Born in New York City and raised in Florence, Alexander Girard was educated in Europe as an architect and began practicing architecture and interior design in the late 1920s. In the 1940s, he developed a friendship with Charles Eames when the two men realized that, coincidently, they had both designed almost identical radio cabinets and both happened to be experimenting with plywood chairs. Later that decade, an exhibition Girard curated for the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1949—“For Modern Living”—included work by Charles and Ray Eames in its celebration of postwar modernism.
Girard became Director of Design for Herman Miller’s textile division in 1952, at a time when fabrics, especially in the office, tended toward the utilitarian and pattern-less. “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure color,” Girard commented at the time. At Herman Miller, Girard was given the freedom to express himself—and he did just that. With primary colors, concise geometric patterns, and a touch of humor, he injected joy and spontaneity into his designs. During his tenure, he created more than 300 textiles in multitudes of colorways, along with wallpapers, prints, furniture, and decorative objects.
Girard’s reputation soared in 1959 when his zestful interior design of the La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York electrified the public. He designed the entire experience for the restaurant—from interior to graphics to place settings and staff uniforms. Girard reprised the feat for Braniff International Airways in the mid-1960s, designing no fewer than 17,543 different items, logo to lounge furniture.
Girard’s work with Herman Miller continued until 1973. The risky, sometimes iconoclastic textiles and objects he designed were inspired by a love of international folk art. His passion for what he called “toys” led him around the globe amassing a collection of roughly 106,000 pieces—colorful, whimsical objects that inspired him, as his designs continue to inspire us.