The 1950s were a good time to be a Swiss graphic designer in Italy. The country was booming, and progressive manufacturers like Olivetti and Pirelli were interested in humanizing their products in an era of rapid postwar industrialization. But Italy had few formal design schools of its own, creating an opportunity for graduates from neighboring countries. Lora Lamm was one of these enterprising immigrants, moving in 1953 from Zurich to Milan, where she set about creating a pitch-perfect hybrid of Swiss rationalism and Italian exuberance.
A 2015 portrait of Lora Lamm with her work, by Gina Folly
Lamm landed first at the legendary Studio Boggeri, where she designed wrapping paper, but soon moved on to designing chocolate wrappers for confectioner Angelo Motta. In 1954, she joined fellow expat Max Huber in the creative offices of the high-end department store La Rinascente. Working diligently, she took on designs for the store's catalogs, posters, advertisements, packaging and new product promotions. When Huber left the store four years later, Lamm took over his role as director of the graphics department, where she oversaw advertising campaigns that were defined by her cheerful illustrations and energetic lettering.
Lamm also lent her charming graphic style to independent clients like Elizabeth Arden, Pirelli and Olivetti, imbuing their advertisements with her signature effervescence. While her earlier fashion work at La Rinascente was based on her playful drawings, Lamm's advertising work for others often employed witty photographs or collages to grab the viewer's attention, such as in her humorous "rolle" advertisement for Pirelli tires. Beyond attention-grabbing graphics, she was keen to employ an array of production techniques for the best creative output—for instance, she liked using photograms (images made without a camera, by placing objects directly on photographic paper) for the way they elegantly reproduced shadows during the printing process.
Poster advertisement for Pirelli (photo by Serge Libiszewski), 1961
Poster advertisement for Pirelli, 1960
Many of Lamm's biographies trail off around 1963, when she returned to Zurich in hopes of securing a visa to work in America. When the visa didn't come through, she joined the advertising office of Frank Thiessing, becoming his business partner (and eventually his wife) but refusing to continue in her trademark Swiss-Italian style. "When I came back from Milan everyone expected a certain style from me. However, I did not want to answer to those expectations," Lamm explained in a recent interview with Apartamento magazine. "What I had done in Milan could not simply be repeated in Zurich. I believe that you risk copying yourself when you follow a certain style. It did not seem sincere. That does not mean that I was not as busy as a bee—I was closely collaborating with clients and partners, ranging from fighter jet producers to printers."
Poster advertisement for La Rinascente, 1957
Despite her long and varied post-Milan career, Lamm is best remembered for her midcentury work—the focus of an exhibition of her posters opening tomorrow at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. The 87-year-old is also being honored this month as a recipient of the Swiss Grand Award for Design for her dedication to advancing Swiss design nationally and internationally—a fitting tribute to a woman whose work has crossed both boundaries and borders.