Midcentury Modernism Sells Out (Again)

J. Crew shot its recent catalog at Richard Neutra’s iconic Kaufmann House.

Last spring, Banana Republic launched an advertising campaign featuring architects at work—or at least vaguely intellectual-looking twentysomethings sitting in Eames chairs near architectural models. As Gawker pointed out at the time, the ads were pure fantasy: the colors too bright, the khakis too pressed, and the visages far, far too well rested.

Now two more clothing companies are mining similar territory with their spring 2008 collections. J. Crew’s recent catalog was shot at Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann House, in Palm Springs, California (which is expected to sell for millions at a Christie’s auction next month). And, as the New York Times reported, the East-Coast-preppie-meets-West-Coast-surfer brand Trovata’s new collection “follows two young architects who visit São Paolo in 1968 and try to impress a pair of beautiful Brazilian girls.” (Our suggestion: don’t talk about architecture.)

It’s easy to poke fun at this minitrend, just the latest of many examples of the architectural profession being represented as a glamorous confluence of Howard Roark–style artistic independence and cool glasses. (This despite U.S. News & World Report’s recent claim that architecture’s “mystique exceeds reality”.) But for lovers of midcentury Modern design, it is bound to be distressing to see iconic architecture as a mere backdrop for selling cashmere sweaters, and Bertoia chairs as props in window displays. It’s a bit like hearing a song by your favorite obscure band in a Volkswagen commercial: suddenly your private obsession becomes a public commodity, and hence a lot less cool.

Then again, for many of us, Bertoia chairs and their brethren are far too expensive to buy—and thus still highly covetable. Thank God.

Update: According to Unbeige, the denim brand Seven for All Mankind recently shot its fall advertising campaign at another iconic midcentury Modernist residence, Philip Johnson’s Glass House.

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