The advent of the 20th century witnessed a rise of powerful women, women who were ready to break patriarchal stereotypes. Charlotte Perriand was a French interior designer. Her field of interest extended to photography, paintings, photomontages, and architecture. Born to a tailor and a couture seamstress in Paris, she was introduced to the delicacy of artistry from an early age.

Upon discovering her drawing skills at a young age, her mother encouraged her to join university to study furniture design. She has worked alongside Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Prouvé on projects like Villa Savoye, the Villa church, the Cité du Réfuge for the French Salvation Army, and the Pavilion Suisse at the Cité Universitaire. Some of her notable works include Les Arcs ski resort, Chaise Lounge, Tunnise bookcase, and The Bar Sous le Toit.

Here are 10 things you probably did not know about Charlotte Perriand:

1. Design Philosophy | Charlotte Perriand

Charlotte Perriand believed that designs impact society. The key concept behind her interiors was to make everyday life easier. With the hope to make the world a better place, she started with the home, aiming to create designs accessible for all social classes. Her designs drew inspiration from their surroundings.

Rejecting traditional woodwork and beaux-arts, she created simplified open spaces with machine aesthetics. To make her furniture more affordable, she experimented with various materials whilst retaining her fundamental design principles.

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Portrait Charlotte Perriand ©Adagp, Paris, 2019
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exposition Le monde nouveau de Charlotte Perriand à la Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris© Adagp, Paris, 2019 © F.L.C. © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

2. She was a Bright Student

Charlotte enrolled in École de L’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs (“School of the Central Union of Decorative Arts”) in 1920 to study furniture design on her mother’s encouragement. She sought opportunities to learn outside of her classes. 

Perriand attended university lectures of Henri Rapin, interior designer at art deco, and Maurice Dufrêne, the studio director of workshop ‘La Maîtrise’. In around 1925, her school projects were on display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, her wall hangings were on display at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

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Young Charlotte Perriand via Pinterest

3. Bar Sous le Toit

Two years after graduating, Charlotte worked on her breakthrough project. Bar sous le Toit, A renovation project of her apartment into a ‘ bar under the roof ‘. Her design was in contrast to heavy ornamentations, overly decorated interiors, predominant then, and received immediate appreciation. She avoided wood and used metal as the primary material to represent the aesthetics of the machine age. She was able to capture it via the use of glass, leather and aluminium, and nickel-plated surfaces.

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The ‘Bar Sous le Toit’ created for the 1927 Salon d’Automne  via Pinterest

4. Her experience with Le Corbusier

After the success of Bar sous le Toit, she wanted to join Le Corbusier. Young Perriand had already read books by Corbusier and believed his criticism of design aligned with her design philosophy. Upon interview, Le Corbusier underestimated her and rejected her application by saying: “We don’t embroider cushions here.”  But his remark didn’t age well, one month after rejection, Corbusier saw her work in person in the Salon d’ Automne display, and she was hired. 

Perriand in collaboration with Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret designed three chairs: B301, the LC2, and the B306. Each with a different purpose but following the same principlea machine for sitting.

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Le Corbusier puts a plate behind the head of Charlotte Perriand to resemble a halo, 1928 ©adagp-achp 2005
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The LC2 Armchair via Pinterest

5. Avant-Garde Artist | Charlotte Perriand

Perriand rejected the popular Beaux-Arts style and found inspiration instead in machine-age technology. She was indeed one of the first artists of the 1920s to experiment with metal and helped to shape the modern interiors we witness today. 

The Saint Sulpice studio (Her apartment studio from 1927-28) infused everyday living with industrial and mechanical aesthetics. An extended table, large enough to entertain up to 11 guests accompanying swivel stools and armchairs, made of metal, leather, and rubber, were the most remarkable of the space. 

The inclusion of new methods and materials paired with the rejection of traditional design elements were fundamental to her work throughout her career.

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Charlotte Perriand, Perspective drawing of Saint-Sulpice, 1927 © Adagp, Paris, 2019
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A reconstruction of the Saint-Sulpice studio Perriand designed for herself (1927–1928). Image credit: Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

6. Nature and Design

Artists of this period found their design/art inspirations in nature. Perriand photographed scrapped metal pieces, stones, wood, and bone bits in her forest ventures during the 1930s. She took inspiration from annual tree rings to design her first free-form table with organic curves.

