On a road trip through Arizona a few years back, I spotted a larger-than-life Fred Flintstone billboard beckoning from the highway. My group immediately pulled off, venturing into Flintstones Bedrock City, a theme park reimagination of the famed Stone Age setting of the mid-century animated series, complete with a sea foam dinosaur slide, pastel beauty parlour and a cluster of sandy cement homes set against the stark desert backdrop of the Grand Canyon’s southern rim. The now-defunct site was something I was sure I wouldn’t encounter again, until recently, when that deliciously lumpy aesthetic began cropping up at galleries and the shelves of high design boutiques.
Though it only ran for six years (1960-1966), The Flintstones is the stuff of pop culture canon, inspiring decades of spin-offs, merchandise and feature films. It was the first animated sitcom to be featured in prime time, following the titular “modern stone age family” and their friends, the Rubbles, through the ironically contemporary Stone Age. Its setting, Bedrock City, satirized the suburban sprawl of mid-20th century America and featured cookie-cutter homes outfitted with versions of the telephone (a rhinoceros horn), vacuum (a baby elephant) and, of course, foot-pedalled boulder cars.
The show’s famed creators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, originally experimented with setting the show in the pioneer era, but ultimately decided that the Stone Age could most easily be conflated with modern Americana. Which could be why the show’s aesthetic continued to resonate after its initial run. In the 1970s, television personality Dick Clark modelled his Malibu abode in the vein of the show – the structure appears as if it’s been carved out of a stucco cave. Similar wacky abodes began trending again in 2015, when far flung locations became de rigueur for elaborate fashion shows and Christian Dior staged its Resort 2016 show at Pierre Cardin’s Bubble Palace in France.
Its 2019 revival could seem unlikely, but as Lee Dekel, owner of the offbeat Toronto boutique, 100% Silk, points out, it’s a natural counter to the dominance of minimalism in the design world for the past decade. “Things got so clean and stark, and I feel like people really want to see the human hand in their work at this point,” she says. “There’s this really exciting desire for people to go back to something that reflects how they feel inside.”
How Dekel feels lately is evidenced by the quirky design objects that fill her shop, from an earth-tone Uzbek jug that sits atop a fuzzy neon green shelf, to a kaleidoscopic assortment of undulating floral candles made in Mexico City. 100% Silk also showcases a series of abstract cement vases by Susan for Susan, an experimental art and design studio owned by brothers John and Kevin Watts. The vases are handmade using an acetone erosion process, which is then cast from Styrofoam into cement leaving an “archive” of the process. The brothers see process and final product as one in the same, celebrating what they refer to as “fleeting moments” of naive design resembling, well, bedrock. “There’s a lot of texture in The Flintstones. There’s a sense of rawness to it, but not a cold rawness,” Kevin Watts says. “Our pieces make you want to touch them, and when you touch them, you can actually feel the dust coming off.”
In Berlin, the new Functional Art Gallery represents artists and designers with a similar approach. “I think this style has to do with designers freeing themselves from the traditional materials. They are looking at what’s familiar and accessible to them,” says Benoit Wolfrom, the gallery’s co-founder, referencing everything from recycled plastic to paper. “Pretty isn’t the main motivation any more. We’re entering into a new period of abstraction in design.”
OrtaMiklos, a French and Danish duo represented by Functional, is inspired by the idea of modern ruins. They work to highlight hidden construction elements such as concrete, isolation foam and electric cables in pieces that could easily furnish Bedrock City. “We question their function by experimenting with their characteristics to explore new ways of seeing these materials in our daily lives,” the duo says.
On the runway, several underground brands have leaned into this aesthetic by using experimental techniques to create the illusion of unfinished pieces. Eckhaus Latta, a New York duo best known for their gender fluid wares, showcased fringe-trimmed tie-dye jeans and created the allusion of pattern through heavily textured fabrics in their Spring 2019 collection. Meanwhile, Berlin-based brand, Ottolinger, has shown a series of sculptural rubber purses, individually moulded and painted as if to appear melting. Similarly, its deconstructed Spring 2019 collection featured acid-wash denim, split-apart jerseys and burnt hems all laced-together in a look that screamed “yabba-dabba-do!”
Back at 100% Silk, Dekel runs her hands along a lumpy periwinkle table made by Toronto-artisan Zachary Besner. “I love the mix of playfulness and functionality, and the feeling that you might have just unearthed these items from the bottom of the sea,” she says. The bottom of the sea by way of 8,000 BC.
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