The Jazz Age by Stephen Harrison, Sarah D. Coffin

The Jazz Age – American Style in the 1920s has all I would expect/hope for in a book on this subject: a complete treatment of museum objects and the people or events that influenced their design. Copious amounts of high quality photographed objects accompany the relevant paragraphs in the text. The authors give us a thorough and well-researched tour of the era through the objects in their museums: from bracelets to tiaras, cigarette cases to room treatments, objet d’art, fashion, rugs, furniture, and even images from leading magazines of the time. It’s a window onto the America that, thorough the World War, suddenly had the world at its fingertips. And as the title suggests, it is much more than just art deco.

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The book breaks down by influence rather than subject/type of object. Starting with an introduction about the influence of Paris and exotic locales/history, the book transitions into a discussion on how styles changed during the period. From there, the rise of the American woman, the machine age, influences of immigrants, music and historical references, the rise of the department store, emergence of America as a textile design hub, and more are discussed. The authors are quite thorough but never bland – and the discussions begin and end with the objects themselves. E.g., an ancient Egyptian influence makeup case belonging to the Dodge family or items belonging to the iconic Josephine Baker and why she would have chosen them personally provide perspective on a design element.

The images come in all sizes and are closely placed to where they are discussed. The order and presentation makes quite sense and the authors give us a wonderful glimpse into life during that period. Granted, all the objects are museum pieces or from high end fashion magazines like Vogue. They represent the pinnacle of design of the time – and therefore only the very wealthy could have afforded them. But every object (and there are many) is stunning in its own unique way. I learned quite a bit from this book despite having a good foundation knowledge of the period.

I highly recommend this book for those interested in design, history, or America of the 1920s. It’s beautifully presented and very fascinating. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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