Charlotte Perriand was a French architect-designer who created modernist furniture of the XNUMXth century. Perriand is considered a pioneer of modernity whose artistic vision has helped define what is called “the art of living”, the idea that design must be both transformative and functional.

Her work reflects a change in culture and attitudes in the mid-twentieth century, especially regarding the role of women in society and the growing popularity of city life. One of Charlotte Perriand's strong points when it came to furniture was the chairs, which have passed among her most recognizable designs. 

Perriand was born in XNUMX in Paris and began working as an interior designer after graduating from Union centrale des Arts décoratifs (UCAD), working from her studio on Place Saint-Sulpice. Perriand’s work included collaborations with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. Her work gained attention in XNUMX with her ‘Le Bar sous le toit’, the bar beneath the roof, with its high stools and furniture created from chromed steel. The design is now instantly recognisable as what we would consider being ‘bar furniture’ today, and the ultra-functional bar stools would be Perriand’s first focus on chairs.

During XNUMX, Perriand began a photographic research project, with a focus on raw art and objects found in nature. She would later begin to incorporate natural materials such as wood into her designs. In XNUMX, Perriand collaborated with the artist Fernand Léger to design the ‘Essential Happiness, New Pleasures’, which was a large-scale photomural which showcases a utopian vision of rural life. When World War Two began, she returned to Paris and designed temporary housing and military barracks with Jean Prouvé and Pierre Jeanneret.

In 1940, Perriand was appointed as an official advisor on industrial design to the Japanese government, a position that would forever influence her designs. Charlotte Perriand was strongly influenced by Japanese design and techniques, in particular those on Kakuzo Okakura’s simplistic aesthetic in The Book of Tea. Her connection with the region would result in her involvement with designing the Japanese tea house at the UNESCO Garden in 1993, which was donated by the Japanese government. After unsuccessfully trying to return to France through America, Charlotte Perriand located to Vietnam, where she would meet her husband and where her outlook on life would change drastically during the war.

Commercially, her designs focused on achieving both durability and efficiency, and she was involved with designing the League of Nations building in Geneva. Perriand collaborated with Thomas and Peter H Braddock to work with Air France in XNUMX to create their travel bureaus in London, Tokyo and Paris. Charlotte Perriand’s most recognisable feat of architecture is the modernist design of the three apartment buildings at the Les Arcs ski resort, where she designed standardised rooms and living spaces that were specifically designed for simple installation. The buildings were crafted to create an illusion of steps, to make it appear as though the building slumped in the snow of the mountainside.

During the XNUMXs and XNUMXs, Perriand designed her iconic mid-century enamelled wall lights with adjustable coloured reflectors that were manufactured and distributed by Steph Simon and Cassina. The wall light styles are still replicated today through authorised re-editions. During this period, Perriand’s ‘tables en forme libre’, a table which featured only three legs, was put into production by Steph Simon. In XNUMX, Cassina re-issued the table and modernised by design by reducing the width of the three legs.

Charlotte Perriand described her artistic beliefs as “synthesis of the arts” and the dialogue that could exist between different kinds of art, including both fine art and more simplistic sculpting and painting. “Synthesis of the arts” encapsulates the modernist movement that occurred in France during her career.

The Charlotte Perriand chair incorporated both an indoor and outdoor element and would be affordable and practical. Her most famous creation, for which will forever be synonymous with, is the tubular steel chaise longue, which she designed with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. The design was a modern interpretation of the ‘Duchesse’, an XNUMXth-century daybed that you could imagine Marie Antoinette resting in. Perriand reimagined the feminine piece of furniture as something that was both mechanical and functional, built using bicycle frame tubes and finished with pony skin. While the original chaise longue became an essential of luxury interior design, Perriand’s future furniture designs focused on affordability through mass-production, that met the functional needs of society. These designs reflected a shift in Perriand’s social and political outlook, as her world-view became more left-leaning following her experience in Vietnam, which led to a focus on utility in her designs. These minimalistic designs would become a hallmark of modernist design and architecture.

Another signature Charlotte Perriand chair is the ‘Siège Pivotant’, which was designed in XNUMX. The simplistic chair is a small armchair created with a policed chrome-plated steel frame, and a back and seat cushion crafted with polyurethane foam and polyester and sealed with leather or a comparable fabric. Always focused on the functionality of her designs, Perriand’s design was available in a specific waterproof model for outdoor use for maximum versatility and featured polyurethane in the cushion insert that was easy to dry and clean.

In 1928, Perriand created with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret the “LC2 Grand Comfort chair“, A cubic high chair with a chromed steel frame and leather cushions, which is their modernist take on the club chair. That same year, the trio designed the “B301 sling back chair”, a functional piece of furniture inspired by the traditional colonial chair for relaxing, whose design features an adjustable backrest and a tubular steel frame. 

During the XNUMXs, Perriand created the ‘Dordogne’ dining chairs for Robert Sentou and these uniform pieces were designed using wood and straw and created with utility in mind.

In a 1981 article entitled ‘L’Arte de Vivre’, Perriand stated that “the extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living - living in harmony with man’s deepest drives”. She believed that designing interior furniture that was fitter for purpose and versatile would create a better experience for the individual and eventually society as well.

More than twenty years after Perriand's death, interest in his creations has revived. In 2013, Jacques Barsac wrote “Charlotte Perriand: Complete works”, which were the first complete documentation of his creations and which consists of several volumes. In 2019, the Louis Vuitton Foundation is hosting a exposure of his works entitled “Inventing a new world”. The legendary Christie's auction house believes that Perriand's pieces remain popular for their simplicity and the unique trajectory of Perriand's design, as well as for the fact that "no other woman has collaborated with all of the masters of the period - Prouvé, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret ”. Charlotte Perriand's furniture designs are still produced today by the collection Cassina'l maestri. 

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