Above: Charlotte Perriand at the Corbusier Studio in Paris. Photo by: Pierre Jeanneret.
“There is one thing I never did, and that was flirt. That is, I didn’t ‘dabble’. I created and produced and my job was important. There was mutual respect, mutual recognition.”
It cannot go unnoticed that many women Modernist designers have lived incredible lives. Forgoing the fact that forging a career at a time when very few women could break into the male-dominated (sometimes outright misogynist) world of architecture and design theirs is often a noteworthy story that goes beyond their design legacy. Charlotte Perriand is one such designer.
Born in Paris in 1903 Perriand attended the École de L’union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs (School of the Central Union of Decorative Arts) to study furniture design. After graduating in 1925 she applied to work at Le Corbusier’s studio in 1927 and he, rather famously, rejected with the reply, “We don’t embroider cushions here.” Undaunted Perriand renovated her apartment with a large bar made of aluminum, glass, and chrome which was to be recreated at the Salon d’Automne. It was at this exhibition she caught the attention of Le Corbusier’s partner (and cousin) Pierre Jeanneret who would eventually convince Corbusier to offer her a position in his studio.
In the 1930’s Perriand moved away from steel and chrome as they were proving increasingly too expensive to work with and began using more traditional materials like wood and cane and also incorporating handcrafted techniques into her design. These were said to inspired by the vernacular furniture of Savoie where her grandparents lived and which she visited often as a child.
Moving up within the cultural circles of Paris Perriand travelled to Japan in 1940 as an advisor for industrial design to the Ministry for Trade and Industry. However in 1942 she was forced to leave Japan as an “undesirable alien” but a naval blockade prevented her from returning to France and was forced into exile in Vietnam. However life for Perriand would continue as it was here she met and married her second husband, Jacques Martin, and had a daughter, Pernette.
After the war Perriand returned to France and revived her career as an independent designer and continued her collaboration with Jean Prouvé. For the remaining 25 years Charlotte Perriand continued to work on some high profile projects and it is only within the past 10-15 years that she is finally receiving the full credit she deserves for many of the pieces that have been solely credited to Le Corbusier – which I don’t think he would have minded at all as despite his initial rejection of Perriand, they became lifelong friends.
On 27 October 1999 Charlotte Perriand died at the age of 96. A life well-lived.