Cars: Objects of Desire


The worlds of fashion and cars and bikes have always intertwined. Right from the early days of internal combustion, the car was seen as an accessory of style more than a purely utilitarian device.

While the industrial revolution was motored by the fixed steel roads of the railway, engineers tinkered away creating the first motorised carriages. Costs, and the lack of metalled roads of course meant that the car was rarely thought of as mass transport in the early days: therefore it became an item of style and of aspiration for the classes who could afford such indulgence.

Mass production and the needs of war economies changed all that in the first two decades of the 20th century, desire had been encoded into its ethos long before utility took hold as the dominant force. Between the wars motor sport tagged the car and bike even more resolutely with the glamorous image of danger, discovery and speed.

It was in the boom that came in the wake of WW2, though, that cars really began to represent aspiration, style and wellbeing as we recognise it today. The advertising and marketing industry as we know it boomed from Madison Avenue to Fleet Street, and soon cars and bikes were chrome clad, modernist ideals whose image was deeply interwoven with our world-view. We came to identify with cars as signifiers of who we were.

Even here in the 21st century, where the car’s image has been assailed by the politics of environmental imperatives, making the fume-emitting excesses of the last 100 years look indulgent and immoral: the car and the bike are still constantly referred to and used by fashion photographers and art directors to denote an image – a feeling: a desire that will ultimately translate to an economic exchange.

Here’s a few notable campaigns of the noughties and nineties.