Alexander Girard became director of design for Herman Miller’s textile division in 1952, a time when fabrics, especially in the office, tended toward the utilitarian, drab and pattern-less. “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure colour,” Girard commented at the time.
At Herman Miller, Girard had the freedom to express himself. With primary colours, concise geometric patterns and a touch of humour, he injected joy and spontaneity into his designs. During his tenure, he created over 300 textile designs in multitudes of colourways, wallpapers, prints, furniture and objects. Girard’s work with Herman Miller continued until 1973 and included spicing up the Action Office system with a series of decorative panel fabrics.
Born in New York City and raised in Florence, Girard was educated in Europe as an architect. He began practising architecture and interior design in the late 1920s. The exhibition he curated for the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1949, “For Modern Living”, celebrated postwar modernism. Girard developed a friendship with Charles Eames in the 1940s, when the two men realised they had coincidently designed almost identical modern radio cabinets and were both experimenting with plywood chairs.
Girard’s reputation soared in 1959, when his zestful interior design of the La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York electrified the public. He designed the entire experience for the restaurant – interior, graphics, place settings and staff uniforms. Girard reprised the feat for Braniff International Airways in the mid-1960s, designing no less than 17,543 different items, from logo to lounge furniture.
Girard’s risky, sometimes iconoclastic fabrics were inspired not by a vision of the future but by a love of international folk art. His passion for what he called “toys” led him around the globe, amassing a collection of roughly 106,000 pieces. These colourful, whimsical objects inspired him, as his designs continue to inspire us.
Gold Medal, Barcelona Exhibition, 1929
Fabric Competition, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1946
St Louis Memorial Competition, Winning Team Member, 1948
Trail Blazer Award, Home Fashion League of New York, 1952
Silver Medal, Architectural League of New York, 1962
Elise de Wolfe Award, New York Chapter of American Institute of Interior Designers, 1966
Governor’s Award, Outstanding Contribution to Fine Arts in New Mexico, 1981
Designer’s West/Ray Bradbury Creativity Award, 1987