must be specified, were all originals, and the photographs in the book are recent photographs of the said objects, shot for the occasion.
POP! has been produced by three design experts, Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton, who clearly know what they are talking about, i.e. the pop culture of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. They are the authors of three beautiful books on textiles, among other things. They have curated several exhibitions over the years. Annamarie Stapleton is also the editor of the Decorative Arts Society Journal: 1850 to the Present. Moreover, she is the Director of the Fine Art Society, a prestigious art-dealing company. As for Geoffrey Rayner and Richard Chamberlain, they founded Target Gallery in Windmill Street. As it happens, all (or most of) the items pictured in POP! Design Culture Fashion 1956-1976 came from Target Gallery.
Their glossy book is organized along nine logical chapters: The Pop in Popular 1945-1956; Rock 'n' Roll 1956-1959; 'Mad Men': Modernists into Mods 1960-1963; Swinging Sixties 1964-1967; Psychedelia 1967-1970; Underground Posters & Graphics 1966-1973; The Fun Palace 1969-1973; 'Them' 1970-1976; and last but not least, Punk. The exhibition highlighted the way American rock ‘n’ roll and youth culture changed the world in general, and the UK in particular. Commerce, culture and style became hard to tell apart in the 1960s, a mutation best exemplified by Andy Warhol. POP! examines the impact of graphic arts, music, and celebrities on the fashion of the era. It takes in “the cool stylings of the Mods, the high baroque of Psychedelia and the kitsch glamour of 70s retro by designers such as Mr. Freedom and Miss Mouse” [flyer]. The exhibition offered pieces of Elton John clothing, flared trousers that belonged to the Scottish singer and songwriter Donovan, Mary Quant Pop-Art fashion pieces, as well as unique items from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Sex boutique. It also presented original furniture and original posters.
Rayner, Chamberlain and Stapleton write: “Between the optimism at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the disillusion of punk, the pop generation created a lifestyle which reached its apogee in 1966 in 'Swinging London', and San Francisco's 'Summer of Love' in 1967” . The book illustrates this very aptly. One of the most fascinating aspects of Pop is no doubt the constant transatlantic back-and-forth travelling every musical or visual trend undergoes. From the UK to the US and back again, every new trip transforms the said trend and enriches it—and I am not only referring to the African-Americanisation of white Brits. Rayner, Chamberlain and Stapleton are also good at pointing out the “subtle connections between Pop musicians, Pop designers and Pop artists” . In that order of ideas, they discuss several examples of pop stars who went to art school, such as Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, who was actually taught by Richard Hamilton. Oddly, they do not mention David Bowie in that respect. Indeed they do not mention Bowie at all—which is utterly reprehensible. No-one else epitomises the Pop spirit of the period so well, no-one has ever done the design + art + music alliance better. Clearly, this glaring absence is linked to an editorial preference: few creators get mentioned if nothing of theirs was featured in the exhibition. It is a regrettable choice, if perfectly understandable. One may wonder, in passing, why exactly it is that no Bowie item was provided by Target Gallery. Could it possibly be related to the huge upcoming Bowie exhibition? As all Bowie aficionados know, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum will host David Bowie Is from March 23, 2013 to July 28, 2013.
Similarly, one feels sorry to see a picture of Andy Warhol’s crucial banana record sleeve for The Velvet Underground and Nico (1966)  and his record sleeve for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers (1970) [8, 14, 164], but not some equally legendary record sleeves. Obviously the curators did not own them, or did not own the rights. They do, however, showcase the splendid sleeves of Lou Reed’s historic Transformer (1972) [250-251] and Roxy Music’s indispensable For Your Pleasure (1973) . One regrets, besides, that no mention of Guy Debord and the Situationists is made when the “punk” art of Jamie Reid is evoked. He was influenced by the Dadaists, it is true, but that is far from all [20, 260, 263]. One can also disagree, or partly agree, at any rate, with some of the things that are said here about postmodern art, or the meaning of the punk movement, or Camp. Much more could have been made of Camp. The authors do quote, admittedly, that marvellously camp line by Antony Price: “Fashion is nothing more or less than the seriousness of frivolity.” 
Apart from those few minor quibbles, I find the book quite comprehensive, with not only period jeans and posters, but also patches and badges, Biba and the underground press of the era. Even Actuel, the only interesting underground magazine France ever produced, is featured . Visually, it is quite simply a must, the best coffee table book of 2012. I recommend the following in particular: Jane Birkin in an Op dress photographed by David Bailey ; the Mondrian Yves Saint Laurent boots ; the “Forget Oxfam, Feed Twiggy” badge ; the 1967 psychedelic poster of John Lennon by Richard Avedon ; the 1971 men’s platform boots ; the Mickey Mouse Occasional Table . The young will be amused and intrigued by the visuals of Pop, whereas the not-so-young, such as myself, will be overpowered by nostalgia, and sigh with a mixture of delight and sadness. Where have all the good times gone?
Cercles © 2013
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