La Rinascente, Pirelli, FIAT
This text is an updated version of the essay Swiss Style Made in Italy: Graphic Design across the Border, published in Mapping Graphic Design History in Switzerland, edited by Robert Lzicar and Davide Fornari, Triest Verlag, Zurich 2016. La Rinascente was not only a department store but, thanks to the concentration of intellectuals and artists who worked there in the 1950s and 1960s, it became a laboratory for the promotion of the design culture in a country where universities of applied arts and schools of design did not exist. Lora Lamm (Arosa 1928), following the advice of Frank Thiessing, moved from Zurich to Milan in 1953, and after a short time at Studio Boggeri as a substitute for Aldo Calabresi, she worked for Motta. Thanks to Thiessing, a friend of Max Huber, she joined the advertising office of La Rinascente in 1954. The Milan department store also acted as an advocate of design culture, both trading furniture and objects from around the world and by awarding the best projects with the Compasso d’Oro, which La Rinascente established in 1954 and managed for a decade, before passing it to ADI, the Italian Association for Industrial Design. 1. Höger 2007: 38–43; Lamm and Ossanna Cavadini 2013: 10–27. For five years, Lora Lamm worked exclusively for La Rinascente providing a vast repertoire of images, not just through her excellent illustrations, but also with typographic compositions and photographs.
Her works created a “Rinascente style,” which to Carlo Vinti represented a “third way” with respect to the two corporate image paradigms the time: on one hand the Nordic, rational approach, and on the other the Anglo-Saxon, conceptual and humorous style. Lora Lamm’s “third way” combines a large number of references, not only Swiss or Italian, but also American. 2. Vinti 2013: 36. Starting from 1959, Lora Lamm worked as an independent graphic designer for Pirelli, Arden, Niggi, until her return to Zurich in 1963, when she began to work with Thiessing: a departure which came from the perception that this “cultural season was over.” 3. Lamm and Ossanna Cavadini 2013: 150.
Like Lora Lamm, Serge Libiszewski (St. Gallen 1930 – Borgonovo Val Tidone 2019) – known in Italy as Sergio Libis – formerly employed in the office of Müller-Brockmann, 4. Müller 2001: 32. moved to Milan in 1956, upon Max Huber’s invitation. 5. Cataluccio 2015. Libis worked at the advertising office of the department store La Rinascente, renewing their photographic communication. In 1962 he opened his own professional studio devoted to still-life and fashion photography, portraits, and images for advertising in general. Among his clients Olivetti, Pirelli, Alfa Romeo, Citroën, Bosch, Giorgio Armani and Prenatal: “Sergio Libis has created a personal and extremely recognisable style, in which photography is never the result of a simple click but of a ‘concept’.” 6. Ossanna Cavadini 2010: 9.
Several Swiss graphic designers worked in the studio of Franco Grignani, a former assistant of Studio Boggeri, despite the fact that Grignani considered Swiss graphic design overly static. 7. Sonnoli 2014. He was also the director of the Alfieri & Lacroix print house, previously managed by Antonio Boggeri – a part of Grignani’s signature style is linked to his experiments with photocomposition. 8. Polano and Vetta 2003: 178-187. Among the employees of the studio was Ruedi Külling (Zurich 1935), who, after studying at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (1951–1956) worked in Milan for Grignani between 1955–1957. 9. Richter 2007: 24. Of that short period he recalls: “In the late 1950s the Milan scene was so fascinating for us graphic designers, it opened a new dimension.” 10. Lamm and Ossanna Cavadini 2013: 163. After other experiences with leading advertising agencies in the United States and Switzerland, Külling created his own studio and a watch brand, Xemex, dealing with with all creative aspects from product design to advertising. 11. Odermatt 1998: 90. Gottfried “Godi” Leiser (Rorschach 1920 – Maur 2009) worked in the studio of Grignani in the period 1954–1955, and he had always been interested in designing for car companies, in which he specialised on his return to Switzerland. For Alfieri & Lacroix he designed a series of posters significantly different from the style of Grignani. 12. Richter 2007: 24; Leiser 2009; Feusi 2010.
