All-American Style Makers
What is All-American Style? Ask 100 people, and you’ll get 100 different answers. To me, it exemplifies a sense of optimism, inventive spirit, and freedom of expression. American style makers draw upon the old and new, deftly injecting their individual personalities and cultural backgrounds into the mix. This convergence creates something that is uniquely American—preserving our past, while focusing on the future.
As I ponder the title of this article, a number of influential names come to mind. These individuals continue to make significant contributions to American fashion, interior design, and architecture. This abbreviated list includes key style makers of the 20th century—each of which reflect my interpretation of All-American Style.
Ralph Lauren, a New York City native, was born on October 14, 1939 and raised in the Bronx. His clothing and home furnishings empire are the embodiment of All-American Style.
Not bad for someone who started with $50,000 and a line of men’s ties. He parlayed that line of ties into Polo Ralph Lauren, RLX, RRL, Rugby, Denim & Supply, Collection, Lauren Lauren Home and his line of signature paints.
From the very beginning, his designs brought to mind the East Coast collegiate and horsey set. Initially, his men’s clothing line was heavy on tweed and elbow patches and his women’s line featured classic suiting with menswear details. In 1972, he hit a home run with the polo—a cotton pique, short-sleeved sports shirt, featuring an embroidered polo player in place of a breast pocket.
Things really took off for Lauren after the release of The Great Gatsby in 1974. He was responsible for the male character's costumes, using actual pieces from his clothing line.
His business acumen has kept the company relevant and its products in high demand since day one. The ability to remain true to the Ralph Lauren image in an industry that thrives on constant change is a testament to popularity of his classic All-American style.
To his detractors: I would suspect most people reading this have, at one time or another, owned a pair of socks, polo shirt or something bearing one of RL’s logos.
Sister Parish, known for her unique take on All-American Style, was a sought-after interior designer with absolutely no formal training. She was born in New Jersey in 1910, to parents with ties to New York, Maine and Paris. The upbringing nurtured her love of antiques, art and fine living.
In a career that spanned six decades, Sister Parish created a design philosophy that employed an artful combination of elegance and Americana. She was inspired by the likes of Colefax, Fowler and Lancaster. English country largely influenced her interior designs, but so did painted flooring, worn furniture pieces and vintage collectibles.
Sister Parish’s storied career began during the early years of the Depression. As a result of the family financial troubles, she decided to start her own business, which was daring for women of the time. Over the years, her interior design business grew through referrals. Parish’s resume boasts impressive clients such as, Getty, Annenberg, Mellon, Vanderbilt, Paley, Rockefeller and Kennedy.
Critics were turned off by what they termed as Parish’s proclivity for lush excess. But her legion followers appreciated the nostalgic sentiment of her rooms. Her All-American Style appealed to clients who cherished the past, as well as the comforts of modern day life.
She mixed periods and design styles effortlessly. A Parish room exuded comfortable luxury. When she completed a room design, it didn’t look newly decorated. Parish rooms gave the appearance of furnishings that had been thoughtfully accumulated over time. Parish is credited to creating what we term today as American Country Style.
Charles and Ray Eames
This dynamic duo of All-American Style are best known for their forward-thinking furniture design. However, they were also involved in designing children’s toys, teaching, writing, film making, industrial design and contributions to mid-century Los Angeles architecture.
Charles, and his wife Ray, moved into a Neutra apartment in Westwood in 1941 and immediately converted one room into a workshop to tweak and manufacture their organic plywood furniture creations.
Inspired by Finnish designer, and future collaborator Eero Saarinen, the Eameses perfected the expressive attitude toward design and lifestyle that meshed perfectly with the organic design movement of the time.
After their success with plywood furniture, they experimented with modern materials like plastic, fiberglass and aluminum. In the end, Charles said his favorites were their original plywood chairs. They also experimented, incorporating leather and fabric upholstery in their furniture—the modern fabric designs were contributions created by Ray.
Together, Charles and Ray Eames, designed a what is known as the most ground-breaking furniture of the mid to late 20th century. They were true innovators of All-American Design.
Greene and Greene
What is a better example of All-American Style than the American Craftsman bungalow? This humble architectural style changed the face of American cities and towns alike. Fine examples of these lovingly restored homes are in high demand and luckily, there are still many yet to be given a new lease on life.
California architects, Charles and Henry Greene are, in large part, responsible for the popular hand-crafted home style that swept the country during the early part of the 20th century.
Charles and Henry were born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1968 and 1870, respectively. They were educated on the East coast, with an emphasis on quality craftsmanship at a time when mass production was becoming more the norm. After completing their training, they moved out West and joined their parents in Pasadena, California. Soon after, they opened their architectural practice.
The Greene brothers' most famous undertaking was the grand Gamble house in Pasadena, which was completed in 1909. This iconic example of Craftsman architecture is a National Historic Landmark owned by the city of Pasadena. The home is operated by the University of Southern California and is open for public tours.
Greene & Greene were an architectural design force between the years of 1902 and 1910. During their heyday, the Greenes focused primarily on residential architecture. In addition to home plans, they expanded their offering to include a range of services, including home plans, construction supervision, plus design and creation of interior furnishings and decor. This nine-year span resulted in the completion of roughly 150 projects by the siblings.
Realizing modest versions of their designs could benefit the general population, Greene and Greene offered low-cost Bungalow plans via books and magazines. That helped spark national interest in the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The Greene brothers made the Bungalow widely available, making it an enduring example of All American Style.
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© 2012 Linda Chechar