16 December 2009


1950s, 1960s, Italy, Lora Lamm, Pirelli

Design Pioneer: Lora Lamm

In the written history of mid-century Italian and Swiss Graphic Design, Lora Lamm’s name is often overlooked. Although born in Arosa, Switzerland in 1928, Lamm was a major contributor to the Milanese design style of Italy during the 1950s and 1960s. This post-war period in Milan, distinguished by its intellectual and progressive attitudes, booming economy and companies open to new ways of communication, attracted many design figures from Switzerland. Xanti Schawinsky, Max Huber, Carlo Vivarelli, Walter Ballmer, Aldo Calabresi and Bruno Monguzzi (to name a few) all moved to Milan (1933, 1940, 1946, 1946, 1954 and 1961, respectively) and were employed by the influential Studio Boggeri, founded in 1933 by Antonio Boggeri.

Many innovative companies such as Pirelli (rubber and tire company) and La Rinascente (Italy’s most elegant department store) followed in the footsteps of Olivetti (manufacturer of business machines) establishing advertising and communications departments, open to creating relationships with a diverse group of designers. Additional companies including Roche, Glaxo and Dompé (pharmaceutical companies), Alfieri & Lacroix (printers and typesetters), Einaudi (publisher) also used new design talent in their marketing and advertising promotions.

After studying at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich (School of Arts and Crafts), whose graduates also included Huber, and working for various agencies, Lora Lamm moved to Milan to work for Studio Boggeri in 1953 with the goal of finding interesting graphic design work. She received small assignments such as designing wrapping paper and packaging for confectioner company, Motta. In 1954, Huber gave Lamm the opportunity to work for the advertising and communications department at La Rinascente. Huber was an established designer at La Rinascente, having designed their logo and introducing a new, integrated visual appearance to the company through the use of coordinated uniforms and a “house” typeface - Futura bold. Lamm’s contribution to La Rinascente included catalogs, posters, advertisements, invitations, mailers, packaging and other publicity (figs 1, 2, 4, 8).

In 1956, Lamm designed promotional materials for the important Il Giappone (“Japan”) exhibit, promoting new products being sold at La Rinascente from Japan (fig 3). Using the screens of the exhibit as the major component of the campaign’s printed matter, Lamm created a geometric design of traditional Japanese colors. The playful and experimental nature of her work would translate into other designs, particularly when she started using drawing and illustration. Her pictorial designs, inspired by international magazines, are well-balanced, colorful, noticeable at a glance and generate a sense of wonder and excitement for the viewer. Her light and whimsical posters and ads were successful in appealing to a female audience, undoubtedly a goal for the department store. Lamm also used photography or photograms, but always considered the technical printing restraints of the era. Her designs still endure, looking as fresh and modern today as they did in the 1950s and 1960s.

From 1958 - 1962, after Huber left La Rinascente, Lamm was the head of the creative department. At the same time, she carried out assignments for Pirelli, Elizabeth Arden (cosmetics), Olivetti and other Italian companies (figs 5-7). Eventually in 1963, she returned to Zurich as partner at Frank C. Thiessing, BSR., handling exhibition and packaging design and freelancing. This later work is little known or documented. However, Lamm’s early work is a testament to the adventurous design coming out of Milan. Her role as a pioneering woman designer is an inspiration and her body of graphic design work is the legacy of a creative spirit.

Selected Sources:

Dorfles, Gillo. “Lora Lamm.” Graphis 90 (July/Aug. 1960): 330-335, 354.

Hollis, Richard. Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style, 1920-1965. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

L’Ufficio Moderno. Pubblicità in Italia 1957-1958, 1958-1959, 1959-1960. Milan, 1958, 1959, 1960.

Museum Fur Gestaltung Zurich. Poster Collection Zurich - Milano. Baden: Lars Muller Publishers, 2007.

Waibl, Heinz. Alle Radici della Communicazione Visiva Italiana. Como: Centro di Cultura Grafics Como, 1988.