Of all the useful and beautiful products designed by Stylists the best known and most appreciated is the American automobile, which ranks second only to women’s fashions in the attention given to changing and improving appearance.
—Harley Earl, GM styling chief, 1956
In 1955, General Motors Corporation topped the Fortune 500 list, enjoying annual sales of 5 million units, a 50 percent share of the U.S. market, and expanding global reach. Recognizing that women influenced seven out of every ten automobile purchases, GM’s Styling Section employed nine women—mostly industrial designers and fine artists—by the mid 1950s. These pioneering women, collectively known as the “Damsels of Design,” forged a vital link between the automaker and consumers in national publicity campaigns by invoking fashion and beauty to extend the glamour of GM and its products. Despite market saturation and economic recession late in the decade, the women of GM Styling Section succeeded in fueling the desire of the car-buying public.
Wendi Parson holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is pursuing a master’s in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, a program offered jointly by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and Parsons The New School for Design. A media professional, Parson has lent her expertise to leading organizations in the automotive and design innovation sectors, including General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Smart Design, and Taxi 07, a project of the Design Trust for Public Space. During her tenure at General Motors, Parson served as the communications lead for GM Design.