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Posted in Design Stories

The Tokyo Chaise: Char­lotte Perriand’s Natural Masterpiece

Charlotte Perriand

In about 1929, someone took a photo­graph of a woman reclin­ing on a chaise-longue, her skirt slightly askew, hands folded softly, and feet float­ing in the air as if pressed up against a tree trunk after a picnic. 

In the photo­graph she’s gazing away from us, at her shadow wrap­ping around the corner of the wall beyond, larger than life. She seems at ease with herself: sophis­ti­cated and playful at once.

This black and white image is etched into our collec­tive memory of modernism – but in many ways it’s only a moment in a more curious and delight­ful tale. Some 11 years later, Char­lotte Perriand – the woman in the photo­graph and who, although it’s not often acknowl­edged, was instru­men­tal in the design of the chaise on which she lay – found herself halfway around the world, working as a cultural advisor in Japan. 

Observ­ing the precise and finely crafted thou­sand-year-old methods of wood craft­ing, Perriand seemed compelled to explore, through her own precise methods of making, the modern, inter­na­tional possi­bil­i­ties of ancient mate­ri­als and tradi­tional tech­niques. She applied her eye for modernism to bamboo, asking this tradi­tional wood, with its char­ac­ter­is­tic elas­tic­ity, to bend, mould and produce, as perfectly as steel had in the first instance, the form of the chaise longue.

Her intu­ition and new-found knowl­edge of the possi­bil­i­ties of the mate­r­ial yielded an entirely new chaise that can only be described as beau­ti­ful. With its fine timber panels that give slightly under the body, then fold effort­lessly around the sinuous curves, it’s a quiet cele­bra­tion of form, mate­r­ial, and detailed resolution.

Tokyo Chaise-Lounge-4
Takashimaya depart­ment stores in Tokyo, prepar­ing for exhibition.
A Mingei-influ­enced Perriand version of the 1928 tubular steel chaise lounge designed by her, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. 

The exten­sion of the art of living is the art of dwelling”

– Char­lotte Perriand

The story of this chaise is a story of travel, of dreams, of conver­sa­tions between one way of seeing and think­ing about the world and another. Bring­ing the soft, consid­ered touch of her hand and feel for the orient to the tech­no­log­i­cally refined design, Perriand pulled back from the harsh edges of modernism, and re-engaged with the natural world. She managed to achieve not just a balance, but a deep synergy of culture and nature.

Tokyo Chaise, for Cassina 

So as the seasons brighten and leaves flood the trees, all we want is to be slung out in the garden, the late sunlight falling softly across our cheek, and, most likely, dream­ing of retrac­ing Perriand’s foot­steps across the globe.

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