Welcome to the social design: loose lessons from the stylized representation of the social in cinema and print. A blog very often about the interior design, fashion, social manners, and music created for and reflected in vintage cinema and print. Especially from the Sixties and Seventies, especially Italian, and especially from swingin' party scenes. We're awfully big on disco hippies and the OpArt accent here. Guaranteed, of course, to wander off on the occasional tangent into (maybe?) related subject matter, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek commentary for your consideration along the way. Comments are welcome, so please consider yourself invited...

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I pretty much abhor a blog post that starts with "Sorry I haven't been on lately..." and yet here I am practicing what I preach (against).  Well, in my defense, I did start a new job and I'm also in the early throws of a workshop dedicated to prodding its participants into producing a very rough, book-length manuscript in thirty days time. That I can hardly put out a blog entry in thirty days leads me of course to question what I was thinking. But that said, I do have a little something to share today, and hopefully so much more soon enough...

If you are of a certain generation (namely the one called X), which is to say a school kid of the 1970s, then you're probably familiar with this short film.  It's called Powers of Ten and was written and directed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1968, later re-released in 1977.   It's a film adaptation of the book Cosmic View, written by the Dutch educator Kees Boeke in 1957. And I think every American science teacher of the era screened it in their class, too. On a very clunky film projector, I remember quite well.  Now it's handily available for your viewing pleasure online...

So whatever the era and whatever the means, I think the film retains a modernity still today.  It was certainly a mind-opener for the young set back then, equally fascinating now.  Just a little tonic for an increasingly myopic world...



Monday, February 13, 2012


warning: fabulous nudity

Valentine's day is upon us once again, but honestly I've never been a great fan of the holiday's aesthetic.  I think it's kind of tacky - and anyway, at this stage in the game it's my style to stay the bachelor.  So instead of sugar and romance for you, my valentines, this year comes something closer to our own hearts here at the social design ... glamour and bisexuality!  Do relax, though - of course since it's on here it's just the stylized, cinematic representation of such.  For the real thing, you're really going to have to get off the computer.

It's odd to live in a time when one can be nostalgic for simpler, more innocent times - and yet that simplicity and innocence includes vintage European softcore erotic filmmaking.  For you younger readers, there really was a time before the internet and the porn avalanche that came with it.  In the early Eighties, late night cable television piped watered-down erotica into t.v. rooms across suburban America, and back then a little nudity went a long way.  It was light, the televised version of a peek at your dad's Playboys.  Of course there was full-tilt porn in the world, but VHS was just picking up steam, the cost of tapes was astronomical, and otherwise one had to trek to a seedy XXX theater in the inner city to see it on the big screen - none of which was within the realm of possibility for kids that hadn't even gotten their driver's licenses yet. But we were hungry to know the full potential adult life had to offer, and this way one only had to wait for one's parents to go to bed.

Not too long ago we rediscovered a beloved "childhood classic" in the screening room: director Just Jaeckin's seminal Emmanuelle of 1974.  The oddly/aptly-named Jaeckin wasn't the first softcore eroticist by far, but his influence shaped the cinematic landscape of the Seventies.  Creating erotic visual fantasies set against lush, exotic landscapes populated by beautiful people in beautiful clothes, Jaeckin's formula was repeated again and again - in his own projects and sequels as well as the resulting deluge of (often accidentally quite hilarious) knock-offs.  I can't even count how many films the  Italian-produced Black Emanuelle franchise spawned.  These erotic, escapist works of the Seventies made for a bulk of early Eighties late night cable programming - and for a lot of kids of a generation, AIDS had yet to rear its ugly head and the adult life looked awfully fabulous...

Sylvia Kristel and Jeanne Colletin in Emmanuelle. I'm sure sometimes they forget whether
they're taking it off or putting it back on.

The fabulous Jeanne Colletin (1938-2006): French cougar extraordinaire and member of the Comédie-Française.

The story of Emmanuelle revolves around the sexual awakening of a young French woman who's come from Paris to join her husband in a colony of horny ex-pats living in Thailand. The title role is played by Sylvia Kristel, and there is no denying her striking beauty.  It certainly helped her - a Dutch actress who otherwise didn't speak a lick of French -  pull off a feature role in an entirely French-languaged film.  But you know - and maybe it's world weariness, or boredom with the ingenue, or just the knowing, aged-like-fine-wine wisdom of maturity - but on our recent screening we found the character of the old bisexual cougar, Ariane, to be the real star of the show.  Deftly played by Jeanne Colletin, Ariane is aggressive, manipulative, a prowling sexual omnivore. And she's chic, too - even pulling off a turban or two through the course of the film. And let's face it, turbans and ingenues seldom mix...

