Authenticity in imitation

Stay Wet!I saw this ad today and was impressed by the degree of detail in imitating something that’s apparently meant to look like it was published in 1933. Much “retro” design is a pretty shallow imitation of the original, and in particular, the technical limitations of the time are rarely adhered to or imitated. In this case, however, they do a few things right. The most striking part is the two-color design — it looks like this was printed with just a blue and a red plate. In particular, in “stay wet” you can see the blue bleed through the red (or vice-versa?). Such an effect isn’t hard to do in Illustrator, but it’s often overlooked. This section of the image makes me think of some of the beautiful bleeds done by Aesthetic Apparatus, though the text-over-halftone-photo seems like classic Aesthetic Apparatus style more than it does 1930s printing. Mis-registration (seen here at Aesthetic Apparatus) is a characteristic of pre-computer printing. In this case registration is almost perfect, though close inspection shows just a bit at the base of the bottle.

I like the graphic design in the ad, though I’m not familiar enough with design of the time to know how 1933-ish it really is. The bottle has an engraved look that I associate with catalogs of the time period, and is similar to the Hedcut style used at the Wall Street Journal since 1979. I love the scallops, though they make me think more of the 1970s than the 1920s and 30s. The Gay Nineties seemed to be a popular theme in the 70s (think Phineas Q. Butterfat’s), and the red scallops make me think of the red-striped gay nineties vest.

Now, is this ad “authentic”? Since I don’t see this ad being passed off as something that was created at the end of prohibition, I’d have to say that it’s authentic — it’s an image created in 2007 using the techniques available at the time. I think we may have an unhealthy obsession with authenticity at times. I don’t accuse 1950′s retro design, a favorite disfavorite of mine, of being inauthentic; it is its own genre, a generally cheap pastiche of design from an era with incredibly sophisticated design. But is this ad indistinguishable from something that would have been printed in 1933? I’m sure there are details, stylistic choices, or other subtleties that could disprove that. To my eye, however, it’s well done enough that there are no distractingly out-of-place details, and regardless of is perceived authenticity, it’s just a fun ad.

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One Response to Authenticity in imitation

  1. Pingback: » Store Brand Extravaganza #4: Bi-Rite

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