The collector: Helen Powell, Warwickshire, UK.
The collection: Vintage hairdryers from the 1920s through to the 1970s.
The story behind the collection: I already had a couple of vintage hairdryers when, a few years ago, a friend of mine was clearing out her mum's attic and told me about a couple of old hairdryers she'd come across. She felt it would be a shame to throw them away but was wondering what to do with them. She must have noticed my eyes light up because next time I saw her she presented them to me. With the acquisition of a further two interesting models I realised that I now had 'a collection' and my obsession grew from there.
Why hairdryers? For me they are objects with a particularly strong narrative value. They chronicle not only design history but also the history of women's hairstyles throughout the decades. I'm interested in who used them and the hairstyles they might have created with them. Many of them have survived with the original packaging and instructions and the boxes provide an additional insight into the lifestyles of the (mainly) women who used them.
Style references: Louise Brooks, Josephine Baker, Flapper girls, the post suffragette era, art deco, early modernism.
[Louise Brooks & Josephine Baker.]
[The Hawkins Supreme with the art deco sunburst motif popular during the 1920s and 1930s.]
Style references: Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, GI brides.
[Marlene Dietrich & Rita Hayworth.]
[Fractional HP Motors Sylentflo c. 1948.]
Style references: Americana, Rock and Roll, Doris Day, Grace Kelly.
[Doris Day c. 1950s & Grace Kelly on the cover of Life magazine 1955.] [1950s Vesta hairdryer and packaging.]
Style references: Space exploration and the moon landings, Barbarella, Robbie the Robot, Bewitched, flower power.
During the 60s and 70s portable vanity hood units were popular. These consisted of a PVC bonnet attached by a hose to a hairdrying unit that came complete with a strap that you could casually sling over your shoulder, leaving you free to wander around in your rollers drying your hair whilst doing the ironing or some other household chore! The pscyhedelic orange and purple model below was produced by Boots.
Style references: Farrah Fawcett, roller disco, orange, Dieter Rams.
[The Braun Styler - very orange, very 70s.]
The Braun styler, pictured above and as owned by my mum, came with various attachments designed to enable you to create Farrah Fawcett style flicks and waves.
My favourite find is the Sol 1920s German hairdryer pictured in the top image. As an early example of a hand held hairdryer it would probably have been a relatively expensive luxury item at the time. Amazingly it still works!
How are they displayed?
Two or three of my favourites are displayed on a shelf in our office but most of them are tucked away in cupboards. Graham sometimes uses them when teaching his design research module to MA product design students.
Is there anything missing from your collection that you'd really like?
I'd really love an old salon hood dryer, but realistically I don't have anywhere to put it. Both Graham and I love to collect and our house is already overrun with stuff we've accumulated!
Hairdryer images © Helen Powell.