What could be more romantic than a movement that strings together Belle Epoque Paris, Edwardian London, and Secessionist Vienna in one fell swoop? The undulating “whiplash” lines, asymmetrical configurations, and botanical motifs of Art Nouveau defined the look of fin de siècle Europe.
Think of Hector Guimard’s iconic Parisian Metro station entrances, the glittering paintings of Gustav Klimt, lilting tearoom interiors by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The aesthetic encompassed disciplines from fine art to architecture and turned to nature as an endless source of inspiration, often employing modern materials and techniques—cast iron, steel, and glass—to achieve evocative, enduring compositions. Practitioners include René Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Antoní Gaudi, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
The look carries about it a certain sense of wide-eyed innocence—reflecting a rapidly developing world that had started to see the benefits of modern science and industry, but had yet to experience the ravages of global war—and that idealization is part of its charm. Though rest assured, the trend does signal the beginning of what we think of as modern today. Artists, architects, and designers were rejecting the endless cycles of historical revivals that had dictated style for centuries and used cutting-edge techniques to synthesize a whole slew of influences—Japonisme, Arts & Crafts, the Aesthetic movement—and create something wholly new.
And if you think Gilded Age notions of beauty have no place in the 21st century, think again. In recent years, everyone from Miuccia Prada to Tom Ford to Frida Giannini has referenced Art Nouveau in their spot-on runway looks. Can you say revival?