So today it's a sexy, softcore double feature!  In this first scene from the film, we see the recently arrived Emmanuelle's introduction to the other leisure-class wives of the French colony.  There's some terrific vintage poolside-chic here - with the sunglasses, the hats, the Celine scarves - and I love Jaeckin's panning camera in this segment.  But it's also Emmanuelle's (and our) introduction to Ariane as she makes her first play for Emmanuelle's affection.   Note Colletin's excellent use of a shrubbery to enhance her pouncy, cougar-like appeal...

Emmanuelle meets the ladies poolside

She's smooth, that Ariane.  Eventually Emmanuelle and Ariane hookup, and then Emmanuelle has a relationship with Bee, who we see in solitude on the poolside chaise.  Interestingly, upon it's release in 1974 the film was almost universally lauded by lesbians for its sensitive portrayal of female love.  That said, later in the film Ariane gets to breathlessly deliver (perhaps less credible, but awfully amusing) zingers like: When you are young, you make love naturally ... as you eat and breathe. When you are still making love at Mario's age, it's poetry! Oh, those French...

And finally, the best.  My personally favorite scene: Emanuelle has broken the swinging colony's go-lightly rules and emotional fallout ensues.  In this scene the manipulative Ariane seduces Emmanuelle's husband, Jean (played by Daniel Sarky) to unleash himself in an oddly invigorating mixture of lust and contempt.  I think you'll also see that a very strong performance in a supporting role is turned in by the table lamp...

Caught in the cougar's den!

Pretty terrific, n'est-ce pas?  I mean, I hardly know where to begin: the bejeweled evening gown, the "colonial" interior, the lamp, that crazy magazine!  It's interesting - and a real testament to the art  - that for as utterly nasty as the scene comes off, it is really mostly built on a brief instance of frontal nudity and some funky, raunchy music.  Otherwise their obviously simulated lovemaking lasted all of thirty seconds - which frankly is the very opposite of hot.  Well, such was the beauty of the Seventies softcore film:  improbable, abstracted pantomimes of sexuality, brought to life in a lush, sensual world.  The lamp actually got me more excited, but you know I think the two seem to work in mutual dependence...


Saturday, January 28, 2012


Commissioned by de Service Garage

So one of the things I love most about the age in which we live is the rapid pace and expansive breadth of discovery that the Internet allows.  It truly is a world-wide web, and it succeeds in widening my own web of consciousness daily.  Today, for instance, I post in praise of a recent "discovery" (and I think for reasons fairly obvious to any regular social design reader): the Dutch graphic artist Michiel Schuurman, whose very groovy, eye-popping posters can often be found ornamenting the Amsterdam cityscape.   

It's no secret we're keen on the graphic zip of an Op-Art accent around here.  In fact, it was my very first post a year ago - one that celebrated the Italian Giallo starlet Rosalba Neri in a particularly arresting black & white number in the film Amuck -  that advised to "USE GRAPHIC OP-ART PRINTS TO ENLIVEN AND CONTEMPORIZE AN INTERIOR, EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO WEAR THEM YOURSELF..."  Well, really, it was good advice then - and by then I mean last year and the Early Seventies - and it's still good advice now. 

Schuurman's work calls into play all the classic, retina-tickling Op-Art tropes - but he very successfully integrates them into compositions that are in result electrifyingly contemporary and, in my esteem, without any particularly detractive sense of the derivative.  Says the artist's website: Schuurman’s personal work specializes in typography and poster design which often boasts a rather maximalistic approach. His practice of combining bright colors, warped glyphs, harsh perspectives, and acidic patterns creates some awfully intriguing eye-candy, which he often screen prints himself. 

Well, needless to say, I think his posters are terrific.  Actually I'd very much like to enliven my own interior space with one - and really, I am very seldomly a framed poster kind of guy, so I hope that the extent of my endorsement of Schuurman's work is fully realized.  But enough of me.  A look at more of the artist's very stylish, very switched-on work...



CURRICULUM VITAE - Written portraits - Louis Behre, 2011
Commissioned by the  De Centrale Bibliotek Den Haag

Commissioned by Jan van der Ploeg. 
This one was very appealingly hung in multiples, creating a continuous color-stripe effect.

