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After the austerity and bloodshed of World War I, France longed for joy and light-heartedness. Pre-war values were rejected as people embraced new lifestyles and new technologies, and discovered a lust for extravagance and partying that had the era named Les Années Folles (the Roaring Twenties, or the 'mad years'). Cars appeared on the roads; picture houses opened, projecting the world's first silent movies; radios appeared in households; jazz flourished, and musical halls – where icons like Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier launched their careers – became the places to see and be seen in.
Paris was at the heart of it all, not only in terms of fashion and entertainment, but in the domains of decorative art and architecture, as movers and thinkers drew inspiration from cubism, modernism and neoclassicism to create the 'total' style we know and love today: art deco (the term coined thanks to Paris's 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes). Such was the impact of this 'modern style' that it carried on well into the 1930s.
Artists and writers also flourished during the era – especially if you knew American expat, art collector and mentor Gertrude Stein, who opened her house (at 27 rue de Fleurus) to the 'Lost Generation' of American literati (including Hemingway and Fitzgerald), and artists like Picasso and Matisse. So huge was the impact these personalities would have on the world that many Left Bank cafés (where the legends hung out when not at Stein's) still live off the legacy today.
If you fancy getting a feel for all this, try Victor Margueritte's novel 'La Garçonne', about an emancipated flapper who escapes an unhappy marriage to discover carnal love and illicit pleasures in 1920s Paris; as well as Hemingway's classics 'A Moveable Feast' and 'The Sun Also Rises'. And of course, we've put together our Time Out recommendations for where to dine, sightsee and paint the town red, Années Folles style. Read on and you'll be dancing the Charleston by sundown.