Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg
Design: Coldspot Six Refrigerator
Designer: Raymond Loewy (French-American, 1893-1986)
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Sears, Roebuck & Company
Background: Although early Modernist designers like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mies Van Der Rohe tend to receive the lion’s share of admiration from today’s design enthusiasts and historians, their direct influence and fame were, at least early-on, relegated mostly to European avant garde circles. If one is looking for the true forefather of contemporary industrial design and the creator of western consumer culture as we know it—one need look to the French-American designer, Raymond Loewy.
An absolute game-changer in the American and global design world, Raymond Loewy was one of the first designers to rise to the level of superstardom—gracing the cover of Life magazine and becoming a household name during his time. Despite their use of modern industrial materials, Loewy’s designs were a far cry from the functional, “less is more” objects of European Modernists. Imbued with a decidedly futuristic look, his objects appealed more to human emotions and senses than ergonomic or functional needs. Rising to prominence during the Great Depression, Loewy’s designs were of particular interest to industrial manufacturers, desperate for new ways to get costumers engaged, to make them purchase items that they didn’t necessarily need. Loewy’s designs were largely cosmetic, projecting ideas about modernity through streamlined casings that were reminiscent of planes, trains and rocket ships.
Even if the technology inside of his designs was slow to change, their exterior cosmetic touches gave the impression of newness, thus ushering in the modern notion of manufactured obsolescence. Sears Roebuck’s Coldspot refrigerator had in fact been in existence for six years prior to Raymond Loewy’s involvement with it. This particular iteration, however, was the first to feature an intentionally futuristic, streamlined casing, something that made it a must-have item in American households. It is one of the first household appliances to be marketed solely for its appearance, a strong selling point that has continued to be more or less uninterrupted to this day.