Helene Rother

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1955 brochure copy for Rambler American "Created to Your Discriminating Taste" by Helene Rother

Helene Rother (1908 – 1999) was the first woman to work as an automotive designer when she joined the interior styling staff of General Motors in Detroit in 1943.[1] She specialized in designs for automotive interiors, as well as furniture, jewelry, fashion accessories, and stained glass windows.

Early life

A native of Leipzig, Germany, Rother studied art at the Kunstgewerbe School in Hamburg. She also studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Rother moved to Paris and designed of high fashion jewelry, as well as popular little animal pins that women wore on hats and dresses before World War II.[2]


Rother fled from Nazi-occupied France together with her seven-year-old daughter Ina, to a refugee camp in northern Africa where they stayed for four months before finding passage on a ship bound for New York City in 1941.[2] Her first employment in New York was as an illustrator for Marvel Comics.[3] The following year, she joined the interior styling staff of General Motors in Detroit, Michigan. She was responsible for upholstery colors and fabrics, lighting, door hardware and seat construction.[2] Although she was Detroit's first woman automotive designer, it was downplayed at the time and her salary as reported in a newspaper was US$600 a month.[3] At this time the average wage was $200 for a man.[4]

In 1947, Rother established her own design studio in the Fisher Building, where she specialized in designs for automotive interiors, furniture, and stained glass windows.[1] Her business was named Helene Rother Associates.[5] In 1948 she published a technical paper with the Society of Automotive Engineers asking "Are we doing a good job in our car interiors"[6]

Nash Motors

She was soon contracted by Nash Motors and styled the elegant interiors of most of the cars from 1948 to 1956.[4] Even the economical Rambler American models were prominently promoted as "irresistible glamour" on wheels. Rother designed the Rambler's interiors to appeal to the feminine eye knew because she knew what women looked for in a car and her designs featured elegant, stylish, and expensive fabrics that coordinated in colors and trim.[7] She toured the 1951 Paris Auto Salon, and was the first woman to address the Society of Automotive Engineers in Detroit.[4] In 1953, Nash was awarded the Jackson Medal, "...since 1898, one of America's most sought-after awards," according to an advertisement, for excellence of design.[3] Many Nash sales brochures and Rambler advertisements of the time featured the copy stating: "Styling by Pinin Farina and interiors by Madame Helene Rother of Paris" as proof of the European influence on company's automobile styling.[8] In 1954 the Nash Ambassadors had a big feature: the completely new interior by Rother.[9] That year, Nash merged with Hudson to create American Motors Corporation (AMC), but her influence on interior fashion in automobiles continued.

Other work

She purchased a home on Chicago Boulevard, with a studio downstairs and living quarters upstairs, and continued other independent consulting work.[2] Her clients included several tire companies as well as non-automotive firms. She was also responsible for designing the interiors of ambulances and hearses for Miller-Meteor.[3]

Rother decided she wanted to begin producing art again and she went for a visit to Europe where she saw the struggle to restore or rebuild war-damaged churches and cathedrals. She also designed stained glass for American churches and had installations in the mid-1960s, such as the Beverly Hills United Methodist Church in Beverly Hills, Michigan,[10] and the St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in northeast Detroit with all thick "chunk" faceted glass, that was fabricated in France.[2] Rother remains relatively unknown in the world of stained glass as women who designed stained glass, either independently or under a major studio name, were for the most part unrecognized at the time.[2]

In her later years, Rother designed large stained glass windows for churches and spent time on her horse farm near Metamora, Michigan.[1]



NAME Rother, Helene
SHORT DESCRIPTION automobile interior designer