The La Maison du Jeune Homme (House for a Young Man) displayed at Brussels Exposition was extensively nature-inspired. Modern furniture paired with light-filled spaces and Fernand Leger’s botanical motifs demonstrates the artistic talent of Perriand. It simply exhibited that modernity did not mean devaluation of nature, they can co-exist.

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free form coffee table by Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouve image via phillips.com
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The La Maison du Jeune Homme (House for a Young Man) recreated for Louis Vuitton Foundation photo by Marc Domage

7. Japan and Vietnam

During World War 2, Perriand travelled to Japan as an official advisor for industrial design to the Ministry for Trade and Industry in 1940. There she learned about Japanese concepts of space and learnt about bamboo as a material for furniture design. In 1941 she held an exhibition ‘ Selection, Tradition, Creation ‘, which was inspired by local Japanese traditions. She also redesigned her chaise lounge by replacing metal with bamboo.

On her way back to Europe, she was detained and forced into Vietnamese exile because of the war. She took this mishap as an opportunity to learn about new materials and techniques. She learned about woodwork, weaving, and read ‘The Book of Tea’, which impacted her career.

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LC4 Chaise Lounge via artnet.com
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LC4 redesigned using bamboo via architonic.com
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Bamboo furniture via Pinterest

8. Works as an Architect

Predominantly known for her furniture design, Perriand also had a visionary sense of space. In La Maison au Bord de l’Eau or the house beside the water, Perriand introduces nature in the interiors via materials and structured spaces. Space was opened up to the surroundings making it functional and poetic at the same time.  

In 1938, she designed the Tonneau Refuge pod, a prefabricated structure, in collaboration with Pierre Jeanneret. It could be assembled by three people in six days and no component weighed more than 40kgs.

The Les Arcs ski resort in Savoie preserved elements of the alpine surroundings and the resort was designed such that it complemented the nearby landscape.

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The house beside the water_dezeen.com
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Le Refuge Tonneau_pintrest.com
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Les Arcs_dezeen.com

9. The Ball-bearing Necklace

The necklace was synonymous with Charlotte Perriand. It was worn by her almost every day when she worked at the Le Corbusier studio. She took inspiration from Fernand Ledger’s still life “Le Mouvement à bills” (1926) to design a necklace made from cheap chrome-covered copper balls strung together on a cord. The unconventional necklace symbolizes Perriand’s passion for the machine age and is a tribute to her fascination with aeroplanes and automobiles.

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the ball bearing necklace_irenebrination.com
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Charlotte Perriand with Pierre Jeanneret wearing the ball bearing necklace_irenebrination.com
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Fernand Leger’s still life-Le Mouvement a billes_irenebrination.com

10. Constantly Evolving | Charlotte Perriand

Unlike many artists, Perriand was fluid in her work. She was always ready to learn and experiment with new techniques and materials. After spending six years in the east, she redesigned most of her previous works. The Chaise Lounge was renewed from metal to bamboo. Her new designs reflected her respect and appreciation for various cultures.

The Tunisie Bookcase was designed originally for the student rooms of La Maison de la Tunisie for the Cité Universitaire in Paris, in the 1950s. In her design for the Rio apartments, she renewed the colourful panels for cane work shutters. She often used learnings from the east and united them to western technologies and aesthetics.

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charlotte perriand-tunnise bookcase_dezeen.com
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tunise bookcase redesigned using canework_pinterest.com

References | Charlotte Perriand

Irenebrination: Notes on Architecture, Art, Fashion, Fashion Law & Technology. (n.d.). Iconic Accessories with Hidden Meanings: Charlotte Perriand’s “Ball Bearings” Necklace. [online] Available at: https://www.irenebrination.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2020/11/charlotte-perriand-ball-bearings-necklace.html 

Fondation Louis Vuitton. (n.d.). Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World. [online] Available at: https://www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr/en/events/charlotte-perriand-inventing-a-new-world.

Archive.org. (2020). . [online] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20071212004206/http://www.centrepompidou.fr/ ‌

Wikipedia Contributors (2018). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.

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