The decade of the 1920s, later known as the Art Deco era, was a defining line in fashion history. Frills, flourishes and the suffocating corset were left behind in haste to enter a new world influenced by automobiles, the radio, an eight hour work day and the right to vote. Women felt empowered and optimistic.
Couture dress designs were translated into affordable, ready-to-wear fashions and replaced home sewing for the average woman. Stylish dresses went sleeveless, hemlines were shortened and waistlines dropped to the hip. Also popular and vampy was the revealing body-clinging, bias cut dress. Jewelry was worn to soften and feminize one look and while accentuating the exotic heat of the other. Chanel and Schiaparelli noted the relationship and both designers introduced “statement” jewelry to complement their apparel collections. In explaining the importance of fashion jewelry, Chanel declared “It doesn’t matter if it looks real, as long as it is fake.”
The “costume jewelry” industry exploded. European workshops in Bohemia created glass stones, faceted and ornamented in a range of experimental styles and colors, from rhinestones to molded glass made to resemble jade. Production of synthetic stones in a consistent color palette and size range was begun by the young Bohemian glasscutter Daniel Swarovski. Exported to American jewelry factories, novelty jewels were used to embellish everything from bracelets to shoe clips. In Japan, glassmakers formulated lustrous “indestructible pearls” which resulted in the fashion of wearing a long rope of faux pearls clutched together with a rhinestones pin. It was a swanky swinging necklace to wear in front and a daringly exotic accessory to wear down the back.
Sources inspiring jewelry design included the Paris International Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, the sets and costuming of the extravagant, colorful Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and fascination with the Orient. Traditional motifs were interpreted in highly stylized and graphic forms using art glass, enameling, pave set crystal, beads and cabochon cut stones.
Art Deco design took form in geometric lines and symmetry. Graduating, expanding, overlapping and cascading shapes conveyed the appearance of movement and speed. It expressed the era of industry and quickly advancing mechanization. Cars, skyscrapers, neon signs, chrome toasters and jewelry all exhibited streamline geometric design. The sleek stylism of shooting stars and neon arrows seemed to point the way to the next decade, humming along at the speed of life.