The first time I came across the work of Alexander Girard was in a vintage shop in New York City, where I opened a vintage Herman Miller fabric book and felt my heart drop out of my chest. I saw there the simplest designs in colours and weaves of such quality, and they made me realise that a design could be ‘simple’ without being basic or easy. Also, ‘playful’ didn’t mean necessarily mean lightweight or throwaway . When done with integrity and excellence, simple and playful could be the essence of clarity.
Those fabrics were the first designs I saw by Alexander Girard, who I now know established Herman Miller’s textile division in 1952 and ran it for nearly two decades.
Girard studied architecture originally, but over his long career, he made a name for himself in the fields of furniture, exhibition and interior design as well as in the graphic arts. Girard was a prolific designer, working across disciplines, and equally adept at creating textiles, furniture and graphics, as he was at creating brand identities for international corporations. For instance, in 1965, Girard re-branded Braniff airlines, from ticket counters to the interiors of the planes, and his 1960 interior design for la Fonda Del Sol restaurant encompassed absolutely everything – from the the menus to the matchbooks to the napkins
When Alexander Girard passed away in 1993, his lifelong collection of textiles from around the world, as well as the contents of his studio, including hundreds of drawings, prototypes and textile samples, were bequeathed to the Vitra Design Museum, and this is what I’ll be seeing at Vitra in Basel on Tuesday. Must remember to pack my heart pills, cos it’s going to be shockingly inspiring.