Today, we celebrate the birthday of legendary architect, designer, artist, teacher and icon: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. "Mies," as he's often called, is one of our design heroes, and the inspiration behind our tailored shirt style, LUDWIG.
Mies had such an impact on modern design, art and thought that his approach – summarized by his legendary motto “less is more” – has become the very DNA of modernism.
His lifelong quest of finding beauty, elegance and movement with functional materials echoes SoMo's own mission. Mies' work was groundbreaking in re-imagining the possibilities of modern industrial materials like marble, glass and steel, paring them down to their most essential, powerful qualities – what he called “skin and bones” architecture. He elevated architecture to the level of art and saw its relationship to the surrounding environment in bold new ways.
With no formal design or architecture training, Mies learned to appreciate the integrity of building materials as an apprentice to his stonemason father. This early hands-on work became fundamental to his approach, and one that he’d pass on to his future students - that it was crucial to master an understanding of materials and the building process before stepping into design theory.
Mies used this early training to build his skills and vision. He eventually landed an apprenticeship at the studio of legendary architect Peter Behrens, alongside Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius who would one day invite Mies to become director of the Bauhaus School.
Mies became part of Germany’s avant-garde, envisioning architecture and design that offered useful solutions for the modern era through simplicity and spaciousness. In his view, modern life, and modern buildings, required a whole new architecture. As he put it:
"I have tried to make an architecture for a technological society. I have wanted to keep everything reasonable and clear--to have an architecture that anybody can do."
In 1929, his signature style found its form in the German Pavilion, at the International Exposition in Barcelona. (More commonly referred to as "the Barcelona Pavilion".) It was a revolution in marble, glass and steel. Stripping away elements, he left floor-to-ceiling glass exteriors, internal walls that could move, and an open air design that invited visitors to experience a new sense of space. In that enclosure, one was moved by what wasn’t there as much as what was.
Mies’ laser focus on expanding a modernist, minimalist era of design made him a natural candidate for director of the Bauhaus School in 1930. Beleaguered by the growing Nazi regime for being too radical, the school was able to survive another three years under Mies’ fiercely independent and apolitical leadership. But even he couldn’t prevent raids on their offices or demands to fire certain Jewish and communist-leaning instructors. The school closed in 1933.
By the end of the decade, Mies had emigrated to the US, where he influenced future generations through projects such as the legendary Farnsworth House with distinct echoes of the Barcelona Pavilion, the Seagram’s Building in New York City, Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive “Twin Towers” apartments and the Illinois Institute of Technology campus building, as well as by teaching that school’s architecture students. And with each new project and each new class, Mies explored the possibilities of “less is more” by seeing how much could be taken away in order to create greater connection to one’s environment.
In designing our first collection, we decided to follow Mies' lead. We wanted to design a close fitting tailored shirt, with minimal interventions - no darts, no princess seams. The straight cut, LUDWIG, was born.
Thanks to Mies, we learned how much more we can let in by removing the extraneous. He showed us that minimal details can offer more room for experience, more room for life. You could say that his philosophy is a foundation of SoMo.
And so, with a tip of our hats, we pay tribute to Mies on his birthday and offer our gratitude for his life's work.