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Charlotte Perriand: Between Nature and Modernity

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Charlotte Perriand: Between Nature and Modernity

By Dila Yalman 

She is a modernist, a pluralist and most importantly, a female architect in a male-dominated universe. For the 20th anniversary of her death, Fondation Louis Vuitton is paying tribute to the French designer, Charlotte Perriand.

Walking into the lobby, we already know what to expect from the wall-sized photograph of Perriand standing topless, with her back to us, raising her arms. Perriand’s adventurous and revolutionary designs are recreated in 11 galleries, across 4 floors of the Fondation, spanning 7 decades of her career.

The young Perriand, driven by her passion for avant-garde interior design, was introduced to the architectural scene at the age of 24; she recreated her Bar Under the Roof, originally designed for her small attic apartment, at Salon d’Automne. Confident with utilising modern materials in a small space, she enlarges the space by using mirrors, metals and reflective lights. Her aluminium and nickel-plated Bar Under the Roof succeeded her to work with the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, between 1927 and 1937.

Perriand is often spoken about by her connections to her male collaborators, but this exhibition aims to present Perriand as a designer in her own right. Writing in her autobiography, Perriand expressed that “Le Corbusier waited impatiently for me to bring the furniture to life.”

The show starts with Corbusier’s outlined sitting postures which Perriand would create into a design of a chaise longue basculante. Working in Le Corbusier’s studio, she became the architect. But Le Corbusier would continue to overshadow Perriand’s designs and inventions for the next decade. Recreations of “A Modern Apartment” in the exhibition demonstrate her individual flair for modernist interiors. The loft-like space, open plan and dynamic, presents her ergonomic designs of furniture in a mechanical state. The exhibition opens with Le Corbusier’s letter confirming Perriand’s exceptional qualities of inventiveness but also placing the responsibility of building on her.

After breaking ties in 1937, Perriand left the atelier and began forging her successful career. As a communist activist through her art, Perriand turned away from the industrialisation and machines which brought inequality. Instead, she chose nature. She began utilising wood to craft benches, coffee tables, dining tables. Her collections of wood, rocks and animal skeletons are also presented in the show.

With a rich history of natural materials like bamboo, Perriand was invited to Japan where she took these materials into her stride. Her ergonomic designs were adapted for the use of wooden materials, such as the original chaise longue basculante created for the Takashimiya department store in Tokyo in 1955.

Back in Paris, her Japanese influences remained with her when designing the Tea House for the UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The Tea House is magnificently recreated in the final gallery of the Fondation.

Perriand was influenced by the materials around her; her travels to Rio de Janeiro, with her first husband, influenced her hardwood bookcase designs. She intertwines her passion for nature with her contemporary designs. Maison de la Tunisie student rooms are a combination of the polychromatic colours from France with the warmth of natural wood.

Perriand’s egalitarian considerations are reflected in her modernist designs. The open plan kitchen designs emphasise that women should not be closed-off and their involvement should be incorporated into the rest of the household. She cared about the relationship of people with their spaces and designed to nourish those relationships.

Perriand was a trailblazer for the female design force throughout the rest of the century. The designs of moving furniture and the reconstruction of space demonstrate her attitude towards the role of women in the industry and household life. Perriand successfully made her way into a male-dominated world of design and architecture. She entered with ideas and innovation and emerged an inspiration to designers everywhere.

Perriand’s spirit guides us through the perfectly curated exhibition, resonating with visitors and glorifying her life in design. 

Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World runs from the 2ndof October 2019 to the 24thof February 2020.