In 1807 Andrew Pears started a small factory just of Oxford Street producing transparent soap. It proved a huge success in an age that became aware of the social value of hygiene. Pears Soap became a household name not in the last because of the firm’s brand marketing strategy introduced by the inspirational figure of Thomas J. Barratt, the ‘father of modern advertising’ (and son-in-law of the company’s founder).
It all started with the commissioning of sculptor Giovanni Focardi. Born in Florence around 1843 and having studied under Enrico Pazzi, he moved to London in 1875 where he spent most of his working years at no. 10 Auriol Road, Baron’s Court. For the Pears Company he produced his most famous creation, a group of mother and child titled You Dirty Boy.
This statue of a ragged young boy having his ears washed was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition Universelle in 1878 where it was greatly appreciated. It was also part of Pears’s soap stand at London’s International Health Exhibition in 1884 under the patronage of Queen Victoria.
Pears had purchased the copyright to produce copies of the statue as advertisements for their products. They were made for shop counter displays in terracotta, plaster, or metal, and sold worldwide. Pears became famous for other advertising drives involving artists. Its campaign using John Everett Millais’s painting Bubbles (1886) continued over many decades. Art entered the domain of commerce.
Through the late 1800s Spitalfields, Whitechapel, and Bethnal Green were home to the tobacco industry. Production was driven by immigrants. The decline of the Dutch economy had prompted many skilled Amsterdam Jews to settle in London. Jewish immigrants from Germany were also involved in the industry. Samuel Gluckstein was born on 4 January 1821 in Rheinberg. He moved to London in 1841, starting his own business in Crown Street, Soho, in 1855. His two sons Isidore and Montague joined the firm. His daughter Helena married Barnett Salmon, also a tobacco salesman. The Salmon & Gluckstein firm was established in 1873.
By the turn of the century it was the world’s largest retail tobacconist (taken over by Imperial Tobacco in 1902). In 1887 Montague Gluckstein put forward the idea of providing catering services for large exhibitions that had become fashionable. Family members gave their consent on condition that their name would not be used in such a ‘vulgar’ enterprise.
Montague employed Joseph Lyons, a water-colour artist, who had experience in dealing with exhibition authorities. In 1894 the company started a teashop in Piccadilly. Within a couple of decades a chain of so-called Lyons’ Corner Houses was established, including a number of huge restaurants on four or five levels. Each floor had its own eatery and all had orchestras playing to its diners. Corner Houses were treasures of Art Deco. This style of building in Britain was introduced by Oliver Percy Bernard. Having acted as technical director of the British Pavilion at the influential 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (from which Art Deco took its name), he operated as consultant for Lyons and designed the interior for their iconic Oxford Street and Coventry Street establishments. In 1929, he conceived an Art Deco entrance to the illustrious Strand Palace Hotel. Dresden-born refugee Hans Arnold Rothholz who had been trained in the Bauhaus tradition, also worked on behalf of the company and created a mural for the Lyons Corner House restaurant at Marble Arch.
There is an even more immediate link between tobacco and Art Deco. Bernhard Baron was born on 5 December 1850 in the Russian town of Brest Litovsk into a Jewish family of French descent. In 1867 Baron moved to New York where he manufactured handmade cigarettes. He later moved his business to Baltimore. In 1872 Baron took out his first patent for a cigarette making machine. In 1895 he visited London to sell the patent rights of his invention. Attracted by business opportunities, he decided to settle at St James’ Place, Aldgate, where he established the Baron Cigarette Machine Company. In 1903 he joined the board of Carreras Limited, becoming its managing director and chairman. He held both positions until his death in August 1929. Carreras’s cigarettes, notably their Black Cat brand, proved popular.
Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun made a huge impact on art and architecture. The 1925 Paris Exhibition extended the vogue. Egypt-o-mania was in full swing. The country was also a major cigarette manufacturer. After British (BTE) troops were stationed in Egypt in 1882, soldiers developed a liking for local tobacco. Soon this ‘sophisticated’ smoke was in demand throughout the country. Tobacco companies adopted Egyptian motifs in their advertising to cash in on this all-gender fashion. Kate Chopin presented an image of the new ‘progressive’ woman in her story ‘An Egyptian Cigarette’, published in Vogue Magazine in April 1902. During the First World War smoking increased sharply and the Carreras Company came to the fore in supplying cigarettes to the armed forces. In 1920 the business moved to new premises, the Arcadia Works at City Road, Moorgate. Six years later, architects Collins & Porri were commissioned to design a new factory to be built on Mornington Crescent’s communal garden. The white building’s ornamentation included a solar disc to the Sun-god Ra, two effigies of black cats flanking the entrance, and colourful painted details. The plant was opened in style in 1928. The pavements were covered with ‘desert’ sand; there was a procession of cast members from a production of Verdi’s Aida; a performance was given by actors in Egyptian costume; and a chariot race was held on Hampstead Road. The Carreras factory is one of London’s finest surviving Art Deco designs.
The success of the Lyons and Carrera companies points at growing ties between business and design. Romantic thinkers feared the corrupting impact of commerce on the creative impulse. During the last decades of the nineteenth century this perspective changed, at least within the visual arts (Symbolist poets stubbornly defended their art against all intrusions from the ‘market’). Department stores and restaurants redefined the bond between commerce and aesthetics. Eye-catching design boosted sales. Increased profitability provided commissions to aspiring artists. The age of graphic art and advertising was born. With it, the artist modified the interpretation of his position in society. Much of the Romantic humbug of his ‘leading’ role was dumped. Simplification became the new catchword. An idealistic aspect (especially amongst the pupils of Bauhaus) remained a feature of socially engaged design, but even Utopia acquired a more human dimension. During man’s brief spell on earth, architecture and design could make his journey physically more pleasant and aesthetically more pleasing. Style became equated with wellbeing.