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Paris-New York: Design Fashion Culture 1925-1940 Hardcover – September 9, 2008

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About the Author

Donald Albrecht is the curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York. As an independent curator, he prepared the first retrospective of the work of Eero Saarinen and the international traveling exhibition "The Work of Charles and Ray Eames," organized by the Library of Congress and the Vitra Design Museum. He lives in New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


The July 1919 victory march held in Paris to celebrate the end of World War I signaled a seismic shift in French-American relations. Original plans called for the victors to march in alphabetical order, which would have positioned the United States at the rear. But, acknowledging the country's critical role in the conflict, France and her European allies allowed the United States to participate as “America,” moving it to the head of the parade. This small but significant gesture recognized both the United States's contribution to the war effort and its new role as the world's leading industrialized nation, as well as the power and prosperity that accompanied this position.

America's featured parade position suggested that the “Old World” was finally considering the upstart nation as a political and cultural partner. This new dynamic reverberated throughout the interwar period as France and America—and especially their financial and cultural capitals, Paris and New York City—developed an increasingly competitive and reciprocal relationship in many arenas that historically had been considered Paris's domain.

Until the end of World War I, Paris had dominated New York in all the fields suggested by the phrase la belle France. Paris was the home of haute couture and grande cuisine. It was the training ground for aspiring American architects and artists throughout the nineteenth century and continued to attract such American expatriates as writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and composer Cole Porter. For them Paris was “a movable feast,” as Ernest Hemingway titled the book charting his literary coming-of-age in the city, a place with a long history of supporting artists, which offered them a haven free from American constraints of commercialism and conformity.

Yet Paris's allure wasn't simply as a center of painting, music, and architecture. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, the French capital's dominance also derived from its unique fusion of art, commerce, and industry that made it to many observers the mythic capital of nineteenth-century Europe. In the decades before World War I, France had turned commerce into an art: Paris's world's fairs of the nineteenth century showcased French talents and wares and offered testimonials to the country's commercial savvy.

Following the devastating world war, Paris was, according to cultural historian Tyler Stovall, in a “state of transition between a vanished past and an uncertain future.” New York, on the other hand, was a city of progress and expansion in the 1920s, transformed in a few short decades by waves of immigrants, new corporate business practices, and revolutionary advances in transportation, communications, and building technologies. As the cultural status quo shifted, New York architects and designers in the 1920s and '30s studied the newest ideas emanating from Paris's expositions, studios, and fashion houses but responded with their own “made in New York” versions. As financial magnet and, later, refuge from a second world war, New York also lured a generation of talented Parisian émigrés who revolutionized its fashion magazines, innovated stage design, and transformed American cuisine.

Two international expositions—one held in Paris in 1925 and one in New York in 1939/40—bracket one of the most intense and influential chapters in the love affair between these two world capitals and vividly represent the shifting balance of influence between them. During this period the interchange between Paris and New York was never simple, comprising in equal measure admiration and envy, respect and rivalry. New Yorkers began to shed their feelings of New World inferiority in the face of Paris's vaunted cultural traditions, and Paris increasingly looked to New York as the freshly vibrant center of modern culture, best represented by jazz and skyscrapers, whether built of steel and stone or imagined by artists, illustrators, and movie-makers. By the beginning of World War II, New York had created its own fusion of art, commerce, and industry, transforming itself from a city of national stature into an international capital that rivaled—and in some spheres bypassed—Paris in worldwide cultural influence.

The dialogue between Paris and New York in the 1920s and '30s continues to shape each city even today. New York remains a center of dance, gastronomy, and modern art, largely as a result of pre-World War II Parisian émigrés, with a dynamic fashion industry that rose in spirited response to Parisian couture—itself still thriving as luxury brands sold in stylish boutiques throughout New York. The skyscrapers of La Défense, which were built on the outskirts of Paris starting in the 1960s, have Manhattanized the City of Light. The impact of American popular culture, initiated by the invasion of jazz during World War I, remains strong. Paris and New York, as well as France and the United States, confront the ramifications of what composer George Antheil called the “giant spiral” that unites them as multiethnic cities and nations. Yet, as much as Paris and New York gained individually, it is the intensity and velocity of the interwar dialogue between them that remains a compelling model for international collaborations in a global culture.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The Monacelli Press (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580932118
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580932110
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 0.9 x 12.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,218,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Igor Vander on November 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are so many books on the 20s, 30s and 40s....One can grow really skeptical of another one out there but I am definitely pleased with this purchase.
Paris/ New York. Design/ Fashion/ Culture/ 1925-1940 is a companion book to the exhibition under the same title that is going on right now at the Museum of the City of New York. If you do not have a chance to visit it - do not despair: the book does a great job of covering all the aspects of the exhibition and beyond that, it is that kind of a book in your library you will enjoy to read and look over again numerous times. However it is not an in-depth kind of a book on individual subjects of architecture, fashion, interior design, music and arts but rather an overview and introduction to the subjects in that period.
Richly illustrated, it can be a starting point of inspiring you to study that period's design, fashion and culture more in depth and getting more material. The book actually offers the list of that material and notes in one of the final chapters.
Each part is an essay written by a different writer.
Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Claudia M. Strasser on September 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I just got this book and haven't put it down. The photos are just sensational, and the text is both informative and interesting, something you don't always find with these kinds of books. I got it while working on a story and it's been indispensable. If you love great old interiors you will adore this book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Arnaud Gaudry on November 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Very well documented, interesting articles coevring a fascinating era. A very fine book with high quality prints and documents that may be difficult to find elsewhere. Perfect gift for those who love New York, Paris and the art-deco era.
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Format: Hardcover
I've bought a number of books about Paris or New York in the 1920s and this one is a good edition to my collection. All of the books, including this one, share some of the same pictures, so there is some repetition here if you already have Art Deco books or others about this era. This one had a number of great interior design photos that were unique. The focus is how New York and Paris informed each other in style and design in the late '20s/early '30s.
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