Born in 1928, Lora Lamm is a well-known Swiss graphic designer. She had a career in graphic design for over 60 years and she is best known for her 10 years of work in Milan between 1953 and 1963. Milan had a thriving art scene in the fifties, with artists, architects, and designers coming from all around the world to work, and Lora Lamm was one of them. During her time in Italy, she explored various styles while perfecting her own.
The simplicity and clarity of Swiss graphic design and her cheerful personality defined her style. Her approach to design was a blend of typography and illustration with a clean layout where every single line had a purpose. She would use just three simple elements—lines, photography cut-outs, and text—to create a composition that was effective and eye-catching.
Education and Introduction to Graphic Design
Lora Lamm graduated from the prestigious Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Zurich. After her education, Lora Lamm moved to Milan and tried her luck in the Milanese professional scene. Milan, in the fifties, offered many cultural opportunities. Lora Lamm’s first graphic design job was at the famous Studio Boggeri, where she designed wrapping paper. After that, she designed packaging for boxes of nougat and chocolates for the confectioner Angelo Motta.
Post her time at Angelo Motta’s, Lora Lamm got the opportunity to showcase her talent while working on designing packaging, posters, and invitations for popular brands such as the La Rinascente Department Store and also independent clients like Pirelli, Olivetti, and Elizabeth Arden among others. She kept her designs for La Rinascente and Pirelli simple, using a clear and elegant layout with creative and humorous taglines. Lamm’s upbeat approach to design wasn’t just to satisfy the brief but was also a reflection of her own personality.
In 1958, Lora Lamm was made the head of the creative department of the La Rinascente Department Store. As the design head, she oversaw the various advertising campaigns for the store, and her cheerful illustrations and lettering became the face of the store. She worked there until 1962 and moved back to Zurich a year later where she became a member of Frank Thiessing’s design agency.
Experience at La Rinascente
“I was very lucky as I was able to work there during a key period of time. Everybody was eager to get back to work after the war – suppliers, employees, and colleagues. La Rinascente was part of this positive mood and rebirth process that was also aimed at inspiring people to buy modern products and enter a new historical phase.” — Lora Lamm about working at La Rinascente
In the fifties and the sixties, La Rinascente was a symbol of quality modern living. The departmental store had the most innovative promotions—organizing various events like fashion shows, garden events, or holiday celebrations that also brought the entire community together. Not only did the store have a highly qualified design team, but they also had collaborations with professional photographers and designers for their product promotions and events. All these events had theme-specific brochures, catalogues, posters, and wrapping paper which gave the design team many instances to explore their ideas.
During her time at the store, Lora Lamm was tasked with designing the store’s catalogues, advertisements, packaging, and new product promotions. La Rinascente also encouraged experiments in visuals and design and soon Lamm moved on from designing the wrapping paper to designing everything needed for the various exhibitions organized by the store. In 1956, the store conducted an exhibition dedicated to Japan, for which Lamm came up with minimalist posters and invitation cards featuring a photograph of a kokeshi doll.
Style and Philosophy
Lora Lamm’s time in Italy contributed significantly to shaping her style. Her Swiss design style taught to her during university, enhanced by her experiments in the Milanese environment, helped her create something that was truly her own. Lora Lamm’s style is bright and colourful and exudes positivity. She brings her concepts to life by using a blend of typography, illustrations, collage, and photography. Her designs are simple and concise and convey the message it’s meant to.
Advertising cultivates the relationship the customer has with the brand and Lora Lamm was one of the few designers who understood that advertising didn’t just mean selling a product. During her advertising career in Milan, she experimented with different typography styles in her work, ranging from sans serifs and serifs to grotesques, Bodoni, and even Swiss linear fonts.
Her working process would begin with sketching out a concept. She would start by making rough sketches using pencil or gouache in an A6 paper and move on to make her final piece using collage or photo composition with lettering. Sometimes she would even leave pencil marks on the final piece, to give it a sense of authenticity.
Influenced by the styles of designers like Piero Fornasetti, Bruno Munari, Giovanni Pintori, and Ilio Negri, Lora Lamm mirrored her personality on paper – creating a style with bright colours, elegance, and simplistic modern figures. Her core design ideology surrounded providing information effectively rather than attention-grabbing designs. Lamm would use photo collages and illustrations most often, but occasionally she would also use photograms (images made without a camera, by placing objects directly on photographic paper) for creating a play with shadows in her work.
“I never thought about my style,” Lamm states. “I thought about the product and then adapted my idea to it, and the way I interpreted the product then became my style.”
While working at La Rinascente, Lamm’s design was primarily focused on fashion. She would draw stylish female figures with just simple lines and dynamic strokes. One such poster she made for the store is a design she made for a summer campaign with a woman in a swimsuit swimming in the sea with a woman dressed in elegant clothes standing next to her.
While making this design, she had started by drawing a woman in a swimsuit but was unconvinced by the idea, so she threw it in the trash. Looking at it from a different angle above the trash can, an idea struck her and she drew another woman in an elegant dress next to her, creating the wildly successful poster for the campaign.
In 1963, Lora Lamm returned to Switzerland. She continued her career there, but she felt strongly against maintaining her Swiss-Italian style as it was, even though people asked for it. Even though her work speaks for itself, Lora Lamm is left out of conversations in the graphic design world. Her optimistic and very personal designs made her stand out in the field as a pioneering woman in a male-dominated arena, but she was always distant from her fellow designers.
She was busy as a bee, working for La Rinascente during the day, and working on projects for other clients at night. During holidays, she would go back to her home in the Alps. Besides, in the 1950s, it wasn’t common for a young, single, foreign girl to join a crowd of male friends and colleagues for drinks or dinner. But none of that takes away from the fact that she achieved so much in her time. She was awarded the Swiss Grand Award for Design in 2015 and all her work is still preserved today, curated by the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich.
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