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Raymond Loewy

(1893—1986)


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(1893–1986)

One of the most publicity conscious and productive of the American industrial designers who became feted as celebrities in the interwar years, Raymond Loewy did much to define the profession for subsequent generations. His consultancy was responsible for the design of almost every conceivable product type, from cigarette packs to streamlined steam trains and from dinnerware to dishwashers. Loewy did much to build up the mythology of the industrial designer as having the capacity single‐handedly to transform all aspects of everyday life. This was seen in the 1934 design exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where he displayed a somewhat spartan, yet elegant, streamlined mock‐up of his design office complete with stylish desktop drawing board, fashionable up‐lighter, and tubular steel furniture. With only enough room for a single designer to work in, it belied the fact that industrial design consultancies employed a range of specialists who did much to bring the designer's ideas to readiness for mass production. This outlook was more graphically conveyed in the celebrated cover for Time magazine of October 1949. It featured Loewy set against a backdrop of products including an automobile, refrigerator, cooker, aeroplane, ocean liner, armchair, and fountain pen, as if he had designed them all single‐handedly rather than working together with more than 150 employees. He also had a considerable eye for publicity photographs, appearing next to, standing on, sitting in, or using Loewy‐designed products. His 1951 autobiography Never Leave Well Enough Alone did little to dispel his self‐created myth.

Born in Paris, he studied engineering from 1910 to 1914 but received his degree in 1918, having interrupted his studies for army service in the First World War. Emigrating to New York in 1919 he found employment as a window‐display designer for Macy's as well as graphic work for Saks Fifth Avenue, and fashion illustration for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Vanity Fair. Having established his own industrial design consultancy, Raymond Loewy Associates, in 1929, one of his first commissions was the redesign of the Gestetner duplicating machine (1929). Using a clay model to explore ideas for its form and appearance, he transformed an uncoordinated piece of office machinery into an elegant, efficient looking, modern product. As he became more successful Loewy was able to open a product, transport, and packaging design consultancy in Fifth Avenue, New York. Notable among his early commissions were the Coldspot refrigerator designs for the Sears Roebuck & Co. mail order firm for whom he began work in 1932. The most celebrated of these was marketed from 1935 and featured new materials and ideas such as aluminium shelving, storage baskets, a water cooler, and vegetable freshener, all contained within a styled, modern streamlined form. Loewy also worked in many fields of transportation design, his first major commission being the Hupmobile (1934) for the Hupp Motor Company. Loewy began his association with the Studebaker company in 1938 when the 1938 Studebaker was named the ‘Best Looking Car of the Year’ by the American Federation of Arts. After the Second World War Loewy worked briefly with automobile stylist Virgil Exner at Studebaker. Loewy's post‐war designs for the company included the Champion (1947), the Starliner (1953), and the fibreglass bodied Avanti (1961). The critical success of the 1953 Studebaker range was such that it was even feted on the cover of Time magazine. Loewy also designed for railways including the 1937 S‐1 locomotive for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. It was displayed at the New York World's Fair of 1939, where visitors could also view his Rocketport of the Future. From 1935 he was also consultant designer to the Greyhound Coach Corporation, producing designs for the streamlined Silversides motor coach (1940) and its 1954 replacement, the sleek, comfortable Scenicruiser. He even worked for NASA from 1967 to 1972, including the interior of Skylab. Other important companies that Loewy worked for included Coca‐Cola, Lucky Strike, Rosenthal, Shell, and Exxon. After the Second World War Loewy's consultancy expanded, with offices in New York, Chicago, South Bend, Los Angeles, and London. Loewy also set up the Compagnie d'Esthétique Industrielle in Paris in 1952.

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Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.



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