The French designer came to be one of the most important voices in 20th-century design, creating furniture, interiors, and larger architectural projects. Opening in June at the Design Museum in London, the exhibition ‘Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life’ will take a look at the designer’s life and work through sketches, photographs, scrapbooks, prototypes, and final pieces.
The exhibition falls on the 25th anniversary of the designer’s last major presentation in London, which was held in 1996. As a female pioneer of design, Perriand’s work in the past was sometimes overshadowed by her male collaborators (who included Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Jean Prouvé) but in recent years her work has become as acknowledged as many of her peers.
The Design Museum’s exhibition shines a light on a design talent who believed good design in our lives and homes was something for everyone.
Tickets for the exhibition are available now.
Charlotte Perriand and Japan
Charlotte Perriand had a long love for Japan after she lived and worked there in the 1940s.
In 1940 she came to Japan to work as an adviser to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, advising on industrial design and the exporting of craftworks. She developed a love for the country and its culture, which would later come to influence her later work.
In 1934, she met Japanese architect Junzo Sakakura while working at Le Corbusier’s studio in Paris. They became friends and he was one of the people who would later recommend her for the advisory role at the Ministry. She left for the city of Kobe on 15th June 1940, later writing: “At that time, Japan was like the Moon”. She worked at the Ministry to advise on and grow Japan’s furniture exports, but also spent her time exploring cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and the countryside.
The time she spent in Japan, before she had to leave due to the outbreak of World War II, played a key role in her later career. In 1941 she held an exhibition called ‘Selection, Tradition, Creation’, which merged together elements of both Japanese and European design. Later, in 1953 she was hired to remodel Air France’s Tokyo offices and worked on the homes of the Japanese ambassador and the Japanese textile designer, Tadao Matsui, in Paris.
Her final architectural work led to a commission by her friend Hiroshi Teshigaharato to design a Teahouse for the Japanese Cultural Festival in Paris in 1993. The work used traditional elements like wood and bamboo alongside natural elements such as stones and water, alongside her knowledge of Japanese culture, to design a space inspired by the peaceful atmosphere of a tea ceremony.
What to see at the Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life exhibition
The exhibition uses three sections to explore Perriand’s career: The Machine Age, Nature and the Synthesis of the Arts, and Modular Design for Modern Living.
It begins with the design of her own studio apartment in Saint-Sulpice, Paris, where you can see Perriand’s early mastery of metal furniture and the notebooks in which she developed the tubular steel furniture designed with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, which would go onto define 1920s modernism.
You can also walk through one-to-one room recreations of the Salon d’Automne interior from 1929 and the London branch of the Air France office designed in 1957.
The exhibition also charts Perriand’s shift from the machine aesthetic to wooden natural forms, inspired by collecting and taking photos of objects found in nature, and then moves onto her exploration of modular design, which was created to be more affordable and adaptable, such as her iconic bookcases, originally created for student dormitories but now an instantly recognisable form of modern design.
As a hiker, skier, and traveller, the exhibition also traces her love of travel and the outdoors and ends with perhaps the biggest architectural project of her career – the Les Arcs ski resort in France.
Tickets for the exhibition are on sale now.