A variety of private clients interested in the innovative graphic language and professional precision of Swiss designers existed in Italy: Olivetti, Pirelli and Italsider are examples of “industrial style,” of collaboration between companies and graphic designers. 13. Vinti 2007. In addition to Lora Lamm, other graphic designers worked with Pirelli due to the variety of registers in the company’s communication style: Max Huber, Walter Ballmer and in particular Gerhard Forster (Schaffhausen 1937 – Lugano 1986), who arrived in Italy in 1963, after studying at the Kunstgewerbeschule of Basel and Zurich and winning a competition organised by the company. He designed posters and in-house magazines for three years: 14. Waibl 1988: 178-179; Vinti 2007: 216. his works became classics, with one piece being acquired by MoMA in New York, which curiously considers Forster an Italian author. 15. See: moma.org/collection/works/6039?artist_id=1947&page=1&sov_referrer=artist (last accessed 23 March 2023). After Pirelli, he worked for FIAT for fifteen years, dealing with advertising campaigns for different models. 16. Odermatt 1998: 48.
Jean Robert (La Chaux-de-Fonds 1945 – Zurich 2016) worked at Pirelli from 1968 to 1972, after which he was active at Pentagram studio (1972–1976). 17. Hunziker 2016. On his return to Switzerland he founded his own office with Käti Durrer, and in the period 1983–1989 designed the first 350 models of Swatch watches, becoming a member of AGI in 1986. His brother François Robert (La Chaux-de-Fonds 1946) worked for a period in Italy and then moved to South Africa and the United States, mainly working as a photographer.
The car company FIAT adopted different communication policies and hired other graphic designers, partly due to an aversion to Olivetti for political reasons: 18. The Swiss designer Anna Monika Jost (Klosters-Serneus 1944) is a brilliant exception, having worked for Walter Ballmer during his period as art director at Olivetti in 1965–1967, and later at FIAT in 1970–1971. Her work definitely deserves much higher critical attention, also as one of the few women designers in Italy during the 1960s. while the relationship between management and workers was highly confrontational at FIAT, Olivetti had tried to forge an alliance between all the company’s stakeholders. 19. Fiorentino 2014.
Felix Humm (Basel 1945) moved to Milan at the age of 21 to supervise the visual communication of FIAT Italy for the Basel-based agency Reiwald, already responsible for the communication of FIAT Suisse. After switching from Turin to Milan and a period with Studio Boggeri, Felix Humm opened his own office in Milan, working for both Italian and Swiss clients such as the Swiss Cultural Centre in Milan, the Swiss Institute in Rome, Stefanel, FIAT, Scuola Holden, Cassina, Molteni, Armani. His work is inextricably linked to the traditions of Swiss and Italian typography. 20. Camuffo, De Luca and Girardi 2004; Richter 2007: 80; Georgi and Minnetti 2011: 63. However, when questioned on the subject, he said: “I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as a ‘Swiss’ graphic design style. Swiss graphic design is derived from a mix of the Russian Constructivism of El Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhaus, Piet Zwart’s de Stijl, the Neue Graphik of Jan Tschichold and Max Bill’s first Ulm School of Design.” 21. Ibidem.
Milan After the Boom
During the 1960s, Italian and Swiss alumni of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (Pio Manzù, Giovanni Anceschi, Rodolfo Bonetto, Franco Clivio) influenced the Italian debate with an innovative point of view, linked to standards, methods, information theory and semiotics. Tomás Maldonado continued the research carried out in Ulm, where he was director, in creating new educational programs in Italy, in an ideal connection to the Bauhaus. 22. “Casabella” 1978; Spitz 2013; Hollis 2014: 203-204.
The Italian context was directly or indirectly influenced by the results of Swiss educational curricula, such as that created first by Bill and then by Maldonado in Ulm, or that of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, where Oliviero Toscani (Milan 1942) studied on the recommendation of Sergio Libis, 23. Bianda and Ossanna Cavadini 2010. and Salvatore Gregorietti (Palermo 1941), whose work with Vignelli and later as an independent designer relied on the exploitation of the International Typographic Style. 24. Waibl 1988: 188-189.
In addition to Swiss graphic designers, a number of Swiss copywriters and advertising professionals were active in Italy: Amneris Liesering Latis (Massagno 1924 – Milan 2012) had followed her husband, an Italian of Jewish descent, back to Milan after the Second World War, and from 1954, she worked as head of the advertising office at La Rinascente, dealing with the annual events dedicated to specific countries. 25. Manzoni 2012; Lamm and Ossanna Cavadini 2013: 164-165. Till Neuburg, graphic designer, typographer and copywriter, a former member of Unimark, is still active as a writer and advocate for design culture within the ADCI, the Italian Art Directors Club. Several Swiss agencies, such as GGK (Gerstner, Gredinger, Kutter) and BBV (Baur, Baviera, Vetter), were also active in Italy managing their Swiss clients locally, while other Swiss designers opened their own agencies, such as the aforementioned CBC, or STZ in Milan. 26. Galluzzo 2018. Friedrich “Fritz” Tschirren (Steckborn 1943), moved to Milan in 1965 to represent the agency GGK 27. Elliott 2014. and eventually founded the highly successful advertising agency STZ (1975–2013) with Hans Rudolf Suter and Valeria Zucchini. 28. Morganti 2011: 12.Raymond Gfeller was equally employed at GGK Milan, and after many experiences abroad eventually settled in Milan, working as a painter and illustrator. Peter Gogel was active as an editorial designer, collaborating with, for example, the Italian art director and graphic designer Anita Klinz during the 1970s.
