ASIAN RATTAN AND ROCOCO REVIVAL WICKER ADOPTED BY THE YOUTH
In 1956, when Beaton presented antique wicker to a widespread American audience, critics deemed it more suitable for the stage than the living room. In the early 1960s, decorators featured antique and reproduction wicker and Asian rattan as fashionable additions to Modern interiors, but few mainstream Americans showcased Rococo Revival or hourglass-based forms in their homes. The penchant for Colonial Revivalism remained steady among professionals and homemakers of late 1960s suburban America. Among white middle class Americans, the enthusiasm for antique wicker and Asian rattan skipped a generation, and played a role in the definition of a separate style for those in their teens and twenties.
The embrace of the Wicker Revival by American youth in the late 1960s presented the sharpest contrast between the Wicker Revival and its decorative rivals, Modernism and Colonial Revivalism. It also helped the spread of wicker among mainstream audiences even more than the Home Furnishings Show and the work of interior decorators and designers. When the first antiestablishment young Americans adopted wicker, rattan, and a turn-of-the-century aesthetic, they championed it as part of the aesthetic of the youth movement. The drive to achieve a separate decorative style from that of one’s parents reflected the generation gap that widened during the political and social conflicts of the 1960s. The youth movement sought to raise consciousness of Vietnam War protests and civil rights conflicts and adopted aspects of the non-materialistic beat culture that challenged the consumerism and planned obsolescence of the 1950s .
The second-hand stores of the Haight-Ashbury district carried turn-of-the-century items that fit the Victorian and Edwardian architecture of the area, along with the Rococo Revival reproduction wicker of Cost Plus. The adoption of the late- nineteenth, early-twentieth-century home interiors by hip rock bands such as The Charlatans garnered antique forms of wicker greater appeal among San Francisco’s youth.
Asian and Indian decorative tropes also characterized Haight- Ashbury style. San Francisco provided a key location in the trans-Pacific rattan trade since the nineteenth century, and the hip youth, as well as professional San Francisco decorators, appreciated the cheap rattan imports from Southeast Asia that arrived in the forms of hourglass furniture. Some of San Francisco’s hippies admired the decorative wares sold at import stores from China, India, Thailand, and Indonesia satisfied cultural and spiritual penchants, as well as aesthetic ones. Aspects of Indian religion, often versions of Hinduism, gained a following among the youth, and Cost Plus reportedly sold out its miniature images of Lord Jagganath, a Hindu god, which hippies made into pendants as necklaces.
More import stores similar to Cost Plus opened in the 1960s. In 1962, Texas businessman Charles Tandy received a franchise to open a Cost Plus in San Mateo, California in exchange for a loan to the San Francisco Cost Plus. Hurricane International, in Oakland, also catered to the countercultural lifestyle, and shipped mainly “sporting goods and rattan furniture.” Many peacock chairs and hourglass tables that graced dorm rooms and first apartments derived from these establishments, which shipped rattan from Hong Kong.
Tandy’s San Mateo Cost Plus was renamed Pier 1 Imports in 1966. He moved the store to Texas and began to sell franchises; and Pier 1 stores continued the eclectic tradition, offering hip style to young enthusiasts in other parts of the United States who desired an eclectic Haight-Ashbury aesthetic. “Young people looking to the East for spiritual sustenance looked to Pier 1 Imports for exotic crash pad furnishings at Third World prices,” claimed one journalist who researched Pier 1. Such a quote proved an accurate summation of not only Pier 1’s wares, but of 1960s import stores as a whole, where other items included “beaded curtains, bedspreads, and peacock feathers.”
The Asian and Indian stylistic influences won the favor of the countercultural youth due to spiritual and cultural interests. The use of Asian rattan to create an eclectic setting manifested on psychedelic rock band The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s cover of their 1967 album Incense and Peppermints. The Indian philosophies and religion that attracted countercultural youth gained followers beyond San Francisco, and, in 1966, the store Designs Because of Sat Purush opened in Los Angeles and provided a place to buy Indian-influenced decorative items and discuss Indian spirituality. The band’s photographer captured the image at Sat Purush, where the peacock chair contributed to the ambiance, surrounded by Indian garments and pillows.160 Although a Philippine or Hong Kong manufacturer most likely produced the chair, its placement among Indian décor added to the exoticism of the Sat Purush style.
