‘The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living’
Charlotte Perriand, French Architect and designer
In the unwritten history of male condescension, Charlotte Perriand was snubbed by the famous Le Corbusier in 1927 for hoping to join his design atelier. His dismissive reaction, ‘We don’t embroider cushions here’ to her accredited architectural resume was typical of the treatment towards female designers at the time. Le Corbusier later changed his tune after seeing her work on display at the Salon d’Automne. Effortlessly crafting the male dominated materials of steel, chrome, and glass into machine age designs, Perriand swayed the hardened designer into hiring her.
When female designers do appear in architectural conversations, it is often through their connection with male designers, regardless of their own creative achievements. It is not surprising that for an extended period, few knew that a Le Corbusier interior or chair was likely the work of Charlotte Perriand. Despite significant contributions to the atelier, and the collaborative nature of the design process, women still occupied the bottom of the hierarchy, and were paid significantly less than their male counterparts.
“The underlying assumption is that when women do something, it is for love or as a hobby, when men do it, it becomes a reputable profession”
Dora Vanette, Design Historian, NYC
Perriand believed good design should be fundamentally transformative and accessible to all. Her three most iconic chairs are prime examples of her vision and craftsmanship; the B301 (Sling Chair), the B306 (Chaise Lounge), and the LC2 (Grand Comfort). Despite these designs having feminine and erotic overtones, Le Corbusier would insist that they were shining representations of the mechanical and masculine.
By the 1930s, Perriand became increasingly socially conscious and realized her politics were diverging from those of Le Corbusier and so she left his atelier in 1937. Perriand went on to design collective housing that merged functionality with aesthetic; areas such as the kitchen were opened towards the living space, allowing comfort and cooking to combine. She also lived in Japan for two years, where she formed a synergy with the landscape, finding a perfect marriage between the Japanese aesthetic, and her own industrial modernism.
Charlotte Perriand is a story of talent, determination and insight that is often swept under that storm cloud that is Le Corbusier. Her brave and bold take on design in an era of rebirth helped turn a male movement into a human one. As we acknowledge her for the icon she is, hopefully it will encourage history to be re-examined, allowing those women that were overlooked to finally have their moment in the sun.
Anna Grassham / Head of Modern Design
Christian Cox / Modern Design Assistant