Charlotte Perriand: a century of design

From her collaborations with Le Corbusier to the resort of Les Arcs, (re)discover the history and work of Charlotte Perriand…

Born in 1903 in Paris, this independent woman in an environment, architecture and design, which was exclusively male at the beginning of the previous century, crossed the 20th century by constantly multiplying her projects.

Until the end of her life, in 1999, this native of Savoie continued to exercise her talent. One example is the creation in 1993, at the age of 90, of the Maison de Thé, a space dedicated to the Japanese tea culture, at the request of the Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara for UNESCO.

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Overview of the Tea House created by Charlotte Perriand in 1993 and reconstituted according to the original plans on the 2nd floor under the glass roof of Le Bon Marché in 2011. Source : autourdellesblogspot

But why call on a French designer to revisit the quintessence of Japanese culture? On 15 June 1940, Charlotte Perriand embarked for Japan, where she was offered the position of design advisor to the Japanese Ministry of Trade. During seven years, interspersed with a trip to Indochina, Perriand discovered the singularity of Japanese craftsmanship: woodwork and a sense of purity.

She returned to Japan in the 1950s and presented a major exhibition in the Japanese capital in 1955: Proposition d’une synthèse des arts, Paris 1955. Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Charlotte Perriand.

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View of the exhibition: Proposition d’une synthèse des arts, Paris 1955. Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Charlotte Perriand. On each side of the table, armchairs with polished chrome steel structure, OMBRA, 1953. Rare stacking pedestal table called “Table Air France”, 1953. In the library, a work by Fernand Léger, to whom Charlotte Perriand was very close.

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The famous OMBRA TOKYO chair, designed in 1954 by Charlotte Perriand in Japan and presented a year later at her major exhibition in Tokyo. This stackable, lightweight chair is a direct reference to the Japanese tradition of origami, the art of folding. Like a sheet of paper, Perriand’s chair takes shape through subtle folding. Source : lvc-design

Inspired by her early Japanese period, the designer was able to count on the emblematic Nancy architect and designer Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) to enable her to mass-produce furniture influenced by the Japanese aesthetic. In the early 1950s, the Ateliers Jean Prouvé produced furniture by Perriand. The designer’s work on the combinatory elements of a bookcase is particularly noteworthy from this period.

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Bibliothèque de la Maison de Tunisie, design Charlotte Perriand, 1952. Manufactured by Ateliers Jean Prouvé and André Chetaille Source : blog-espritdesign

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La maison du Mexique bookcase, made for the Maison du Mexique in 1952 in Paris. A double-sided piece of furniture used as a removable partition to separate two living spaces. As with the Tunisia bookcase, Perriand invented an airy aesthetic, cheerful colours and a new ergonomics thanks to the removable metal racks wedged between the shelves. Source : barnies

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Charlotte Perriand, NUAGE storage system. Cassina is now reissuing the modular storage systems designed by Charlotte Perriand in the early 1950s. Source : cassina

But before being asked to go to Japan and then being able to count on the tutelary figure of Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand proved herself very early on with another emblematic figure of 20th century architecture, Le Corbusier (1887-1965).

After graduating from the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs (UCAD) in 1925, the young Charlotte was quickly spotted following the presentation, two years later, of her famous Bar sous le toit at the Salon d’automne. At the age of 24, the furniture presented by this dynamic young woman was very avant-garde, breaking with the Art Deco style and bringing modern and industrial materials such as steel into fashion. She perfected her project in 1928 with the presentation of her 1928 Dining Room at the Salon des artistes décorateurs.

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Charlotte Perriand, Bar sous le toit, 1927. For Perriand, this is a true reproduction of the hall of her flat in Place Saint Sulpice in Paris. Very modern, it presents a space equipped with a curved bar top, stools and a sofa, as well as a coffee table. The bar furniture in shiny steel makes a statement, as do the purple blue and pink leather armchairs. Source : architectural-review

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Charlotte Perriand, Dining Room 1928, presented at the 1928 Salon des arts décoratifs. Around her Extendable Table with chromed steel tube legs, we can see 2 Fauteuils Pivotants B 302 built on the model of the rotating kitchen stools. Source : centrepompidou © F.L.C. / Adagp, Paris 2007

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Charlotte Perriand, Extendable table, 1927. The frame is made of aluminium, the table top is covered with a rubber sheet that rolls up thanks to ball bearings. Thanks to an internal mechanism, the table can be extended from 5 to 8 people.

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Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Armchair B 302, 1928. Produced by Thonet at the time, the structure is made of chromed steel tube, the seat is filled with latex foam and the cover is made of leather. Source : centrepompidou © Jean-Claude Planchet – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP, © F.L.C. / Adagp, Paris, © Adagp, Par

Charlotte Perriand’s modernity and practicality appealed to the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who hired her as early as 1927 to join his architectural firm, and she became a partner in 1928. For a decade, the designer supervised the creation of furniture for the master’s architectural projects. She created pieces of furniture that have since passed into posterity, including the famous Chaise Longue LC4, still called the Chaise Longue Le Corbusier, and the Fauteuils LC1 and LC2.

