Born in New York in 1907, the son of a French-Italian father and an American mother, the architect, furniture, textile and interior designer Alexander Girard (more affectionately known as Sandro) is best know for his work for Herman Miller (1952 – 1975). As head of their fabric and textile division he worked and became close friends with George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames and formed a team that has profoundly influenced interior design throughout the world.
The early 1950s was a time when fabrics - especially those used in offices - were utilitarian, dull, drab and typically pattern-less. Girard said at the time “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure colour”.
His initial fabric line was based on plain upholsteries along with geometric drapery prints, circles, stripes and triangles. He continued to create more patterns that were heavily influenced and inspired by folk art. After discovering a 19th century textile mill in central Mexico Girard created a line of 100% handwoven cottons, developing a range of “mexidots” and “mexistripes” in an array of colours. These were used in many of his projects and inspired pieces remain popular today in collections of cushions and blankets to suit modern homes.
His passion and love for international folk art took him around the world and he amassed a collection of approximately 106,000 pieces or 'toys' as he called them. It was these colourful, whimsical objects - along with ethnic textiles - that were his source of inspiration for his designs, patterns and colour combinations. Girard’s wooden dolls are iconic pieces that sit as comfortably in a contemporary home as they do in one influenced by folk art or ethnic motifs.
In 1959 Girard's designed La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York. His work amazed and excited the public with the entire dining experience, from the interior to the place settings and staff uniforms, being designed and created by Girard. Charles and Ray Eames were included within the restaurant overhaul and introduced fabric covered fibreglass pedestal tables and chairs, a very avant-garde look for the era.
The Girard Foundation was established in 1962 in Santa Fe by Alexander and his wife Susan to house their immense collection of over 100,000 folk art toys, dolls and icons. In 1978 the Girards donated the collection to the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The 'Girard Wing' was designed by Girard himself and is aptly named Multiple Visions: A Common Bond.
In 1965 Girard replicated the success of La Fonda del Sol restaurant by designing over 17,500 different items, from the logos to the lounge furniture for Braniff International Airways. Re-branding the company with the now iconic campaign “The End of the Plain Plane”, he chose a vivid colour palette to ensure the planes were instantly recognisable from the ground.
Alexander Girard died in 1993 followed by his wife five years later. She gifted Girard's collection of textiles along with the contents of his studio containing hundreds of drawings, prototypes and textiles samples, to the Vitra Design Museum.