One of the protagonists of the European Modern Movement, the french designer Charlotte Perriand, showed herself to be a trailblazer unfettered by expectations or precedent.
One of the protagonists of the European Modern Movement, the french designer Charlotte Perriand has throughout the first decades of the 20th century achieved a somewhat stellar status on the subject of women in design. Seemingly contradictory that even an institution as progressive as that of Bauhaus limited women’s opportunities of being schooled in architecture or furniture design, albeit Perriand showed herself to be a trailblazer unfettered by expectations or precedent.
Notably, despite being rejected during her infamously flagrant first encounter with Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret as was the birth name of Swiss-French architect) and sent away with notion of ‘We don’t embroid cushions here’, Perriand didn’t flinch in obtaining the position at the prominent atelier sometime later.
Absorbing values integral to modern living at the atelier in Rue de Sèvres, Ms. Perriand added a poetic dimension to Corbusier’s work, campaigning for symbiosis of strict function and elevated aesthetics in all her endeavours.
Indeed Perriand was highly concerned with the unity between structure and functionality, the latter rooted in understanding the motion and dynamics of human needs and research on body positions. A keen observer, Perriand would notice a reclining figure or workers resting unaware, providing her a subject of contemplation over design as an extension of the human body. Her B306 chaise lounge is a perfect example of that. When it was time to photograph the chaise lounge, she herself exhibited how one might sit in such an unfamiliar device, reclining like her observed subjects.
The notion of design as a response to human beings, and furniture that adapts to the body allowing freedom of movement was a highly modern one in 1929. During a decade long collaboration with the atelier of Le Corbusier, Perriand designed several world-renowned pieces of furniture exhibited already a year after her arrival at the atelier at the prominent Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1929. Notably B301 and B302 are still some of the most sought after chairs on the modern market due to their limited production. If Perriand’s initial research was rooted in what would latter be introduced as ergonomy (ergonomy wasn’t defined until 1949) it undoubtedly informed her design, the harmonious synthesis between form and function standing as a central thought throughout her oeuvre. In 1940 Perriand travelled to Japan as an official advisor to the ‘Ministry of Trade and Industry’ , albeit WW2 disrupted her journey back to Europe, forcing Perriand to take refuge in Vietnam.
During that long interlude in the far East Perriand’s work reached full maturity. A new sensibility was introduced to her work and became an axiom of further development. Sensitivity towards local conditions and practices materials available influenced Perriand’s aesthetics which now inclined towards organic forms and elemental materials. She adapted the B503 chaise lounge to Japanese aesthetics, crafting one solely of wood, rendering a perfect example of her employment of local materials and techniques. While Japan hasn’t directly influenced her work, zen philosophy did affect Perriand’s design, resulting in several renowned pieces of furniture, Nuage shelves being one of them. The Japanese notion of ‘the void’ supported by Perriand’s own observations of dynamics of life conditions, contributed to a re-invented notion of inhabited space, allowing flexible use of expanse and fully integrating each component with the whole.
Her kitchen bar design for Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles with Le Corbusier in 1949, deployed a notion of functionality and motion inseparable from ethnography into the work of art, notably employing several of her furniture pieces made of wood. Seemingly always at the pinnacle of her profession, Charlotte Perriand exemplified the notion of responsive design; and as her ideas- her furniture bears the stamp of eternal, as to quote her daughter ‘ She (Perriand) responded with accuracy to eternal needs’ .
In 2013 Louis Vuitton rediscovered and brought to life a design of Perriand’s from 1934 La Maison au Bord de l’Eau that was to be exhibited during Design Miami; emphasizing that even nearly 15 years after her death and 8 decades after that particular project, for which Perriand won 2nd prize at the competition sponsored by L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui magazine, Perriand remains highly relevant as designer and as a women in design.