Color By Decade: The 80s

Color By Decade: The 80s

Mark Chamberlain
Sep 21, 2011

I remember the 80s. I reached my majority in 1985, and it seemed like every aspect of our culture was in the throes of design heaven, with its New Wave asymmetry, mutton-chop sleeves, bold print over everything, and cascades of fabric over even the simplest side table. Let's look at a few trends, culled mainly from films of that era.

Compared to my parents' generation who came of age under one banner of Mid-Century Modernism, the 80s seemed like the first point where there were so many things going on at once we didn't know where to look next. There was the preppy look, the New Wave look, the Armani look, the industrial look, the Memphis design look, there were hints of Retro-Deco, and on into the night. It was a conservative era that contained the strong counterpoint of everything else that money could buy.

Bette Midler's LA abode in Ruthless People (images 1-5) reveals the eye-catching Memphis décor of the Nouveau Riche, and is a land completely foreign to Danny DeVito. Colors are a graphic primary triad (red/blue/yellow) plus black, with plenty of pattern including grids, triangles and squiggles. As I remember it, this was translated to every aspect of fashion, advertising and product design for years to come.

9 ½ Weeks (images 6-9) contains two worlds as represented by its set design; so much so that the mise-en-scè ne almost becomes a character in the film. Compare Mickey Rourke's state-of-the-art loft in cool gunmetal and grisaille, to Kim Basinger's ultra feminine apartment, with soft fabric everywhere and piano fringe on her lampshades. Never the twain shall meet, and ultimately, neither do our heroes.

St. Elmo's Fire (images 10-12) was released in 1985, and reveals a few trends of its own. I can't decide if it's retro Mamie Eisenhower Pink, or Retro Art Deco that prevails as a stronger influence. Note those glass blocks, super graphics and strong geometry.

Lastly, I've always had a soft spot for The Hunger (images 13-15), with super-chic Catherine Deneuve leading the cast. Here, the production design is meant to suggest the limitless resources of the main characters, and the type of taste that money can buy. I'm thinking Lanvin suits as much as antiques, nightclubs and billowing curtains. But it's all eye candy to me.

ColorTherapy in Film: 9 1/2 Weeks
ColorTherapy: Ruthless People
ColorTherapy in Film: St. Elmo's Fire
Color By Decade: The 70s

Images: Screen caps from Ruthless People, 9 1/2 Weeks, St. Elmo's Fire, The Hunger

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