Peter Vetter (Rorschach 1946) worked in Milan since 1968 for La Rinascente, Upim, J.C. Penney, collaborating with Tomás Maldonado and studying at Politecnico di Milano, as well as the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera. He founded the studio BIT in 1976, which became the Italian branch of BBV, the international studio (with other offices in Zurich and Lyon) including Ruedi Baur (Paris 1956) and Michael Baviera (Zurich 1946–2014).
In 1989, Christoph Marti (Basel 1959) founded, together with the Italian designer Laura Massa, the Milan-based agency Massa & Marti, particularly active in the field of editorial design and visual identity. 29. Fioravanti, Passarelli and Sfligiotti 1997: 185. In 2000, the agency Massa & Marti merged with the Swiss-German Lesch+Frei, giving life to a company specialised in corporate identity design projects based in Milan, Zurich and Frankfurt.
Giancarlo Iliprandi (Milan 1925–2016) has closely observed almost all the protagonists of Italian graphic design: “The late 1950s and 1960s were a particularly fertile time in Italy […] many people were attracted by the situation, including the Swiss.” 30. Georgi and Minnetti 2011: 60. Among the differences between Italian and Swiss graphic design, Iliprandi notes that “graphic design in Switzerland was already seen as a profession, while here we were still considered ‘advertising artists’.” 31. Ibidem.
An Open Conclusion
The relationship between Italian and Swiss graphic design is extremely close, although perhaps not in the terms traditionally adopted by historians and critiques. In addition, many other foreign designers have worked in Italy, due to the economic importance of industrial design. 32. Gallanti 2013. Over time, many designers have moved to Italy, founding studios and successful brands or collaborating with Italian clients and institutions: Japanese designers (Isao Hosoe, Makio Hasuike, Kazuyo Komoda), British designers (James Irvine, James Clough, Perry King), American designers (Milton Glaser), Dutch designers (Bob Noorda, Ko Sliggers), designers with an Austrian background (Ettore Sottsass, Christoph Radl), Spanish designers (Santiago Miranda). However, no national community can be compared to the Swiss one for its crucial role in influencing methods and facilitating changes in languages and forms that represented an idea of modernity.
As already pointed out, the Italian context had begun a fruitful cultural exchange with the rest of Europe, yet some limitations persisted: on one hand, graphic design could hardly be perceived as a discipline in its own right, on the other hand, it was regarded as merely at the service of advertising and marketing.33. Dorfles 2001: 43; Maldonado 1995: 81-86.
Not necessarily, however, can the dissemination of the International Typographic Style or Swiss Style be attributed to the Swiss graphic designers active in Italy. The promoter and initiator of such a style was undoubtedly Massimo Vignelli, together with the Unimark International agency, founded by Vignelli, Noorda and other partners (New York, Chicago, Milan, 1965–1977). 34. Conradi 2010. The studio was crucial in spreading modernist tenets in graphic design, rejecting the idea of the graphic designer as an artist. The presence of Herbert Bayer (Haag am Hausruck 1900 – Montecito 1985) as a member of the agency’s first board of directors should be seen as a strong connection to the Bauhaus tradition.
Perhaps there is very little Switzerland in the international version of Swiss Style, or perhaps a Swiss Style does not exist at all. 35. Georgi and Minnetti 2011: 63.
The supporter and advocate of the Helvetica typeface in Italy was again Massimo Vignelli, who convinced the Nava printing house to buy the typographical series in Switzerland, while Max Huber continued using Futura or Bodoni for a long time. 36. Ivi: 62. In general, Unimark, Signo and Vignelli employed a reduction of colours, typefaces, and shapes: a set of rules that do not mirror Swiss graphic design, but rather seem like a strict application of some of the principles of Swiss and Italian graphic design. 37. Gruppo Signo Comunicazione Totale 1981.
