California Design 1930-1965

California Design - Living in a Modern Way

I’d love to be able to say that these are MY photos and I was the one who got to see this exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but the lucky museum-goer was Mod Betty, the writer and keeper of Retro Roadmap, a site devoted to mid 20th century wonderfulness.  She has kindly agreed to let me share some of her trip with you, and you can head over to her site for a few more photos.

The show includes over 300 objects of mid 20th modern design,  including clothing, furniture, and graphic design.  Looking at this I’m simply amazed.  I mean, I grew up with this sort of design and simply took it as the way the world looked, and here we are now seeing that the Wonder Bread wrapper was a work of art!

Calderesque Light, Wonder Bread Graphic

Living Room

I know that this looks like a corner of Don and Megan Draper’s apartment, but it is actually a tableau at the exhibit.  I’ve got to wonder how much of the current interest in Mid-century Modern is attributable to Mad Man.  Or perhaps Matthew Weiner thought about the resurgent interest in the early 1960s and realized people were hungry for a view into that lifestyle.

California Clothing

All the clothes (but not the accessories) in the exhibit were made in California.  I don’t have the information on that dress or jumpsit, but isn’t it something?  The jeans are 1930s Levis and it and the satin rodeo shirt are borrowed from the Levis Archive.   The flowered swimsuit is from Cole of California, and the color-blocked one is a 1928 suit from Catalina.

Swoon Bathing Suit & California Knitwear Rudi Gernreich

On the left is the famous 1940s “Swoon Suit” designed by Margit Fellegi of Cole of California.  It was designed with strings that the wearer could adjust to the correct size, and so no elastic nor zipper was necessary, thus saving rubber and metal for the war effort.

The dress and suit are by Rudi Gernreich.

California Clothing 2

Patio clothes!  Left to right:  De De Johnson playsuit with skirt, Louella Ballerio playsuit with skirt, Levi Strauss bra and pants, Cole of California by Margit Fellegi bathing suit with skirt, Joseph Zukin of California playsuit.

California Clothing 3

Swimsuits, left to right:  Rudi Gernreich, Mary Ann DeWeese lobster suits, Cabana set, unknown, and another stunner from  Cole of California by Margit Fellegi.

Stylish Stereo

And this one is not clothing but I had to include it.  I love this idea for displaying record album covers.  The thrifts are full of covers with outstanding graphics, so this would be fairly easy to duplicate.

If you are in southern California, get your act together and go see this before it ends on June 3, 2012.  And a big thanks to Betty for the use of her outstanding photos.

Photos copyright Beth Lennon.


Filed under Museums

22 responses to “California Design 1930-1965

  1. Lizzie – as soon as I saw the clothes I thought of you! So bummed I missed getting info on the knit dress. Gorgeous stuff all ’round – it definitely increased our continually growing fascination with the California lifestyle!


  2. Oh yes – I love this post of yours!!


  3. I saw this show with my sister, and it was wonderful! I didn’t get my post written about it, but I will soon. Better late than never I suppose.


  4. PS
    If I remember right, I believe the jumpsuit/dress was called “hostess pajamas”.


  5. Stunning exhibition! Thanks so much for sharing.


  6. ourdailydress

    I hope that first dress is a jumpsuit – that would be amazing. And that playsuit…drool


  7. Thanks for sharing these, Lizzie and ModBetty–gorgeous photos! I can’t stop staring at the clothing. And I know you posted that last photo for the album covers, Lizzie, but I’m obsessed with that piece of furniture (it’s a bar, right?).

    I definitely think Mad Men ramped up the love of all things mid century modern, but I’m pretty sure it was fairly hot before then. I might be under that impression, though, because I’ve been living in western Michigan for the past 14 years, and it’s the home of Herman Miller and other furniture makers, and kind of a hotbed of MCM love (at least, furniture and decor wise; no comment on local clothing tastes). And the 1990s also had that rockabilly renaissance going on, too. But yeah, Mad Men has certainly blown it all up even more.


    • Karen – The furniture piece is actually a console stereo – specially designed with a curved front to allow the music to be distributed from the speakers at either end and across the curved front. It was a gorgeous piece, indeed! I agree that Mad Men has actually brought MCM design to the masses, as I remember when I dabbled in selling it upwards of 10 years ago, a lot of people just didn’t “get it” – now all I’d have to say would be Mad Men, to get that a-ha moment 🙂


  8. Great photos — you beat me to my post about the exhibit! The fashion exhibits were particularly fun to see but there was so much more in that fab collection that I went twice. I’m headed to Retro Roadmap to see more!


  9. Teresa

    Oh wow! This looks like an amazing exhibition. I was so excited to just look at these photos so I’d probably be beside myself at the actual exhibition! 😉

    I definitely think Mad Men has helped with the 60s resurgence. It’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact shows like Downton Abbey have on the 20s influence which seems to be popping up again.


  10. I agree that Mad Men helped disseminate MCM fandom to the masses faster than it would have done on its own, but it was coming anyway. In the late ’90s I was living in a suburb of San Francisco and there was a tony MCM furniture store that seemed to be doing just fine. I remember being a bit startled by its existence, but only because that stuff didn’t seem quite old enough yet to be considered classic. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s with a lot of older Danish modern furniture and probably 80% of my county’s housing stock was postwar ranches, Eichlers and the like, so it was a very familiar aesthetic…not to mention there was still a big store downtown successfully continuing to sell NEW Danish modern furniture!


  11. michelle

    I love invisible mounts!


  12. I got this subscription the other day for your blog post, I didn’t have time then to comment, but I knew I had to come back! LOVE the clothing & the furniture! Incredible!!!! Thanks again Lizzie for sharing.


  13. liz weisz

    OMG, for a reader from Hungary, Europe, it is always good to see a seemingly Hungarian name, Margit Fellegi 🙂
    I tried to learn more about the designer, but I could not find too much, can you help me with that?


  14. Pingback: California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way | The Vintage Traveler

  15. Pingback: Most Wanted: WWII Era Block Printed Swimsuit | The Vintage Traveler

  16. Laura

    Those 1930s Levis look like they would either be wildly flattering, or wildly unflattering…you dont happen to know, do you? My sewing room has been. Inaccesable for months, and i am working out my fantasy line up for when i can sew again


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