Designers have gotten a lot more hip in the past few years, and along with the newfound cachet, we’ve seen a resurgence in the kind of minimalist style that rules most design firms with an iron fist. So for this week’s icon, we thought we’d turn the spotlight on one of the men who made the style—and, incidentally, one of the best American designers of the 20th century. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Charles Eames…

Charles Eames

1) The clothes are a bit loose by today’s standards, but otherwise all the elements are in place here. There’s the Chuck Yeager haircut, the flat front khaki, the thin belt (buckled to the side) and what would become his signature affectation: a small bowtie over a polo shirt. This is what understated iconoclasm looks like.

Later, the same day

2) He was a California man, so he wasn’t beholden to East Coast ideas of formality—and he knew a thing or two about dressing for the beach. This shot finds him in summer whites and sneakers, still an ideal July uniform 60 years later.

3) Is that a notch lapel or a peak lapel? In fact, it’s some weird combination of the two, and it’s a tribute to Eames low-key style that it doesn’t even come off as strange. (The man on the left is Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, which is why he’s also wearing a bow tie.)

4) As is necessary for any icon, the man could pull off a tuxedo.

5) He stuck by the polo even into his later years (paired here with a surprisingly LBM-ish blazer), but there were always a few creative touches like the polka dot neckerchief or the breast-pocket shades for those who bothered to look.

And if those five pics whetted your appetite, it so happens there’s a documentary out:

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom