You’ve got the look

A new reference book on the major design icons of the Sixties impresses Janet Fitch with its extensive range and scholarly approach

At first glance, another book about the Sixties, that most talked about and analysed era, seems almost superfluous. This book, however, is scholarly, comprehensive, well researched and is destined to become an essential reference book of that decade.

Lesley Jackson takes as her main theme “the look”, a phrase attributed to Mary Quant, who used it to describe her ready-to-wear clothes. Quant rightly says that “the look” was as much about attitude as clothes and that it was consciously created by the young for the young. Jackson sees the Sixties as a period of two revolutions, the “youthquake” of around 1962, and the later 1968 “wanting to change the world” revolution. She relates this to the accelerating speed of changes in design direction in the Sixties, compared to the slower more coherent evolution in the Fifties.

The book leads us through the consolidation of contemporary design in the late Fifties via examples like Scandinavian furniture or Lucienne Day’s fabric designs for Heal’s to Arne Jacobsen’s St Catherine’s College, Oxford, completed in 1963.

The delights of the book are many and various. The work of my hero Joe Colombo is thoroughly covered and illustrated, as are David Queensberry’s designs for, among others, Midwinter. Subjects as diverse as the Post Office Tower (now the Telecom Tower) built in 1966 – featured in a fascinating chapter on cylindrical buildings – to the influential work of Bridget Riley, and, of course, Ettore Sottsass, are well represented.

The Radomes at RAF Fylingdales on the North Yorkshire Moors are featured and linked with spherical furniture such as Eero Aarnio’s Globe chair, and globe-like lights such as Verner Panton’s Moonpendant, the Arco lamp and the Jucker table lamp by Tobia Scarpa for Flos.

Sixties architecture is well represented, as is textile design and studio glass. Italy and Britain are crowned the masters of Sixties design, but Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the US are also covered. Curiously, apart from Olivier Mourgue and Paulin, the French are somewhat neglected.

There is a short chapter on crafts and a rather strange epilogue which draws a parallel between the Beatles’ career and the redevelopment of international design.

For all the profound influence she rightly attributes to Quant, Terence Conran and Barbara Hulanicki, I quibble that Jackson does not mention, for example, Courreges or the Rolling Stones, and, in furniture design, OMK receives only a slight mention.

While this is primarily a design book, I would have welcomed a few more references to other “lifestyle” influences such as music, theatre, cinema, art and fashion. The first flowering of this fusion was what defined the Sixties.

The Sixties – decade of design revolution by Lesley Jackson, published by Phaidon, priced 39.95

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