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Chaise Longue LC4 Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, 1928. Published by Cassina since 1965, the LC4 is one of the most famous models of modern design. Source : cassina

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LC1 armchair, design by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, 1928. This ultra-elegant piece, with its sobriety and geometric lines, has now been reissued in its original form by the Italian manufacturer Cassina. Source : ambiantedirect

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LC2 Poltrona armchair published by Cassina. Design: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand, 1928. Classic and rational, the LC2 Armchair is a must of 20th century design, launched in production in 1965. Source : cassina

It was notably during these years spent working alongside Le Corbusier that Charlotte Perriand met Junzô Sakakura (1901-1969), the first internationally recognised Japanese architect. It was he who offered her the position attached to the Japanese Ministry of Commerce in 1940.

Although Charlotte Perriand designed avant-garde furniture, she also had a social conscience that led her to develop projects in line with the politics of her time. In 1936, at the request of Georges Monnet, Minister of Agriculture in the first Blum government, she redesigned the Ministry’s waiting room. For this purpose, she produced an impressive photomontage to promote the agricultural policy of the Popular Front.

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Photomontages installed in the waiting room of the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris, dedicated to the promotion of the agricultural policy of the Popular Front, 1936. Source : pixelcreation

Photomontage by Charlotte Perriand and Fernand Léger for the Ministry of Agriculture Pavilion, International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life, Paris, 1937. Source : stylepark

This is not the first time she has used the photographic medium. In 1936, she presented another impressive photomontage combining photographs and collages : La Grande Misère de Paris, for the Salon des arts ménagers in Paris. In this 16-metre-long work, she denounced the miserable living conditions of the Parisian working class. Her objective: to call out to elected officials the catastrophic situation of urban housing in the capital and its suburbs.

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View of the Charlotte Perriand exhibition at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce, 2012. Photomontage by Charlotte Perriand: La Grande Misère de Paris, created in 1936 for the Salon des arts ménagers de Paris. Source : museeniepce

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Charlotte Perriand, Salle de séjour à budget populaire, 3rd Housing Exhibition, Salon des arts ménagers, 1936. In addition to her monumental fresco La Grande Misère de Paris, Charlotte Perriand presented furniture designed for the working classes and economically accessible, testifying to her commitment to the social issues of her time. Source : mediation.centrepompidou Photographie M. Gravot © AchP, Adagp, Paris 2007

Charlotte Perriand has a passion for travel and a taste for adventure. An experienced skier, she had a great passion for the mountains. In 1936-1937, with the help of the engineer André Tournon, she created prefabricated elements that were articulated together using a framework made of light and robust aluminium tubes for the “Refuge Bivouac”, installed at the Mont Joly pass (Megève).

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Description of the Refuge Bivouac, 1936-1937. Designed and produced by Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret and André Tournon. At the top and bottom right, Charlotte Perriand’s smiling face. Source : slideshare

But one of the great projects of the second half of his life was his participation in the construction of the winter sports resort of Les Arcs. Roger Godino, the property developer who initiated the project, asked her to intervene in the architecture, but also in the urban planning and equipment of the flats. For twenty years, Charlotte Perriand coordinated a team of multidisciplinary talents.

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Les Arcs 1600 resort, view of the accommodation from the outside. It was Charlotte Perriand who suggested the recumbent buildings cascading down the slope. Although the first plans for the resort date from 1962, Charlotte Perriand brought her architectural know-how to bear in 1967, at the end of the project with this sleek architecture. She actively participated in the Arc 1800 project and then in the Arc 2000 resort. Souce : mggalerie

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Les Arcs 1600, view of accommodation. The architecture of the resort was awarded the “20th Century Heritage” label by the Ministry of Culture in 2006. With her teams, Charlotte Perriand wanted a site that would be integrated into the mountain environment to preserve it. Source : lesarcs

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Les Arcs 1600, model of the site. Source : mggalerie

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Les Arcs resort, flat interior, furnishings and interior layout by Charlotte Perriand. These flats are still available for rent. Source : alti-mag

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Les Arcs resort, Flat designed by Charlotte Perriand. Source : alti-mag

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Pair of “Les Arcs” chairs, circa 1960. Chosen by Charlotte Perriand for the design of the winter sports resort “Les Arcs 1600”. Black tinted tubular metal structure and stretched leather. Source : expertissim

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Charlotte Perriand, Rising and falling table made for the flats in Les Arcs, circa 1960. Source : aguttes

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Charlotte Perriand, “Les Arcs” coffee table, circa 1965. Model with a pentagonal top in laminated wood on a height-adjustable base in blackened steel, with four legs made of skids. Source : baronribeyre

Several exhibitions in recent years have highlighted Charlotte Perriand’s many projects and works. The Centre Pompidou paid tribute to her in 2005-2006, with the first monographic exhibition devoted entirely to her since her death in 1999. If you want to know more, you can read the various works devoted to her by the historian Jacques Barsac, who is the husband of Pernette Perriand, Charlotte’s daughter.

François Boutard