Art + Design

From the Design Desk: Mad Men Style


The men and women in the TV show Mad Men, set in the 1960s, make a handsome, dapper, and vicious bunch, working out their ambitions at a Madison Avenue advertising agency. This popular show reminds us of a bygone era in style with a level of formality and glamour that was lost with the love generation and with, as Lesley M.M. Blume describes, “Gap-sponsored khaki casualness and fast food.”

Miss Blume, the author of Let’s Bring Back and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, cleverly highlighted 21 Mad Men-era trends and customs that ought to be revived. These trends include: hats, coifs, red lipstick, foxy stewardess ensembles, brooches, and three-piece suits. Stylistically there was much to aspire to, and not just in fashion.

The clean modernist ideals of the 1960s, evidenced in the Mad Men offices and ad campaigns, influenced everything from architecture, to industrial and graphic design, to home decor and fashion. Design Research, a small store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, epitomized the modern style, starting with the home. Opening in 1953 and designed by the architect Benjamin Thompson partnering with Walter Gropius, the store sold Marimekko textiles, Alvar Alto tables, and other designs by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Massimo Vignelli, and Marcel Breuer. Pilar Viladas writes about Design Research for The New York Times Style Magazine as a one-stop lifestyle store with fans such as Julia Child and Jackie Kennedy.

Flipping through the Design Research book, I’m reminded that this is not the only Chronicle title that captures the spirit of the Mad Men modernist era. Other apropos titles include: Born Modern, Paul Rand, and Cartoon Modern.

On the fashion front, we have: Allure, Stewardess, 50 Years of the Playboy Bunny, and Anne Taintor.

When it comes to the Mad Men lifestyle, we must not forget the importance of a good cocktail, for which we have The Art of the Bar, Highballs High Heels, and Mini Bar: Gin. We also have Retrofit TV to mask your iPhone in mid-century technology.

It’s great that there’s no shortage of visual inspiration and drink recipes to accompany the aspiring mid-century modernist, stylistically speaking. The sexism and homophobia shown in the TV show are best left behind. But the attention to design, whether it be in up-dos, hats, textile prints, or typography, is not just about style, but also about having fun, whether you’re striving for glam or minimalist Zen.

Suzanne LaGasa

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1 Comment

  • ecorpmarketing September 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I beg to differ. D/R and Madmen, while of the same era, are totally different. D/R is "international style" and Madmen is a retro (not actually) "Mid-Century Modern", a hybrid design style, much like post-modernism. While set in 1962, Madmen is actually a mid-1950's style.


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