The Art Deco touch of the Cadillac Celestiq electric sedan is perfect

Cadillac’s latest flagship electric vehicle design concept unveiled Wednesday, the Celestiq sedan, could hint at a change in aesthetics from the past. The very distant past.

There’s very little going on in most of the new images – a tail light with a modernist LED hockey stick shape, a brushed aluminum styling cue somewhere on the car, a literal bolt – but the shot final has an interesting style. Cadillac hasn’t been used for decades, one dating back to before World War II.

This is an angelic figure, or more accurately, the Goddess of Cadillac. The goddess was featured as a hood ornament on most marque cars in one form or another from 1933 to 1956, but peaked in her winged form in the pre-war period. She perfectly embodied the aesthetic obsession of the art deco movement for stylized and refined female figures, often inspired by ancient Greek or Roman mythology.

By the time the winged figure left the noses of Cadillacs in the mid-1950s, its shape was mostly unrecognizable from its previous swan-diving form, but Celestiq’s angelic symbol was inspired by the more traditional designs of the 1950s. 30s and early ’40s with visible wings and an actual body shape. Seeing the symbol of a brand that hasn’t been used in decades isn’t entirely uncommon in the modern age – evoking nostalgia is something several automakers have relied on in recent years. (Supra, anyone?) But reaching so deep into the design vault from when most drivers weren’t even born suggests a deeper purpose than just reminding the silent generation what it was like the cars of their youth.

Instead, I wonder if it signals a shift from the more modernist “Art and Science” parlance of recent Cadillacs to a more svelte, sleek, and potentially even streamlined art deco future. It would parallel the previous rise of the architectural and design style, which reached its peak in the mid-1920s during the International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts. The world embraced an optimistic new era of modern technology with ambitious vehicles, buildings and even devices that reflected the future of high technology (a world built from a world suffering from the scars of war and a deadly and highly contagious pandemic). Art Deco was a gilded, confident visual language that fit perfectly with the optimism of the Roaring Twenties, and the Goddess Cadillac fit perfectly into that vision in its time. Maybe Cadillac saw the parallels of a century ago and decided it was time for the same hopeful aesthetic.

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Christopher S. Washington