The Modern ‘Housewife’

The Bauhaus art school was founded in Weimar 100 years ago and Charlotte Perriand died in Paris 20 years ago. The Fondation Louis Vuitton is now shining the spotlight on her and her work. 

Standing amid a snow-covered mountain panorama with her back facing the camera, Charlotte Perriand (1903–1999) stretches her arms up into the sky like an athlete celebrating victory. Her torso is naked and her hair is short and it looks like she wants to embrace her surroundings, to celebrate life. This image is most probably the most emblematic portrait of the designer and was taken in 1930 during her skiing holiday in the French Alps. It shows Perriand, the summiteer; Perriand, a modern and free woman. She was an independent and courageous character for her era, both sporty and inquisitive. She loved to travel alone to countries far away, from Asia to Africa and as far as Brazil, and she was probably the first woman to go skiing in Japan. 

The famous “LC4” chaise longue, which people often refer to as the “Le Corbusier” lounger despite the fact that Perriand played an equally important role in its design, is just one of a multitude of classic pieces of modernist furniture created by Perriand in her work as an architect. Back in 2013, her minimalistic and pragmatic yet highly aesthetic style even inspired a fashion collection by Louis Vuitton. In December of the same year, Louis Vuitton realised a previously incomplete architectural project conceived by Perriand at the Art Basel Miami Beach: the “Beach House”, a prefabricated house that was affordable for the broad middle class and was designed by the left-wing activist in 1934, at the height of her political engagement. Charlotte’s daughter Pernette, who is now responsible for managing her famous mother’s legacy, supported the project by quite literally opening the doors to the bedrooms, archives and photo albums of the most important French female designer of the 20th century. She has done the same for this upcoming exhibition: the largest retrospective to ever be dedicated to her mother. All of the Fondation’s galleries will be filled with the work of Charlotte Perriand and provide an insight into her deep exploration of the modern trends of her era, with meticulously reconstructed rooms focusing on themes ranging from art and architecture through to design and politics and right through to fashion. These installations will enable visitors to not only make their way through what could indeed be called a synthesis of the arts but also take a journey back in time.

Charlotte Perriand lived in a world in which design and architecture were still dominated by men. This remained the case until 1927, when she made her own mark with her highly acclaimed “Bar sous le toit” at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, an installation featuring copper and aluminium, two revolutionary materials in furniture design at the time. It was this piece that enabled her to establish contact with Le Corbusier. At the tender age of just 24, she began to work in the studio run by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, forming a collaboration that would continue for the next ten years. By doing so, she gave the word ‘housewife’ a whole new meaning. Like so many other women involved in the globally renowned Bauhaus movement, including artists such as Ray Eames and Eileen Gray, Perriand spent many years living in the shadows of her male counterparts. For a long time, it was only Le Corbusier who harvested the fruits of her labour. Nevertheless, with its spectacular sailboat design by Frank O. Gehry, the Fondation, which is well worth a visit for its architecture alone, is now setting sail to re-navigate its way through history and focus on Perriand's achievements. One thing’s for sure: I can’t wait to get on board. 

From 2nd October 2019 to 24th February 2020 at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris

© adagp Paris