Wallpaper advertising in the Eighties: A Journey through the History of Design

Wallpaper advertising in the Eighties: A Journey through the History of Design

Are the Eighties coming back? Is one revival just chasing another? If you are a follower of fashion, you will have noticed that after a summer hugely influenced by "Flower Power", the crazy Eighties are set to define the next season. At Missoni or Balmain, it's all about "off-the-shoulder" instead of "shoulder pads", and Pop-Art, geometric patterns and neon colours all contribute to the A/W 2015 collections.

But in the 80s, it wasn't just fashion that was beyond the boundaries of "good taste" - architecture and design were also part of it. Similarly to what had occurred in the Sixties, the stark, sober and purely functional design of the Eighties was now questioned by many. Design was once again expected to provide more than flawless aesthetics - it was supposed to be fun and not take itself too seriously.


The Italian movements "Memphis" and "Studio Alchemia", founded in 1981, were particularly ground-breaking in terms of the unique colourful design of the 80s. Architecture, interior design and furniture boasted bright patterns and were a nod to art rather than just articles of daily use. Daring combinations were the order of the day: stripes and dots adorned turquoise, pink, yellow, red and blue surfaces. The room as a "total work of art"!


These adventurous patterns - perhaps something of an acquired taste - have been enjoying a comeback since 2014. US fashion label American Apparel features the fabric designs of Nathalie Du Pasquier, a founder member of the "Memphis" group, and furniture manufacturers like Danish company HEY cannot deny their enthusiasm for the patterns of the Eighties.


But did the media-friendly and avant-garde "New Design" of the 80s also find its way into the nation's lounges? Not necessarily, as the majority of people then and now buy their furniture and accessories at IKEA and opt for wood-chip wallpaper painted white. The attention-grabbing patterns and wallpapers of the Seventies were now passé. The trend in private residences moved towards minimalism and simplicity.

However, it wasn't just the trend towards white walls, but the price increases resulting from the oil crisis and the bad press PVC and other man-made substances received in terms of environmental protection that led to a new low for the wallpaper market. A true challenge for German wallpaper manufacturers! They reacted by introducing a new Seal of Quality, the RAL "for ecological harmlessness", and followed it with an advertising campaign featuring the slogan "Stick it on.“


A provocative principle, accompanied by eccentric motives and ironic statements. The ads were populated by characters like a superhero in tights and a chimp in a suit. True to the motto: "For each character, there is a suitable wallpaper!" This is of course also true for our janitor, whose walls are adorned with a grass-and-flowers design. This janitor - who likes to sport a super hero costume in his spare time - is asking the reader "... Can people simply put on their walls whatever they please, or do they have to ask me for approval?" Thankfully, there was no censorship when it came to wallpapers, even in the 80s, as: "There is no censorship regarding the variety of patterns for German wallpapers. Wallpaper freedom applies to rented accommodation, too!" In other words: There is no need to be scared of the janitor, thanks to wallpaper freedom!

And those who are scared of the dentist should definitely consult one whose surgery is decked out with a pretty blue wallpaper: "At the weekly wisdom teeth draw (2 out of 32), I always feel the calming effect of the new wallpaper on my patients" and "Apart from those wallpapers that have a calming effect, the industry also provides models which excite, inspire, entertain, encourage and delight!" Who could say no to that?


The chimp appears to be enthusiastic about his new wallpaper with the colourful dots, too: "Since they have wallpapered my cage, I have developed a totally new sense of civilisation." Apparently the change of wallpaper has made him more human, because: "German wallpapers have always had the duty to culturally elevate humans through their variety and beauty, and to make them aware of their unique position within the universe." Wallpaper maketh the man? Simply give it a go - after all, we live in a world of wallpaper freedom!

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