However, what Giovanni Anceschi claimed is still valid: “A carefully detailed history of Italian graphics has still to be written.” 38. Anceschi 1981: 6. That part of history at the intersection of Switzerland and Italy is worth thorough insights, partly in order to dispel those reported oral traditions that have become “truth” over time. In his book The Roots of Italian Visual Communication, Heinz Waibl included eight Swiss designers in an anthology of eighty-two graphic designers: ten percent of the key figures of visual communication in Italy are Swiss (Xanti Schawinsky, Max Huber, Carlo Vivarelli, Aldo Calabresi, Lora Lamm, Gerhard Forster, Walter Ballmer, and Bruno Monguzzi). In many cases, the work of Swiss and Italian graphic designers is mixed and intertwined to such an extent that the “national” components cannot be distinguished. The German design theorist Hans Höger writes: “This osmosis worked so well that today – in Italy in any case – it would scarcely […] come into anyone’s head to call personalities like Max Huber or Walter Ballmer Swiss designers (rather than Italian designers).” 39. Höger 2007: 42. “In Italy” – Richard Hollis writes – “it was difficult to separate what was Italian from what was imported from neighbouring Switzerland.” 40. Hollis 2006: 255. But what can we say about an Italian organisation, such as La Rinascente, which founded the most important design award in Italy, the Compasso d’Oro, and which at the highest point of its history employed Amneris Liesering, from Lugano, as head of advertising, Max Huber, from the Canton of Zug, as an art director and Lora Lamm, from Arosa, as a graphic designer?
Ticino had seen the debut of Hans “Giovanni” Mardersteig (Weimar 1892 – Verona 1977) as an Italian-language publisher, with his private press Officina Bodoni set in Montagnola between 1922 and 1927. 41. Barr 1978; Mardersteig and Schmoller 1979. As for the rest, the situation was similar to that in neighbouring Italy, in terms of poster production, 42. Fazioli and Galli 1982. with the exceptional presence of Imre Reiner (Versec 1900 – Lugano 1982) who worked both for Studio Boggeri and with his wife on a variety of fields within graphic design. 43. Reiner and Reiner-Bauer 1947; Besomi 1984; Zambelloni 1994; Wild 2006; Früh 2008. Yet the role of Ticino has grown over time with the establishment of CSIA (Educational Centre for Artistic Industry), with such teachers as Max Huber and Bruno Monguzzi, and more recently, since 1997, the bachelor’s degree in Visual Communication at SUPSI (University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland). The schools formed several generations of graphic designers who were active mostly in Northern Italy before going back to Ticino and founding their own professional agencies. Nevertheless, these Swiss-Italian designers have received little attention so far. 44. Galli 2015: 201–202. Daniele Buzzi (Locarno 1890 – Lausanne 1974), Hans Tomamichel (Bosco Gurin 1899 – Zurich 1984), Franco Barberis (Lugano 1905 – Locarno 1992), Udo Elzi (Locarno 1932), Romano Chicherio (Thun 1933 – Zermatt 1983), Emilio Rissone (Viganello 1933–2017), Armando Losa (Locarno 1936 – Lugano 2016), Aoi Huber Kono (Tokyo 1936), Francesco Milani (Basel 1937), Carlo “Kiki” Berta (Bellinzona 1938), Orio Galli (Milan 1941), Sergio Michels (Lugano 1941), Antonio Tabet (Milan 1941), Alberto Bianda (Freiburg 1955), Renato Tagli (Locarno 1956), Sabina Oberholzer (Locarno 1958), Alessandra Dal Ben (Origlio 1964), Michele Jannuzzi (Naples 1967) and Paolo Jannuzzi (Naples 1970) represent different generations of graphic designers active in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, who would deserve critical and historical attention, besides the already-mentioned key figure of Bruno Monguzzi (Mendrisio 1941).
Overall, the presence of Swiss graphic designers accompanies the evolution of the Italian industrial system to its maturity – with the birth of “Made in Italy,” a widespread quality attributed to Italian serial products – and beyond, to its slow decline. Yet a comprehensive history, analysing in parallel what happened in the same periods in Switzerland and Italy, in order to evaluate international relations and reciprocal influences, seems more necessary than ever. Figures of graphic designers such as Max Schneider, René Martinelli, Ruedi Külling, Godi Leiser, Imre Reiner and many more, who remain in the background of a scene occupied by pioneers, deserve further historical and critical investigation.
Similarly, clients such as FIAT and Alfieri & Lacroix, or the works by agencies such as CBC, STZ and BBV remain widely unexplored. Only a comparative and historical analysis can illuminate the perception that Switzerland had of the Italian school and vice versa, as well as the mutual impact. Aspects such as commissioning, professional organisations and reactions to the invasion of other advertising practices, such as those of American agencies, are still open issues with a profound influence on the state of graphic design in Italy and in Switzerland today.
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