As director of design for Herman Miller’s textile division in 1952, Alexander Girard introduced colour and pattern when both were considered radical. The post-war period was an era of often stringent Minimalism, when, as Girard put it, ‘People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure colour.’ Strange then that his ideas were inspired not by the prevailing aesthetic, but by the spontaneity and directness of folk art, of which he was an avid collector.
Born in New York City and raised in Florence, Girard was educated as an architect in Europe. Back in the US, his break came in 1949 when he designed the For Modern Living show at the Detroit Institute of Arts. In 1956 came his striking interior for La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York’s Time Life building, and in 1965 his overhaul of Braniff Airlines where everything – from stationery to sugar packets – was redesigned.
One of his biggest projects, which pre-empted today’s trend for lifestyle shops by some 40-odd years, was the 1961 Textiles & Objects store in New York. Girard’s trawl of objects from around the world was on sale, alongside his textiles and furniture by Herman Miller designers. And it’s probably for his work for Herman Miller and Charles Eames that he will be remembered. ‘We are not machines,’ he wrote at the time. ‘We see, touch and remember – activities that are of far greater importance and in far greater need of consideration than our purely practical functions in life.’
The Alexander Girard bicycle seats by Electra are available this month from Bobbin Bicycles, Arlington Way, London EC1, priced £35