Charlotte Perriand has carved out what we consider is the art of dwelling within her designs. Born in Paris in 1903, Charlotte Perriand is one of the unsung heroes of the European Modern movement. Having been exposed to great craftsmanship at an early age (she was the daughter of a tailor and a seamstress), she enrolled in the Ecole de L’Union Centrale de Arts Decoratifs in 1920 to study furniture design. In 1927, she was famously rejected by Le Corbusier’s studio with the reply “We don’t embroider cushions here”. This fueled her to renovate her own apartment using materials such as aluminum, glass, and chrome, catching the attention of Le Corbusier’s partner Pierre Jeannette and convincing Corbusier to offer her a job in furniture design.
By the time she was in her mid-20s, in 1928, Perriand designed three chairs using Corbusier’s principles: Slingback B301 for conversation, LC2 Grand Comfort for relaxation, and B306 Chaise Lounge for sleeping. The legs of the chaise unintentionally resembled horse hooves, so she ran with the idea and covered it with pony skin. Each chair had a chromium-plated tubular steel base. These three chairs are still iconic examples of contemporary design.
“While our chair designs were directly related to the position of the human body…They were also determined by the requirements of the architecture, setting, or prestige.”
In the 1930s, Perriand’s focus became more populist and egalitarian. She became involved with many leftist organizations such as Le Maison de la Culture, and in 1937 collaborated with the Jeunes in founding The Union des Artistes Modernes. Her designs from that period started to use more wood and cane which were much more affordable than chrome, and in 1935 she displayed more handcrafted techniques at the Brussels International Exhibition. Most of Perriand’s designs from this era were inspired by the vernacular furniture of Savoie, where her grandparents resided.
In 1940, Charlotte Perriand was given to opportunity to travel to Japan as an official advisor for industrial design to The Ministry of Trade and Industry where she advised the government to raise design standards in order to develop for the West. On her way back to Europe, however, she was detained and forced into Vietnamese exile because of the war. There she gained influence from Eastern design studying weaving and woodwork. In the period after WWII, there was an increasing interest in using new methods and materials for mass production which fit quite well with Perriand’s goal to develop affordable and functional furniture that would appeal to the masses. Manufacturers of materials such as Formica, plywood, aluminum, and steel sponsored the salons of the Société des artistes décorateurs.
Like many successful woman architects and designers of this era, Perriand did not wish to think of herself first and foremost as a “woman designer”, nor was she particularly interested in the feminist movement going on in France. But woman designer or not, she had a resonating effect on the design world. Her genius took her to the far corners of the world. Some of her other projects include ski resorts, the League of Nations building in Geneva, and remodeled Air France’s offices in Paris, London, and Tokyo. In the 1970s, she had the opportunity again to collaborate with Le Corbusier, issuing a new edition of designs for Cassina.
Charlotte Perriand’s work was so influential, in fact, that since her death, in 2013, Louis Vuitton actually commissioned one of her beach house designs to be built for Design Week Miami. The project was initially conceived for a contest to show affordable vacation lodging held by L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, a French architecture magazine. Her design won second prize and was reworked for wealthier vacationers, but the original scheme had never been built. Now, eight decades later, Perriand’s aesthetic and style still proves to be at the cutting-edge of design, and her project came to life for the public to appreciate. Perriand’s work was little known, but have been hidden right underneath our noses, with a career lasting three-quarters of a century.
“…A sincere and constant search for modern living art.”