Early industrial design professional
Raymond Loewy was one of the most prominent pioneers of industrial design. Loewy, who was born and raised in France, moved to the United States in 1919. He began his American career as a display window designer for large department stores such as Macy's and Wanamaker's. During the 1920s, he was also successful as a fashion illustrator with French-style Art Deco illustrations for magazines like Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar. By the interwar years, department store displays and popular periodicals had become the main avenues for raising consumer desires and propagating a new American standard of living. Loewy demonstrated a talent for both of these formats of commercial design.
By the 1930s, however, products themselves became more consciously designed to appeal to the consumer. Loewy was among the first cohort of professional designers to emerge during the Depression era. He offered independent consulting services to large American corporations. Loewy’s first industrial design commission in 1929 was to modernize a Gestetner duplicating machine. Other commissions from large corporations such as Westinghouse and the mail order firm Sears Roebuck soon followed. The design for their Coldspot refrigerator cemented his reputation and in 1937 he began to work with the Pennsylvania Railroad – his rail engine design was featured at the 1939/'40 World's Fair in New York. Loewy helped to pioneer the iconic, streamlined design that was a central aspect of “consumer engineering,” the design and marketing of goods to create consumer demand.
While postwar debates over design frequently emphasized the differences between ascetic European functionalism and the superfluous playfulness of American mass-produced goods, both commercial cultures drew on common interwar influences. After the war, Loewy became the face of “American” consumer design in Europe, appearing on the covers of magazines such as Germany’s Der Spiegel and selling his ideas through books and the European branch offices of his design bureau. During the 1970s, Loewy acted as a consultant on automobile and other product designs for the Soviet Union. By that time, he had begun to focus primarily on the European market. While he was widely regarded as a proponent of quintessentially “American” design forms, Loewy never gave up his close connections to France, where he maintained business connections and a second residence. Through his network of design offices as well as through his media prominence Loewy was anexemplary transatlantic communicator in the consumer design field.