The motto at the Unhappy Hipsters photo blog is that “It’s Lonely in the Modern World.” If you’ve never been there (the blog, that is), the site takes beautifully photographed images from various architectural publications, and then writes short snarky captions at how alienated the beautiful people in these expensive, seemingly cutting-edge dwellings are:
- “Yet another morning alone at the table, reading the paper, eating breakfast, and (as always) suppressing despair.”
- “He dreamt of the day she’d forgo the French affectation and serve up a Pop Tart.”
- “On occasion, the playroom’s previous incarnation as a scenester bar reared its ugly head.”
- “The living room arrived with its own friends and refused to mingle, choosing instead to huddle coldly at the far end of the home.”
And so on.
Of course, the key word in our opening paragraph is “seemingly.” As blogger and conservative book reviewer Orrin Judd has been saying for the last decade, “All humor is conservative.” Or in the case of the gang being mocked at Unhappy Hipsters, reactionary, though I doubt the fellas who write the captions probably see it that way. But for those hipsters (a word that itself is 70 years old, according to Merriam-Webster) who think they’re on the bleeding edge of style, the joke’s invariably on them: the aesthetics of modernism are actually nearly a century old. The Bahaus will be celebrating the centennial of its founding by Walter Gropius at the end of this decade. It essentially created what we call “modern design,” not to mention coining the phrase “Starting From Zero,” the letmotif of “progressivism.” Mies van der Rohe’s sleek Seagram building in Manhattan, itself 60 years old, is based on architectural designs he created in Berlin in the 1920s, and the Four Seasons restaurant behind its lobby is stuffed with furniture Mies would design in the late 1920s and early ‘30s as well, shortly before becoming the last head of the Bauhaus before it was shuttered by the Nazis.
Don’t get me wrong — I love a lot of this stuff; I own several of Mies’s pieces myself. But so much for the “Hipster” part. As far as the first half of the equation, perhaps they’re unhappy because modern architecture has always had an alienating impact on many, as the late architectural critic Jane Jacobs had been pointing out since the mid-sixties. But then, when Le Corbusier dubbed his 1920s-era homes “The Machine for Living In,” cozy wasn’t exactly the first thought on his mind.
On the other hand, it could always be worse — while Weimer-era modernism at least celebrated the birth of a new style (which was literally the name of its Dutch counterpart at the time: De Stijl), last year’s Restoration Hardware catalog seemed like it was piped in from the inevitable downfall to follow, beginning with the introductory text from the firm’s chairman:
“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”
Pablo Picasso, one of the world’s preeminent artists and influencers of the 20th century, repeatedly broke down stylistic conventions and was undaunted by the art world’s status quo. His irreverent spirit, captured in the quote above, was unfettered as he pursued his calling and followed his muse – great art that answered to no one, yet inspired everyone.
During the collapse of the global economy, we drew inspiration from Picasso’s words and chose not to listen to the conventional wisdom encouraging us to follow the pack and lower quality to reduce prices. Instead, we saw an opportunity to be liberated, abandoning our past to embrace the future, one that has redefined the essence of who we are. No longer mere “retailers” of home furnishings, we are now “curators” of the best historical design the world has to offer.
We’ve destroyed the previous iteration of ourselves, clearing the way to express our brand in a never-before-seen fashion.
Now those must be some really unhappy hipsters buying that stuff.
(Which brings us to Catalog Living, a Website with a similar look and feel to Unhappy Hipsters, for even more photo-captioning fun.)