I recently read an article in a French magazine that was really harshing on Crocs, those rubber clogs that have been infesting New York for the past couple of years. (“Infesting.” Hmmm, I guess you know where I stand.) Yes, the shoes are very comfortable, the piece said in essence, but they’re also monstrously ugly. Clearly for the French journalist, the latter trumped the former.
The debate about form and function isn’t new, of course, but it’s good to restate at least one truism, of which I was reminded when watching designer Philippe Starck talk about his approach in a SundayArts segment: The way everyday objects look matters.I firmly believe that being surrounded by something aesthetically pleasing—which does not necessarily means expensive, as Michael Graves‘s groundbreaking collaboration withTarget proved—is good for the soul. This goes from seemingly small details like the shape of a bottle of water (Starck has designed at least one I know of) or a toothbrush (look, Starck has done one too!) to that of a building. There’s clearly many problems with housing projects, for instance, but the initial one may well be their soul-crushing form.
If everything was purely utilitarian, we’d wear sweatpants all the time, and boy, would our world be grim…mer. Such items have their use (I myself have been known to slip into something with an elastic waistband) but there’s also a right time and place for them (I was at the gym). At the same time, there’s something deeply unsettling about the sight of women forcing their tootsies into Manolo Blahniks, like Cinderella’s stepsisters mutilating their feet to make them fit into the slipper.
Speaking of that tale, American society, perhaps due to its Puritan origin, seems to have always sided with the moral Perrault put at the end: “Beauty in a woman is a rare treasure that will always be admired. Graciousness, however, is priceless and of even greater value.” In other words, looks may be all well and good, but it’s a certain homey core that really matters, and there’s something a little decadent about paying too much attention to surface. If only morals were that easy to figure out…Virtue can’t be achieved by merely wearing jeans and plaid shirts. Oh well, time for a visit to the Cooper-Hewitt, aka the National Design Museum!