Commissioned by de Service Garage, an Amsterdam gallery space


We Need a Whole Lot of Flowers, 2010
Commissioned by de Service Garage

Commissioned for Graphic Design Festival Breda

Some of these editions are still available for purchase.  Michiel Schuurman's website is at www.michielschuurman.com

Thursday, January 12, 2012




Perhaps you've noticed that I sometimes tag posts for a category called "please stop dancing like that".  Videos that feature silly or strange or oddly groovy dancing receive the distinction -  but of course the title is really quite ironic since mostly I just want to see more dancing like that!  Maybe it's time for a change to "oh god, please keep dancing like that"?  Well either way, I'm pleased to say today that I have a fine new addition to the club, and is it groovy!

My friend Eddie shared this video not too long ago - after hearing the music on the radio and then spending considerable time first trying to figure out exactly how it all might be spelled and then where it might be found.  The beautiful, more-than-asked-for reward for such tenacious dedication to the absurd is this YouTube video : "Solla Solla Enna Perumai".  I haven't the faintest idea what that means or what it's about, but I do know it's a hoot-and-a-half to watch.  Not only do you get a groovy soundtrack and kooky floor show, but then everything breaks out into slapstick hilarity!

You'll notice there's a little English thrown into the script - mostly ornamental - but the predominant tongue is Tamil.  Apparently akin to the Hindi-based Bollywood film industry, there is also in India a Tamil-based Kollywood, based out of Kodambakkam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.  The kooky, gold-booted star of the show is Kamal Hassan - who's big business in his native Tamil Nadu - and from what I can detect the film is called "Ellaam Inbayam".  IMDB says it was filmed in 1981, which almost blows my mind as much as that soundtrack since the film is so heavy with the 70s (and even seems to be trailing a bit of 60s) that I would have easily put it six years earlier. Well, there is something to be said for being behind the times...

An animated tonic for your January blahs.  Enjoy!

- a.t.s.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I think most of us were profoundly influenced by an early experience with a party scene.  With a cinematic vision of what life could be: wild, sophisticated, crowded, chic, merry, trippy, free - whatever you like.  Maybe for you it was Holly Golightly's raucous cocktail party in the film adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.  Maybe it came later, in the alien-studded cantina scene from Star Wars.  I know a lot of my generation (well, the cool and/or gay ones anyway) are pretty unanimous in citing the Star Wars cantina scene as a thrilling, early idea of life's vibrant, if surreal, potential.  One old pal readily admits to using his action figures to recreate the element during playtime at home.  And I am willing to add that we certainly endeavored and oft-times succeeded in reflecting this early adoration of the socially surreal in the club culture of our times and generation.   Disco 2000 anyone?

So now I like to "collect" vintage party scenes.  True, they are not actual parties - and don't I wish they were. But rather they are stylized representation of the social, and as such are so often constructed with an abundance of terrific clothes, zany music, over-the-top décor, and whatever else the designers called into their orchestration.  It's one of the reasons I originally started The Social Design - as a showplace for these little cinematic beauties.  Of course now I blog on whatever catches my fancy - art and design wise -  but I am always pleased to present a new (old) party scene.  Which brings me to the point of today's post: there's a new addition to the collection and it's a good one, too...

The film is called The Mephisto Waltz and it's from 1971.  (Any regular reader will have already guessed it had to have fallen between 1968 and 1972 by default since it's on here; though in my defense I'll add that we didn't actually see the film until late 2011.)   Plots are usually beside the point in films like these, but just to set the stage for you, Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset play a young pianist & boutique-owning wife who unwittingly become entangled with some rich L.A. satanists - with dark, twisty results.  Of course in true Hollywood form these satanists are not just supernaturally powerful but preternaturally chic, as well.  They even conduct their black rites in French, and having myself once worked for a French family for two years, I can honestly say it must be a common language in hell.  So there's authenticity for you.

In this scene, Alda and Bisset attend a masked costume party chez santanistes, and apparently Bisset just isn't keen on seeing Barbara Parkins - of Valley of the Dolls fame - plant a sloppy, wet one on her own father.  Or is he her father?  Well, either way, it's too bad she'd let something like that spoil the party.  But for the rest of us, there's scads of retro style:  I'm talking gowns, costumes, masks - even a gay unicorn at 1:37!  The soundtrack, for not being the usual period-y electric organ, is frankly swingin' just the same.  There's also plenty of drug use and well-dressed hedonism, and if there's anything we really love at The Social Design, it's well-dressed hedonism...

If you're interested in seeing the film in full - and I'll add that the pre-M.A.S.H. Alan Alda is frankly kinda lovable and sometimes shirtless in it - the last I checked it was still viewable in its entirety (though serialized) on YouTube.  I also posted a clip there from a boutique scene in the film where Barbara Parkins walks in wearing this black and white coat that'll warm you up for sure.  Look for Seventies Chic Boutique, from "Mephisto Waltz" (1971)...

Enjoy! xoxo

- a.t.s.