Raymond Loewy

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Raymond Loewy [loh-ee] (1893 – 1986) was an industrial designer. Born in France, he spent most of his professional career in the United States. Among his work were the Shell and former BP logos, the Greyhound bus, the Coca-Cola bottle, the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives, the Lucky Strike package, Coldspot refrigerators, the Studebaker Avanti and Champion, and the Air Force One livery. His career spanned seven decades.

Loewy was born in Paris in 1893, the son of a Jewish Viennese journalist and French woman. He served in the French army during World War I, attaining the rank of captain. He boarded a ship to America in 1919 with only his French officer’s uniform and $50 in his pocket. He lived in New York and found work as a window designer for department stores, including Macy’s, Wanamaker’s and Saks in addition to working as a fashion illustrator for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

In 1929 he received his first industrial-design commission to contemporize the appearance of a duplicating machine by Gestetner. Further commissions followed, including work for Westinghouse, the Hupp Motor Company and styling the Coldspot refrigerator for Sears-Roebuck. It was this product that established his reputation as an industrial designer. He opened a London office in the mid-1930s. It is still active. In 1937, Loewy established a relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his most notable designs for the firm were their passenger locomotives. He designed a streamlined shroud for his trains. While he did not design the famous GG1 electric locomotives, he improved its appearance by recommending welded construction rather than riveted and added a pinstriped paint scheme to highlight its smooth contours. In addition to locomotive design, Loewy’s studios performed many kinds of design work for the Pennsylvania Railroad including stations, passenger-car interiors, and advertising materials. By 1949, Loewy employed 143 designers, architects and draftsmen.

Loewy had a long and fruitful relationship with American car maker Studebaker. Studebaker first retained Loewy and Associates and Helen Dryden as design consultants in 1936. Three years later he began work with the principal designer Virgil M Exner. Their designs first began appearing with the late-1930s Studebakers. Loewy also designed a new logo which replaced the ‘turning wheel’ which had been the trademark since 1912. During World War II, American government restrictions on in-house design departments at Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler prevented official work on civilian automobiles. Because Loewy’s firm was independent of the fourth-largest automobile producer in America, no such restrictions applied. This permitted Studebaker to launch the first all-new postwar automobile in 1947, two years ahead of the ‘Big Three.’ His team developed an advanced design featuring flush-front fenders and clean rearward lines.

The Loewy staff also created the Starlight body which featured a rear-window system wrapping 180° around the rear seat. The Starlight has consistently ranked as one of the best-designed cars of the 1950. At the time, however, it was ridiculed as bizarre, due to its being very similar in front or back. The ’53 Starliner, recognized today as “one of the most beautiful cars ever made”, was radical in appearance, as radical in its way as the 1934 Airflow. However, it was beset by production problems. To brand the new line, Loewy also contemporized Studebaker’s logo again by applying the ‘Lazy S’ element. His final commission of the 1950s for Studebaker was the transformation of the Starlight and Starliner coupes into the Hawk series for the 1956 model year.

In the spring of 1961, Loewy was called back to Studebaker by the company’s new president, Sherwood Egbert, to design the Avanti. Egbert hired him to help energize Studebaker’s soon-to-be-released line of 1963 passenger cars to attract younger buyers. Despite the short 40-day schedule allowed to produce a finished design and scale model, Loewy agreed to take the job. He recruited a team consisting of experienced designers and a young student from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The team was sequestered in a house leased for the purpose in Palm Springs, California. Each team member had a role. Two handled sketching, one oversaw the project, and Loewy was the creative director and offered advice. The Avanti became an instant classic when it was introduced and has many devotees today; others consider its front end styling peculiar. Versions have been produced in limited quantities over the years by a succession of small independent companies, though never with real commercial success.

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