French architect and designer Charlotte Perriand (1903–1999) was a key proponent and leader of the International Style—an architectural mode linked to modernism and known for simple, modular designs in mass-produced and industrial materials. Over her nearly eight-decade career, Perriand incorporated a diverse range of materials—including steel tubing and bamboo—and aesthetic influences into her furniture, lighting and architecture designs.Read More
Between 1920 and 1925, Perriand attended the École de l'Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs and was taken under the wing of the school's artistic director, Henri Rapin. After her graduation and a series of successful exhibitions, Perriand approached Le Corbusier with her portfolio and the hopes of gaining a position at his and Pierre Jeanneret's Paris atelier. Although Le Corbusier was initially disparaging (after viewing Perriand's portfolio, he famously told her 'We don't embroider cushions here'), Perriand did not give up. She invited him to the 1927 Salon d'Automne, where her design Bar sous le toit (Bar in the Attic) was on display. Predominantly built using metals including steel and nickel, the installation comprised a built-in bar and surrounding furniture and finishes. Her use of a geometric and industrial aesthetic won Le Corbusier over, who hired her immediately.
At only 24, Perriand was put in charge of furniture and fittings at Le Corbusier and Jeanneret's atelier. During the ten years she worked there, Perriand collaborated with the architectural titans to produce Modernist furniture that redefined the design paradigms of a generation. One of her most significant designs was the LC4 Chaise Longue: an adjustable reclining chair in steel and leather, designed to mirror the contours of the body. First conceptualised in 1928, it was reissued by luxury interior design company Cassina in 1965. In a famous photograph of the LC4's 1929 prototype, Perriand reclines on the chair, facing away from the camera, her back almost parallel to the floor and her shadow stretched against the wall. The LC4 was part of a series of tubular steel designs known as 'l'équipement intérieur de l'habitation' ('the equipment of a modern dwelling' (1928-29). The series, as much of Perriand's practice, valued balance between form, function and ergonomics.
Perriand also championed the use of steel in high-end furniture throughout much of her early career. However, in 1940, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Japan invited Perriand to visit Japan and lend her industrial design expertise to the Department of Trade Promotion, in order to advise the country's designers on how to create products with a more Western aesthetic. During this period, she not only shared her knowledge and style with Japanese designers, but also found herself influenced by their work. She began working with local materials and made a version of the LC4 Chaise Longue out of bamboo slats. Discussing its materials in Architectural Review in 1984, Perriand said: 'The characteristic of bamboo is its elasticity—there is a wide range of things that can be done with it. What it allowed me to do was to show that materials can be changed while still creating the same forms to meet the same needs. Above all, it allowed me to demonstrate to the Japanese that bamboo could be used in Occidental forms'. Perriand's openness to new materials indicated her life-long dedication toward constantly rethinking design strategies to best fit the current context.
Even before her travels to Japan, and her subsequent time in Vietnam (when Japan joined World War II, she was stranded in Vietnam while attempting to procure safe passage back to France), Perriand had already begun exploring organic wooden constructions. In 1938, she designed a desk for Jean-Richard Bloch, a French writer and the editor of the newspaper Ce Soir. The desk was made of salvaged wood from the Temps Nouveaux Pavilion, and its satin finish and organic design were intended 'to make the room sing'. Boomerang-shaped, the desk was designed to fit ten people on the three edges surrounding Bloch. Ancillary to the desk, a shelf protruded on the wall behind Bloch, with both room for storage and open space for books, allowing him to spin around and peruse at his leisure. Perriand's design was inspired by the En Forme No. 8 table that she had built for her small apartment a year prior; in both cases, she used the existing environment as a starting point and designed the furniture to best fit both the room and the user's needs.
Perriand is remembered for redefining the standards of form and function throughout her life. Born in Paris, she died in the same city at the age of 96.
Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2018