In 1963, famed American photographer and film director Melvin Sokolsky shot an unforgettable spring fashion editorial for the March issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Contrary to traditional fashion photography of the time, the model and clothing in focus shared the spotlight with a commanding prop, a gigantic, glass bubble.
Haunted by a dream in which he saw himself floating amidst exotic landscapes encapsulated in a life-size glass sphere, Sokolsky fabricated a Faberge Egg-like globe made out of Plexiglass and aircraft aluminum. The vessel took ten days to produce before the concept was successfully tested in New Jersey and then fully realized across the city of Paris. Sokolsky’s unconventional approach to a fashion story in which his favorite model, Simone d’Aillencourt, was suspended above streets, cafés and the Seine, wearing straight off the runway looks by Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Dior, lives on today as one of the most iconic fashion editorials of all time.
Though Sokolsky’s unforgettable images introduced bubbles into the world of fashion photography, Yves Saint Laurent is credited with creating the first bubble hemline in 1959 on a simple black dress designed for the house of Christian Dior. While the structural volume of the bubble skirt developed by Saint Laurent has since become a standard silhouette within fashion, more recently bubbles have started to appear on clothing in a decorative manner. For his spring/summer 2003 menswear collection, Helmut Lang presented a zip-front bomber jacket, which substituted fabric for bubble wrap as the garment’s principal material. For spring/summer 2018, Shayne Oliver re-imagined Lang’s original design in the form of an oversized bubble wrap shirt during his single season residency as creative director of the storied New York brand.
For spring/summer 2007 conceptual fashion designer Hussein Chalayan presented a bubble-adorned mini dress. Chalayan’s unconventional use of clear plastic spheres fastened to a cage-like corset was a fabrication technique used by the designer to obstruct the model’s shape and any visualization of the female form.
In the 1960s, Finnish architect and interior designer Eero Aarino created some of the most innovative furniture designs of the period through his use of unconventional materials such as plastic and fiberglass. In 1968, Aarnio introduced the first Bubble Chair into the world of seating design. Unlike any existing furniture models, which most often included a pedestal or support legs, the Bubble Chair was a transparent sphere suspended from the ceiling, giving the appearance of a floating soap bubble. The chair’s translucent, rounded shell provided special acoustics and a feeling of isolation, while the soft leather seat made it a comfortable oasis. The bubble chair became an overnight sensation and one of the most desired pieces of furniture developed in the 1960s.
Much like Eero Aarino used the bubble form as a vessel for sitting, artist Salvador Dali utilized a transparent sphere as a surrealist vehicle for ground transportation. In April 1960, Dali unveiled the ‘Ovocipede’, a human-sized, plastic squirrel wheel, propelled by the occupant, in which the operator could sit, steer, turn or reverse.
While the ‘Ovocipede’ transportation bubble was part sculpture, part performance art, fellow surrealist and close confident of Dali’s, French artist Man Ray, produced a miniature sculpture in the 1920s, and again in the 1930s, titled 'Ce qui manqué à nous tous’ translated as ‘What We All Lack’. The work, consisting of an inscribed clay pipe with an iridescent glass bubble in place of smoke, alludes to a childhood pastime of blowing bubbles and the simple pleasure experienced in this unadulterated act.
The youthful undertone of bubbles is also suggested in the work of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. Many of Lichtenstein’s most well known paintings of the 1960s incorporate speech bubbles traditionally found in comic strips. While the subject matter of a number of these works does not specifically denote childhood, the comic-based format and inclusion of both thought bubbles and speech bubbles to indicate dialogue, make figurative illusion to the youthful pastime of reading comics.
It has been speculated that bubble architecture, a style that emerged in the early 20th century and gained traction throughout the 60s and 70s, also originated from the speech bubbles of comic books, recognized for their ability to defy gravity while maximizing surface area and interior space. One of the foremost examples of bubble architecture was a compound in Arizona known as the ‘Bubble Houses’ or the ‘Goodyear Balloon Houses’, designed in the 1940s by American architect Wallace Neff. The houses, which have since been destroyed, were constructed using a reinforced concrete cast over an inflated balloon produced by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Once the outer shell of concrete hardened, the interior balloon was popped and removed, leaving a perfectly spherical bubble dome.
Famed German architect Frei Otto also celebrated bubbles throughout a number of his structures, most notably in the West German Pavilion at the World Expo in Montreal in 1967, for which he cited soap bubbles as a primary source of inspiration.
Arguable the most famous existing work of bubble architecture, Palais Bulles (Bubble Palace), which sits atop a hill near Cannes, France, was designed in the 1970s by Hungarian architect Antti Lovag. The home was purchased after completion by French fashion designer Pierre Cardin and boasts ten bedrooms designed by artists. The architecturally significant site was hand picked by Raf Simons as the setting of his 2016 cruise runway show for Christian Dior. A convergence of creative disciplines through the fantastical world of bubbles.