cover image Taste


Stephen Bayley / Author Pantheon Books $24 (237p) ISBN 978-0-3

Taste forever changes, as the fluctuating reputations of Shakespeare and El Greco attest. On this central premise British design critic Bayley erects a witty, erudite, wide-ranging social history of taste that demolishes the gaudy, the meretricious, the ready-made and the vulgar, both high and low. He takes aim at the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (``forever in pursuit of a mythic gentility''), prim Scandinavian furniture as the presumed epitome of ``good design,'' contemporary kitsch architecture a la Manhattan's Trump Tower and fashion designer Ralph Lauren (``he sells an image of an image, based on romanticized myths about the Wild West and WASP society''). This lavishly illustrated survey includes chapters on taste and lack thereof in art, architecture, interior design, clothes, food and manners. Intriguing observations abound: for instance, the length of a sneaker's tongue is a macho symbol among athletes, and the idea that tanned skin is attractive goes back no further than the pseudo-scientific theory of heliotherapy developed in the 1920s by German and Swiss doctors. (Mar.)