In about 1929, someone took a photograph of a woman reclining on a chaise lounge, 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, the Tokyo chaise lounge, 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.
The story of the Tokyo chaise lounge 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.
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.