Jack Lenor Larsen began weaving in 1945 while studying architecture and immediately fell in love. As he explained it, in architecture, he designed buildings that would probably never be built; in weaving, he was able to create something very real indeed. And thus began the story of one of the most influential textile design careers in American history.
Much of the rest of Larsen’s life feels like something out of a movie. Before finding fame, he taught Joan Crawford to weave during a stint teaching in Hollywood. Then, in 1952, he founded the Jack Lenor Larsen design house where he wove thoroughly modern textiles to match the popular modernist furniture and architecture of the 1950s. Up until then, there was no major design house creating modern cloth, so when Larsen started his company, he also started a design revolution still being felt today.
His textiles woven in random repeats with variegated yarns were wildly popular. Larsen’s clients included Marilyn Monroe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Pan American Airlines. Today it’s not surprising to see ikat or batik-inspired clothing and textiles in American stores, but there was a time when these techniques and the designs they produced were considered revolutionary. It was Jack Lenor Larsen who first introduced them to an American audience and to weavers eager to learn something new and exciting.
For those wanting to see some of Larsen’s work firsthand, The New York School of Interior Design is currently hosting a Jack Lenor Larsen retrospective through December 5, 2012. The exhibit will feature works spanning Larsen’s influential career, including pieces he designed for his exhibit at the Louvre.