In celebration of the 120th birthday of one of the fathers of industrial design, we take a look at a past blog post praising the creative engine that was Raymond Loewy. His seven decades of design spans a number of industries and some of his iconic work includes locomotives, cars, buses, Coca-Cola vending machines, the Lucky Strike package, and the Shell, Exxon, TWA logos, and many, many more. Happy Birthday, Mr. Loewy!
Lately, it has occurred to me how attitudes are continually changing in cultures. What has brought this to mind is industrial design, which, if viewed through the lens of history, it becomes clear that things we now see as nostalgic were cutting edge at the time. I’ll offer Raymond Loewy, who had a tremendous impact on American industrial and product design, as an example.
Loewy, born in France, spent most of his professional career in the United States. There was a time when his designs touched almost every aspect of life—from drinking (Coca-Cola vending machines) to smoking (Lucky Strike package) to transportation (Greyhound Scenicruiser buses and Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives). He was the original poster child of planes, trains and automobiles given his designs of Air Force One for the Kennedys, and Studebaker’s Avanti and Champion models.
In his book, Never Leave Well Enough Alone, Philippe Trétriack writes about the lauded designer, “Even the loudest knocking will not bring him to answer the door. He is too busy. He has thrown a mass of modeling clay on the floor of his little studio. Beneath this formless heap he has buried a Gestetner duplicating machine. The boss has just delivered it to him with an order. In only two days, the greasy riveted monster must be re-created, turned into something fresh and seductive by the hands of this Raymond Loewy about whom everyone was saying such great things.”
Trétriack noted that Loewy sculpted, smoothed and streamlined it, implementing techniques he would systemize a few years later. When the Bauhaus movement entered America from Europe, Trétriack said Loewy was an apostle of the streamlined look achieved not only by Bauhaus but Japanese design as well. “He stood accused of being nothing but a ‘stylist,’ but he turned his back on such criticism,” he added. “What did it matter when he had all of America in his pocket?”
During his early years in the United States, he worked as a window designer for department stores, including Macy’s, Wanamaker’s and Saks—a distinction he shares with Morris Lapidus. Loewy was also creating fashion illustrations for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar at the time. The duplication machine project, described by Trétriack, was his first industrial design commission in 1929.
In the 51 years he designed across many disciplines, he gave the American culture a veritable catalog of nostalgia, which was remarkably cutting-edge at the time. Loewy retired at the age of 87 in 1980 and moved back to France. He passed away in his Monte Carlo residence in 1986. What a talent! And how fortunate America had such vibrant creativity unleashed on its industrial, graphic and product design scenes!
For a sweet view of the trailblazer, written by his daughter Laurence, the Loewy site archives published a piece titled “Learning to Drive Loewy.” For fun, you can download desktop wallpapers and screensavers of his designs, as well.
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