One of my first jobs after graduation was as a designer with publisher, Paul Hamlyn. As well as owning numerous book imprints, The Hamlyn Group also had the Prints for Pleasure brand. It was in this world of art for the masses that I first came across the work of Vladimir Tretchikoff, specifically the Chinese Girl, more famous (or infamous) as The Blue Lady. So I was somewhat surprised to receive a book entitled; the blue lady’s new look and other curiosities. More surprising was the use of a pastiche of the eponymous image on the cover, and the fact that it came from respected design agency, jones knowles ritchie.
The relevance of the reference is saved until the last chapter, and as I had to wait, so will you. But, I was in no rush to reach the end. The book is a wonderful, eclectic selection of marketing, branding and communications ideas, observations and curios. To try to pin down an underlying theme or thesis would only be to go against the spirit of the book. It is an anthology, challenging any notion of a cohesive movement.
Given its pedigree, as you would expect, the book is mainly concerned with the visual. But for every visual maxim you are likely to find a counter-case somewhere in the book. You will find some big ideas here – but also challenges to the concept of ‘big ideas’. It is very much a case of, ‘all generalizations are dangerous – including this one.’
As a commentary, it is intelligent, wry and perceptive, looking at marketing ideas of recent years from an historically informed perspective.
Examples come from a bewildering spectrum including brands such as Heinz, Marlboro, Perrier and Kellogg. Equally diverse are the concepts, covering differentiation, minimalism, symbolism, technology and more. I promise that even the most jaundiced marketer will find entertaining, provoking and challenging ideas here.
So, what of our Blue Lady?
Author (or curator?), Silas Amos says of the pastiche of Tretchikoff’s image, that, ‘It struck me as an emblem of design’s current position.’ He proposes that we are in a unique, post-modernist, self-referential era. This is the only thesis in the book that I would take issue with, and argue that it was always thus. The sixties and seventies were not all Bauhaus and Helvetica: hippy psychedelia tipped its hat to art-nouveau, the King’s Road was awash with art-deco and ‘new’ phototypesetting revived forgotten fonts from previous decades.
While every generation has the right to consider itself special and enjoying new paradigms, perhaps the truth lies closer to: ‘plus ça change, plus ça la meme chose.’ However, this small indulgence should not detract from fascinating anthology which deserves a place on the bookshelf of every communications, branding, marketing or design specialist. Read it and enjoy.
the blue lady’s new look and other curiosities