Going Public: Creation and Dissemination of the Designer’s Identity
From immigrant illustrator to spokesperson for Rolex, advertising alone reveals Raymond Loewy’s head-spinning trajectory to fame in the mid-20th century. His rags-to-riches tale appealed to clients, the media, and consumers themselves. Loewy’s status in fact had less to do with the products he designed and more to do with the appealing aura that he created around them—and around himself—in a period when mass consumption and mass communication became co-dependent.
Today these same kind of designer “myths”—stories and images that are repeated and exponentially amplified, particularly through social media—generate a form of celebrity that often clouds a critique of the designer’s work. In addition, designers who have achieved recognition beyond their profession have a disproportionate platform, not only becoming de facto representatives of the industry but also gaining unparalleled access to power.
Publicists, clients, and the media may all play a role in the creation and dissemination of a designer’s public identity. For example, the in-house publicist for Raymond Loewy, Betty Reese, helped him secure features in Life magazine, Reader’s Digest, and the cover of Time all in the course of six months in 1949. Umbra, a Canadian household accessories company, allowed designer Karim Rashid to add his signature and image to what became a best-selling product, launching the designer’s own trademark. And it’s not just the camera that loves designer Yves Behar—the media does too, affording the designer and his work massive exposure. These players, all foreign-born males working in America, are considered, along with the issue of gender in self-promotion.