Recycling the Past through Retro-Design
Peter J. Wolf | Arizona State University
According to the February issue of Metropolis, La-Z-Boy has “formally embraced the midcentury
Modern aesthetic with the introduction of the Todd Oldham by La-Z-Boy Collection” (Pedersen 2004). According to Larry Thomas, editor of Furniture Today, “they're definitely going after the under-40 crowd with Todd Oldham, maybe even the under-30 crowd, if that crowd has any money to spend on furniture” (Pedersen 2004). Is this just another product launch aiming to cash in on the recent mid-century modern revival? Perhaps, but this one is ironic, as noted in the caption beneath an Alvar Aalto–inspired chair and ottoman: “The fifties (think Swanson TV dinners) meet the fifties1 (think Denmark)2 in Todd Oldham's midcentury Modern-influenced designs for La-Z-Boy.” Both the old (stuffy) image often associated with La-Z-Boy and the new (hip) image currently being developed share the same origin: “the fifties.” In order to capture younger buyers—and rejuvenate the La-Z-Boy brand—Oldham is looking not to the future, but to the past. Of course, La-Z-Boy is hardly the only manufacturer to realize the power of retro design. From Eames knockoffs to DeLonghi toasters3 to the Retrofuturism of car designer J Mays, it looks like the future of design may be (design) history.
But designers are not the only ones recycling the past with great enthusiasm; films, popular music, fashion, and advertising have, as of late, been turning more and more to the past for “new” material. Witness VH1’s I Love the 70s and I Love the 80s series, or the return of Starsky and Hutch—to the big screen, no less. Just as La-Z-Boy is recycling the fifties, others have begun recycling the seventies and eighties. Can the nineties be far behind? According to an article that appeared in the satirical online “newspaper” The Onion, it may already to too late for the nineties.