Culture & Art

Dec 1, 2017

THE MAN OF THE THOUSAND PROJECTS

Nowadays, we have a tendency to look at some things like if they always existed, without thinking that somebody had to develop in order to become realities. Industrial design is one of those things.

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By MARCEL COMÈS

Born in Paris, France, 5 November 1893, Raymond Loewy spent most of his life in the United States. His life and career were deeply marked by aspects of the American way of life.

Little is known about this French, later naturalized American (in 1938), until he arrived in New York, in 1919. There are only references that he would have drawn an aircraft ('Ayrel' which he sold afterwards to the French Air Force) and that he served in the French army during the First World War.

During his early years in New York, Loewy worked as a window designer for department stores like Macy's, in addition to working as a fashion illustrator for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

He married with Jean Thomyson in 1931 and became American citizen in 1938. Got divorced from his first wife in 1945 and re-married in 1948, with Viola Erickson, with whom he lived until the rest of his life.

The first industrial design commission arises in 1929 – modernize and improve the appearance of the "duplicating machine", for Gestetner. His drawing had such success that soon after jobs appeared for Westinghouse (appliances), the Hupp Motor Company and specifically the Hupmobile, and the Coldspot refrigerator for Sears-Roebuck. This allowed him to open his own design firm in 1930.

In 1937, Loewy signed a contract with the Pennsylvania Railroad, with the purpose of designing the locomotives of train passengers. Later came the invitation to restyle the Baldwin's diesel locomotives, "offering" them a distinctive "shark nose".

It is also his authorship the color scheme and identity that conferred to new electric locomotives a more modern design and highlighted their rounded shapes. His bold vision led him to design the interior of some passenger car models and the brand's image for service stations and other purposes.

During the 1930's decade, Raymond Loewy Associates started a collaboration with Studebaker which would endure until the brands closing in 1967. Besides a clean logotype, with a stylized 'S', which substituted the one the brand used since its foundation, in 1852, Loewy introduced several innovations such as a slanted windshield, clean back lines, wheel covers, lush and bold front grills, and a 180 degrees back window, in the Starlight model of 1952.

Loewy, however, did not highlighted only in the automotive industry of the first half of the 20th century. In 1940, as a result of a bet with George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, he redesigned the lucky strike cigarette package, by eliminating the green background color and substituting it by the current white, and placing the brand in both sides of the package, turning the brand much more visible and, thus, increasing significantly the sales.

Between the brands Loewy came to modernize after this episode, we count Shell, Exxon, Greyhound and Nabisco.

Also, NASA enlisted the consultant services from Loewy. Between 1967 and 1973, he worked as an inhabitability consultant for the projects Saturn, Apollo and Skylab. George Mueller, NASA's director at the time, wrote in a thanking letter: "I do not believe that it would have been possible for the Skylab crews to have lived in relative comfort, excellent spirits and outstanding efficiency had it not been for your creative design, based on a deep understanding of human needs" and added "your efforts have provided the foundation for man's next great step – an expedition to the planets".

In 1975, the Smithsonian Institute opened an exhibition dedicated "to the man who changed the face of industrial design".

Raymond Loewy died in 1986, 92 years of age, in Monte Carlo, Monaco. In his obituary in the New York Times, Susan Heller wrote: "one can hardly open a beer or a soda, fix breakfast, board a plane, buy gas, send a letter or shop for an appliance without encountering a Loewy creation".

Still today, he is, quite fairly, considered the "Father of Industrial Design".

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