Perriand on her chaise longue basculante, in 1928.
In 1927, a young Parisian designer named Charlotte Perriand applied to work in the studio of the great architect Le Corbusier. The response she received was curt. “We don’t embroider cushions here,” Perriand was told. This was typical of the expectations society placed on women. They engaged in 'craft' rather than the arts. They were the decorators, not the designers. Thankfully, Charlotte Perriand was not put off by his rejection.
A month later at the annual Salon d’Automne, the Swiss-French architect found himself at Perriand’s Bar Sous le Toit or ‘Bar Under the Roof’ which re-created a section of her own apartment. Le Corbusier was (surely) repentant when he witnessed her display of nickel-plated copper stools clustered around an anodised aluminium cocktail bar, a chrome-plated table nestled beside a leather banquette and a built-in gramophone cabinet. Clever, compact and alive, it was a vision of the future. He hired her immediately.
Perriand’s Bar Sous le Toit or ‘Bar Under the Roof’ at the Salon d’Automne, 1927.
Perriands attic bar was henceforth credited to the studio of Le Corbusier as part of his “Equipment for Living”, a concept intended to replace all traditional home furnishings from then on. This was the beginning of Le Corbusier taking the credit for some of Perriand’s most brilliant work that have gone on to become 20th-century classics: the cube-shaped Grand Confort armchair, the pony-skin chaise lounge (a "machine for relaxing"), the leather swivel chair.
After decades of misrepresentation, it is surely time to give credit where credit is due. We recognise her designs for what they are, original and radical and pay homage to her.
Room in House for a Young Man, at the Brussels International Exposition in 1935. Photograph: © ADAGP/C Vanderberghe/AChP
Perriand's House for a Young Man, built for the Brussels International Exposition in 1935, could have been designed for our very present-day pandemic lives. The arena is made for exercising body and mind, featuring pull-up rings and a trapeze bar side by side.
‘Tunisia' library, created in 1952 and made in the Jean Prouvé workshops. Photo: PHILLIPS
Throughout the 1930s, Prouvé and Perriand built a fruitful partnership, and became busy with commissions for the French Army. But when France fell to Nazi forces, Perriand moved to Japan, where she remained throughout the duration of World War II. This period was an influential and productive time, as evidenced by bamboo pieces dating back to 1940—the very year she made her move—as well as later works including her Banquettes Tokyo, created in 1954, and a ’60s-era lamp created with Isamu Noguchi.
“Pebbles, bits of shoes, lumps of wood riddled with holes, horsehair brushes – all smoothed and ennobled by the sea… We called it our art brut.”
Hinoki cypress wood coffee table made by Perriand in the 50s. Photograph: © ADAGP
Her politics also fed her ideas, as Perriand became more radicalised in her communist beliefs following the war. After returning to France she turned her hand to low-cost furniture for mass production. But, despite her best efforts to engage with industrial production, none of Perriand’s designs ever made it to the affordable mass market. She had hoped her chaise longue, with its curved tubular steel frame, would go down this route, but discussions with a manufacturer came to nothing. Only 170 were sold in the first decade. Today, reproduced by Cassina under licence from Fondation Le Corbusier, the celebrated recliner retails in design boutiques for more than $6,000.
Perriand’s furniture in 1956 at Galérie Steph Simon. Photograph: © ADAGP/Gaston Karquel/AChP
Perriand with Le Corbusier in 1928. Photograph: © Pierre Jeanneret/AChP
A 1927 dining room scheme. Image courtesy Adagp, Paris, 2019/AChP