posted under: 20th century

the charlady’s daughter, 1934

Pastel by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson. (British, 1889-1946)
I’ll include more of my favorite work by Nevinson in future posts.

three by lisa larsen

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william klein, new york, 1955

Big Face, front of Macy’s, New York.

william klein, dance in brooklyn, 1955


robert frank in london + new orleans

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Robert Frank in London (the City), in 1951, and looking in a trolley window, New Orleans, 1955.

more vladimir sokolaev

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More from Vladimir Sokolaev’s series of photos capturing life in the Soviet Union.

living the bri-nylon lifestyle in the ’70s

Speaking of time machines and synthetic textiles in the last post made me think of Bri-Nylon. Which made me want to look at it again, which led me to a site with vintage ads for Bri-Nylon. The purple prose in this ad from 1973 is hilarious. It reads like a parody of a parody.

“Fantastic car. . .”
She slithered into the soft luxury of the passenger seat. He watched her long legs as she swivelled round, arranged her skirt and self-consciously crossed her legs.

He shut the door and walked round his most prized possession. The car had been his for one whole week.

He got into the driving seat, lit a cigar and leaned back to savour the moment.

The seats were soft and comfortable. ‘Bri-Nylon’ he mused; surprising the impression it makes.

‘Bri-Nylon’ he mused; surprising the impression it makes. That should win some kind of award. Excited by the value Bri-Nylon adds to his ‘most prized possession’ the hero pauses to contemplate the synthetic mysteries of Bri-Nylon, remembering how he chose it for its ‘practical virtues’. Which were copied straight from the brief—Bri-Nylon wears and washes well, it’s cool in summer, warm and inviting in winter. With that, the ‘practical virtues’ messaging has been folded into the seduction story, freeing the copywriter to cut to the chase and deliver the big payoff: ‘Your place or mine?’ The seductive power of Bri-Nylon is mighty.

Strange that the man is described as getting into the driver’s seat, yet in the illustration, only the woman is sitting in the car. But I expect that was wholly intentional, the purpose being to invite the male reader to imagine himself sitting behind the wheel and next to the passive chick (the prize), who waits only for him, ready to frolic and luxuriate in the Bri-Nylon surfaces.

And what can be said about the gem from 1970, below? Bri-Nylon pajamas for men—and why not? It’s what every man needs for those moments in life when cotton just won’t do.

This ad is actually trying to position the value and appeal of the Bri-Nylon leisure lifestyle, yet succeeds in making it seem humiliating and horrifying—aesthetically, bodily, and in every way imaginable. You have to wonder what they were thinking—and that goes for the manufacturer, the product designer, the art director, the models and the consumers who bought these pajamas.

Bri-Nylon-pyjamas-for-men-1970What was the lure of Bri-Nylon? Who would willingly want to dress and look like the men in the ad above? Yet somehow, culturally, this totally synthetic clothing experience was seen as a positive and embraced. Was its appeal and acceptance driven entirely by advertising?

Or should we look for a socio-political motivation? Was it the unrelenting pressures of the Cold War on the collective psyche that made the adoption of a Bri-Nylon leisure lifestyle seem like the answer, the way forward for the free man and woman of the Western world? Just joking of course. And not being a costume or fashion historian, it might have been equally embraced in the Soviet bloc for all I know. But note the existential angle slipped into the copy. Positioning Bri-Nylon as the differentiator (literally, ‘It’s the Bri-Nylon that makes the difference’), they assert: ‘Stretch pants are news. Stretch pants are fun. . . Bri-Nylon helps you enjoy life.’

Does anyone need the assistance of nylon stretch pants to enjoy life? In a word, no. And dressed like that, encased in shapeless stretch synthetic fabric that doesn’t breathe and spreads over the body with its own agenda (what’s all that bunching action around her ankles?) it would be impossible to enjoy anything.


john bignell: woolworth’s, victoria, 1959

Another photo by John Bignell from The Library Time Machine website. The vintage signage is as interesting as everything else in the photo. Tricel sounded vaguely familiar, but I had to look it up. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

In 1950 the British firm Courtaulds Ltd. began to develop triacetate fibres, which were subsequently produced on a commercial scale after methylene chloride solvent became available. Courtaulds and British Celanese marketed a triacetate fibre under the trademark Tricel. In the United States triacetate was introduced under the trademarked name Arnel. Triacetate fabrics became known for their superior shape retention, resistance to shrinking, and ease of washing and drying. Production of acetate fibres has declined since the mid-20th century partly because of competition from polyester fibres, which have the same or better wash-and-wear properties, can be ironed at higher temperatures, and are less expensive.

So there you have it. Synthetic textiles made of chemicals and perceived in their time as examples of ‘better living through chemistry‘. But just as hideous to touch and wear then, as now.

larry fink: adrianna, torrente, paris 1998


john bignell: battersea fun fair, 1957

battersea fun fair 1957
I just discovered John Bignell in this post on The Library Time Machine website. It has more on Bignell’s work here and here. The reaction of the woman on the right is exquisite.