Contrast the cool colors and smooth curves of an elegantly shaped glass bottle against the burning glow of orange neon lights spelling the word “Fear.” Whether Laura Schwamb is designing materials for the latest fragrances or creating her personal artwork, the designer centers many of her themes on physical and spiritual aspects of the human experience.
In her position as the design director of Tom Ford Beauty, Schwamb is responsible for all creative aspects of the company’s fragrances. This includes bottle design, carton design, bags, displays, advertising, new launches, sales meetings and in-store designs.
“The best part of the job is being a part of the intimate Tom Ford team,” said Schwamb. “I loved how he transformed Gucci in the ‘90s and have been watching his work since.”
In 2000, Schwamb cofounded STEAM with her husband Richard in Manhattan. The studio is involved with every aspect of packaging, from bottle design to cartons to collateral—every piece necessary for a new fragrance or cosmetic launch (aside from marketing). She has landed projects with Aramis, Calvin Klein, Estée Lauder, Grey Advertising, Givency, Island Records, Kenneth Cole, Lancaster, Lancôme, Olay, People, Ralph Lauren, Redken, Skyy Imports, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, and Victoria Secret Beauty after nine years with L’Oreal. Some of their work can be viewed at http://www.steam-design.com. Prior to launching STEAM, Schwamb worked as an art director for the Guy Laroche and Armani brands at L’Oreal.
<span class='CALLOUT'>"I was able to approach my first job, Henry Dreyfuss Associates, with confidence that I had some skills!"</span>
Experience working with printers on so many projects led to Schwamb’s role as “press check girl” for STEAM. The demand for her services led to a spin-off company called Sign Off.
“I realized early on that I not only loved the smell of inks but I also loved the organic process of printing—materials, action, noise, the unknown,” Schwamb explained. “The actual process is so enigmatic at times and precise at others. Striking the perfect balance is one of my favorite challenges, like taming the elements! I love the travel, the surprises and finally working color to perfect a final piece.
“When I started Sign Off, the economy was better and corporations had the money in their budgets to send me when art directors could not be away from their offices. They would never send a job to press without an expert there. In the prestige business, the final product has to be impeccable.”
With a desire to share what she learned in the industry, Schwamb often guest lectured at Parsons (New York) and taught a packaging course at the acclaimed design school. A heavy work schedule caused her to resign. But changes in the industry following the events of September 11, led to a new opportunity.
“After 9/11 everything changed,” Schwamb recalled. “Our business slowed down. It was around this time that Sessions Online School of Design, which was pretty new at the time, contacted me. Since then, I’ve taught graphic design and typography in addition to developing an advanced packaging design course. As an instructor, it is a complete joy to share what I know and encourage new talent. And serving on the Board of Directors allowed me the fascinating opportunity to observe the rapid changes of an international online school.”
Schwamb studied at CCS for three years after a year at Taylor University and another at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She lived in downtown Detroit in the Leland House Hotel and worked as an intern at Charles Tom Scholl (CTS) Agency. Both experiences equipped her with the tools she needed to later make it as a professional competing against others in the big city.
“I was able to approach my first job, Henry Dreyfuss Associates, with confidence that I had some skills!” Schwamb explained. “I can still hear my mechanical production instructor, Chuck Champaign, saying, ‘Hurry up! Time is money. Are you done yet?’ And then. ‘I’m done, are you?’ That used to make me crack up and still does today. Sure, it was mechanicals, but back then that’s how a junior designer started in the industry. I gradually grew into design and color.
“Mike Mikos was my favorite instructor. He was talented, articulate and encouraging. Always honest in his critiques, he treated me as his peer—not a student.”
In her spare time, Schwamb is committed to her personal artwork. These projects provide balance and provide an outlet to explore more raw expressions of the human experience through various types of media, including video, photography, drawing, painting and neon. Her work has been shown at the Jacobson Howard Gallery in Manhattan as well as other galleries in New York, Amsterdam and parts of Ireland. One of her video pieces, “Pousser,” played at the Tangent Gallery (Detroit) in 2005. Samples of her personal work can be found at http://www.lauraschwamb.blogspot.com.
“My experiences as a designer and an artist have given me the opportunity to create unique designs, travel and meet other highly creative passionate people,” said Schwamb. “Working for ten years with my husband as my partner was great—to collaborate with him professionally and get paid for it! Well...what else can I say?”
- Major: Fine Arts
- Employer: Tom Ford Beauty and Sessions Online School of Design
- Title: Design Director (Tom Ford) and Sessions Course Developer
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