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Char­lotte Perriand: The Art of Dwelling

Charlotte Perriand
Char­lotte and her daugh­ter, Pernette Perriand 

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.

Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand
Early days, working with Le Corbusier & Pierre Jenneret 1920’s
LC4 chaise, designed by Le Corbusier, Char­lotte Perriand, and Pierre Jenneret c.1928

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, also known as LC4 Chaise, 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.

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.

Tokyo Ombra chair, plywood construc­tion c. 1940

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.

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.”

– Char­lotte Perriand

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.

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