New wave of retro-inspired designs make a big comeback.

November 15, 2008 at 10:33 pm (Retro Favorites) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s no surprise that retro-inspired designs are making a strong comeback. We’ve seen it everywhere—in fashion, art, and in business marketing.

As the economy worsens and people struggle to make ends meet they tend to draw together and remember the past, when times were a bit simpler. For many this means the 1950s and 60s. So it’s no wonder that many of us are drawn to that retro look. I am. A child born in the mid-fifties this style is familiar and comforting.

Younger generations are now embracing this look as hip, modern and cool…especially those fantastic mid-century modern designs in furniture, housing, art, and housewares. From kitsch to cool, retro-inspired designs are everywhere and marketing businesses—agencies and design studios—are clambering for graphic elements in this style.

Digitized, vectorized, stylized, modernized.
Seen recently are reworked original fifties illustrations, digitized, vectorized and slightly modernized to be used in today’s digital media. Here’s an example of typical 1950s advertising art illustration done by J.D. Rich, an art director at Safeway, Inc. in California.

Vintage scratchboard illustration of 1950s housewife.

Vintage scratchboard illustration of 1950s housewife.

This work was illustrated using scratchboard techniques combined with pen and ink. similar illustrations were commonly used in newspaper ads of the 50s, prior to perfecting the use of halftones in the printing process. The work has been scanned and vectorized and can be found at Shutterstock for download by creative professionals.

Also popular are the “neo-retro” stylized illustrations that are clearly inspired by illustrative styles of the past but have an updated look and color palette. We’re seeing these elements everywhere today. Online and off, in just about all media. They can convey a hip and fun feel across many product lines or a more auster modern look depending on the audience.

Fun illustration like this cocktail series seen at are cropping up on invitations, book cover, magazine spot illustrations and more.

Example of vector illustrations submitted to iStock.

Example of vector illustrations submitted to iStock.

Retro-stylized patterns have been around for awhile with some fantastic illustrators out there recreating elements from the past and reinventing the classic retro-look. These design elements are being used in everything from fabric to product design. Check out this chic speaker ipod dock from Scandyna. New technology in a retro-inspired classic 50s design.
vintage style ipod dock

Classic elements of 1950s retro style, atomic stars and boomerangs and geometric shapes are turning up everywhere. Here’s a great example of reproduction fabric design clearly inspired by the barkcloth of the fifties as seen on

retro reproduction fabric

retro reproduction fabric

Retro Style: Re-Discovering Vintage Barkcloth Fabric

Barkcloth gets its name from a primitive fabric which is made from the fibers of tree bark found in tropical and subtropical countries. The outer bark is stripped from the tree and then the inner bark is separated with the outer bark. Next the inner bark is beaten with wooden beaters or steel tools on an anvil to spread the fibers. Often water and soaking may be introduced to soften the fibers. Larger cloths are made by layering and felting smaller pieces together during the beating phase. Sometimes a starchy glue-like substance derived from tropical plants is used to attach small pieces together. Primitive barkcloth was used for clothing and wall hangings. Barkcloth made is way to France in the 1920’s and was made using cotton mixed with rayon. Our introduction to barkcloth was the imported material from France known as cretonne, a woven cloth with a nubby texture. By the late 1930’s barkcloth was being manufactured in America. During the colorful era (1940’s-1950’s) barkcloth, a generic term to describe nubby fabric with a bark-like texture dominated American households. From upholstered furnishings to window treatments barkcloth was favored because of its durability and dense weave. I have heard people claim that barkcloth is so strong that it is cat proof. ….I have my doubts.

Florals, country scenes, geometrics, abstracts, botanicals, landscapes, leaves and birds are all common designs found on barkcloth. Today there are many design houses reproducing barkcloth using older designs. When buying barkcloth be sure to ask if what you are buying is vintage or new. Atomic era barkcloth with geometric and abstract designs by noted artists in large quantities is very hard to find. If you discover a website that shows so much inventory that you think you have gone to heaven and back…beware…you are probably looking at a reproduction studio. Most times, you will find a yard or two here and there. It’s not common to hit the jackpot anymore with these vintage textiles. -C. Diane Zweig

Illustrator Diana Rich displays on her shop designs on all types of merchandise based on barkcloth fabric from the fifties. You can find her shop at Check out the cool mousepads, t-shirts and other merchandise in the NeoRetro Section.

Barkcloth-inspired designs printed on mousepads

Barkcloth-inspired designs printed on mousepads

Vintage domesticity

Elements of 1950s kitchen kitsch are prevalent as well. In housewares and fabrics, nothing harkens back to a simpler era that the fifties kitchen as seen in graphic elements like this series of kitchen kitsch…
retro inspired kitchen kisch illustrations

and 57 Chevy mug…
57 chevy mug

Or how about this very amusing calendar I found on called Retro Mama 2009 Wall Calendar Planner (Calendar) that includes the classic fifties housewife and some very irreverent remarks about life and motherhood. This is a great example of using vintage fifties imagery with a modern twist.

Retro Mama Calendar 2009

Retro fifties styles are very popular. They’re a great way to capture the past and get a unique look. To get a retro fifties style, look for things with the classic streamlined 1950’s look, in popular bold colors and shiny chrome. Whether you follow this trend by redecorating your kitchen or living room, wearing fifties-style clothing, or buying classic toys for your children, you are sure to be in style when following mid-century trends.


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