One Step Forward…

You may have noticed that we at Together love looking backward. (We love looking forward too, but that’s another post for another day.) From vintage fashion to our penchant for Mid-Century Modern, we can spend an inordinate amount of time perusing old photos and illustrations. Hollywood classics, family albums, vintage children’s books, or collections of historical works (like those commissioned by the FSA), all of them hold our attention. That’s also why we love websites like Retronaut and Shorpy.

Part of the appeal, of course, is how much or how little we know about the subjects in the photos, and what artifacts of the time period have changed or remained the same. In this photo, Ice Men, for example, we can’t hear the conversations, we don’t know who these men are, or what their relationship is. The photographer is John Collier and the year 1941, but was this before or after the attack on Pearl Harbour? Did these men enlist? Were they good skaters? Notice the two young women who are looking directly at the camera? Notice the 6 or 8 ounce glasses on the table?

Ice Men: 1941

Ice Men: 1941

Sometimes, Retronaut finds amazing images that allow us to look forward and backward at the same time. Check out these amazing magazine covers created as set pieces for the film Blade Runner:

Magazine cover designed for magazine stand in dystopian-future sci-fi film, Blade Runner (c.1980-81)

This cover was meant to be futuristic. From 2013, the design is clearly rooted in the ’80s, when this make-up was still considered edgy, more likely seen at NYC clubs or in music videos than at the mall. For the year 2019, when Blade Runner is set, this “edginess” is presented as new fashion for the mainstream. (I would argue that the designer got this right, as what was once punk or psychedelia is now pop and rather mainstream, like Lady Gaga on the cover of Vogue.) The copy, however, is also not that weird or futuristic anymore. “Genetic Cosmetic” is in progress. The idea of  cosmetics influencing genes is currently used as marketing copy for cosmetics; the FDA told Lancome to stop claiming its creams “boost the activity of genes”. The Blade Runner design is also interesting because we are in a current 1980s fashion flashback and only 6 years away from 2019. While the ’80s esthetic might laughable for a futuristic magazine in movie from the 1980s, it actually appears pretty prescient for 2019.

But is all this looking back healthy? At Imprint, Angela Riechers asks, “Has nostalgia become a toxic force in design?” She argues that we have come to rely too much on nostalgic ornamentation at the expense of functionality or progress. Riechers asks, “If years gone by are continually portrayed as better times, how can we hope for actual better times to come?” It’s an important question, but there is also a value to looking back and being able to recognize the progress made by those before you. Plastics heralded amazing possibilities for designers, before biodegradability became an issue. So if an old-fashioned label points the way to a more environmentally-friendly product design, it might actually guide us in the right direction. Meanwhile, here at Together, we aim to move forward, while still keeping a vintage-loving eye over our shoulder for inspiration.

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