The two divergent types of wicker associated with hippie décor in the 1960s, Rococo Revival wicker and Asian hourglass rattan, gained the appreciation of countercultural youth for different reasons. While both may have reached California from Southeast Asia, the Rococo Revival wicker symbolized the turn-of-the- century style associated with Haight-Ashbury architecture and the revivalism of bands such as The Charlatans. The Asian rattan, on the other hand, represented the San Francisco youth movement’s fascination with other cultures and perspectives and accentuated the eclecticism of interiors filled with imported goods from Asia.
The iconic peacock chair, however, would develop even greater cultural symbolism in 1967. The form attained a more political tone as a symbol of California’s dissident Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers formed in Oakland as a means to fight police brutality against the working-class black community. Members of the party toted rifles and patrolled the streets of predominantly black neighborhoods as a demonstration of defense against the police. The Black Panthers gained a menacing reputation, but also the admiration of some of the anti-Establishment white youth of the time.
In order to have “a centralized symbol of the leadership of black people in the black community,” Panther leaders hired a white radical photographer to depict Huey Newton, cofounder of the party, in a representative image. The photograph, taken at a house south of Haight-Ashbury, portrayed an intentionally Africanized scene with decorative elements reminiscent of turn- of-the-century interiors. It presented Newton seated on a peacock chair, with a stern expression and warlike posture. His left hand clutched a spear, his right, a rifle. A zebra rug lay beneath his feet, and African masks adorned the wall in the background.
While made of Southeast Asian rattan and formed into a design of Philippine origin, the peacock chair in the photograph assumed the role of the throne of an African warrior. The rattan bore a resemblance to woven raffia, a traditional material in sub-Saharan African basketry. The zebra rug bore similarities to the animal skin rugs fashionable among edgy decorators of the 1960s such as Pepis; but, in the case of Newton’s photograph, it also acted as a symbol of African heritage, as did the masks and the spear. The peacock chair, however, played the most prominent role in the image. After the image gained recognition as a party icon, Panther Prime Minister Stokely Carmichael placed an empty peacock chair onstage during rallies to represent Newton in his absence. The photograph, featured in the Black Panthers’ newspaper, appeared in the national news, as well. The leader of a 1967 Kansas University student group that focused on civil rights issues stated,
To continue to get more awareness and involve- ment in this community, we’ve got to downplay Huey Newton, the guns, and the wicker chairs. We have to mainstream this a little more. 
The inclusion of “the wicker chairs” in the description revealed that, even in predominantly white Kansas communities, peacock chairs in the late 1960s could symbolize the Black Panther party. Newton’s image added a political slant to the form which resonated among black artists as an emblem of black power and expression into the twenty-first century.
The peacock chair signified cutting-edge furniture embraced by the youth before the Panther’s adoption of it. However, its symbolism in the mainstream public as an anti-Establishment form garnered it more attention by young style setters of the late 1960s and 1970s. The new symbolism acquired by the form through Newton’s image also did not deter professional decorators from the using the form as an accent. Conversely, it appeared in decorating magazines and advertisements as fashionable furniture for white and black youth alike after 1967 and into the 1970s. In fact, the publicity gained by the chair, after wide distribution of the photograph, resulted in its increased popularity in 1970s mainstream décor.
Although the peacock chair received much publicity in the late 1960s, Rococo Revival forms of wicker did not lose status as hip furniture for the youth. Singer “Mama” Cass Elliot, of the rock group The Mamas and the Papas, appeared on the cover of her 1969 solo album in a white Rococo Revival wicker platform rocking chair, which remained reminiscent of the hip style of the time. (Fig. 47) The title of the album, Bubblegum, Lemonade, and Something for Mama, displayed the lighter side of hippie culture. If the peacock chair acted as the more dominant, aggressive form of the countercultural Wicker Revival, Rococo Revival furniture represented the softer side.
Rococo Revival wicker commonly appeared in advertisements, particularly those geared toward young female audiences, when the style of the counterculture developed into the fashionable aesthetic of the 1960s and 1970s.
The adoption of wicker and peacock chairs by the youth and Black Panther party caught the attention of the media and advertising companies, which sought to gain the interest of the hip demographic. The youth movement’s preference for wicker, therefore, led to a change in the movement of fashion trends, in which stylistic tropes moved upward from a younger, more marginal demographic to the mainstream. Although the Wicker Revival already gained national recognition as an official development among decorators, the presence of wicker as hip furniture for album covers, and the controversial symbolism that the peacock chair acquired, helped move wicker further into the spotlight.