Journal Article

Celluloid Dreams

Kate Forde

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 15, issue 3, pages 175-189
Published in print January 2002 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online January 2002 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI:
Celluloid Dreams

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  • History of Art
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Nail polish, a product of twentieth-century advances in paint technology and mass-manufacturing techniques, may represent the ultimate non-functional commodity. In fact, it was partly the increased production of tiny luxuries such as nail polish that supported and later threatened to engulf the American economy during the 1920s and 1930s. This article considers the hugely successful marketing campaign for Cutex manicure products in America between 1916 and 1935. Advertisements for Cutex by the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Company are presented alongside material from the company archives and contextual information from contemporary magazines and cinema in order to uncover the dynamics between the advertisers and their perceived consumers. Seeking to challenge simplified notions of the opposition between a corrupt and all-powerful advertising industry versus an endlessly malleable public, the article discusses the complex attitudes of the individuals who worked at JWT. In truth, while the company ostensibly promoted itself as an information laboratory, the surviving evidence reveals the significance of desire as well as data in the construction of its capitalist logic.

Keywords: advertising; Cutex nail polish; J. Walter Thompson Advertising Company; social construction of technology; United States; women's history

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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