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Charlotte Perriand: In Pursuit of “A New Way of Living"

The Machine age may sound outdated when we discuss the growing popularity of artificial intelligence today. However now almost a century ago, one designer rode the waves of mechanization with ease and created a new era of living. Enter: French designer and architect Charlotte Perriand, who remains one of the most acclaimed personalities among the avant-garde designers of the early twentieth century.



Charlotte Perriand sur la Chaise longue basculante, B306,
(1928-1929) Le Corbusier, P. Jeanneret, C. Perriand, vers 1928 F.L.C. ADAGP, Paris 2019 ADAGP, Paris 2019 © AChP

After studying furniture design under Henri Rapin and Maurice Dufrêne at Ecole de L’Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, Perriand initially appeared as a mere follower of the Art Deco style. However, she soon became one of the pioneers of mid-century modernist design, remaining a leading force that continues to inspire contemporary designers today. Breaking down her genius, it was through her persistent and innovative spirit to embrace new technologies and equally see the potential of natural materials that led her to create some of the most iconic designs and classic forms, more so impacting our way of living to this day.


Un equipement interieur d’une habitation, Salon d’Automne, Paris, 1929, Photography: FLC / Adagp, Paris 2019 © Jean Collas / AChP


Charlotte Perriand, Collier Roulement a Billes Chromees, (Ball-bearing Necklace), 1927, Adagp, Paris, 2019 © AChP

Perriand gained fame for her ‘Le bar sous le toit’ (The bar beneath the roof) showcased at Salon d’Automne in 1927. It was a sensational work at a time when fastidious and overdecorated interiors were widely accepted. In this piece, Perriand avoided decorating surfaces, and used industrial materials such as aluminum, glass, and chrome, which are commonly used in car appliances. Though she held a strong an interest in the asymmetrical beauty of nature, Perriand also explored a great interest in mechanical aesthetics, particularly automobiles, which were the best examples of state-of-the-art technology back then. She would notably observe luxury cars with their shining bodies along the Les Champs-Elysees. Her fascination for machines was evident in her fashion sense as well. She preferred wearing a necklace of interlocking copper balls. She called it “my ball-bearings necklace” and regarded it as a symbol of her adherence to the twentieth-century machine age.

It is not surprising that Perriand approached Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture who coined the well-known phrase “a house is a machine for living in,” to work at his studio. Along with Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret, Perriand specifically worked on furnishings and interior designs for “a new way of living” with rationality and functionality. Although she was fascinated by machines, humaneness was an integral part of her design. For example, the ‘LC3 Armchair’ (1928) that Perriand designed along with Corbusier and Jeanneret is not only stylish but also comfortable. Metal furniture, which tends to be inorganic, was given a luxurious feel using leather and fur. The famous ‘LC4 Lounge Chair’ (1928) was a fashionable version of the chaise lounge. The person lying down in the photograph is Perriand, and if you observe closely, you can see that she is wearing the above mentioned copper ball necklace.


Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand | Fauteuil Grand Confort, Large Model (1928)


Le Corbusier, P. Jeanneret, Ch. Perriand, Chaise longue basculante, B306, 1928-29. Vitra Design Museum F.L.C. Adagp, Paris, 2019 Adagp, Paris, 2019 Courtesy of Vitra Design Museum

In 1940, following a recommendation from Junzo Sakakura, her former colleague at Corbusier’s studio, Perriand was invited by the Japanese Ministry of Commerce and Industry to work as an industrial arts supervisor. She traveled to various cities and presented at conferences in schools, production centers, and cultural institutions, sharing her ideas on modern design. She also interacted with important personalities in the fields of craft, design, and architecture, including Muneyoshi Yanagi, who is well-known for his idea of Mingei–people art. At her first exhibition in Japan in 1941 titled “Selection, Tradition, Creation,” a chaise longue designed by Perriand attracted widespread attention. She designed this after a visit to the rural area of Yamagata in northern Japan, with materials and techniques sourced locally. Her attempt to revive traditional craft work and combine it with contemporary art is evident in the work. She continued to visit Japan and produced works inspired by Japanese culture, such as ‘Nuage’ (1952), reminiscent of the staggered wall shelf in a Japanese-style room, and ‘Ombra’ (1954), a chair inspired by the Kuroko characters of the Bunraku puppet theater.


Charlotte Perriand, Stool, ca. 1955, Adagp, Paris, 2019 © Galerie Patrick Seguin


Charlotte Perriand, Reception Room, 1955, Adagp, Paris, 2019 © AChP


Charlotte Perriand, Agence Air France, Londres, 1957, Adagp, Paris, 2019 © Gaston Karquel /AChP

When considering Perriand's works chronologically, we can notice that she was not only interested in creating iconic designs but also responded to universal human needs through standardization. For example, in the late 30s, she was involved in proposing prefabricated buildings, and after the war, she joined many projects to develop living environments in schools, hotels, and apartment complexes. For example, in the ‘Unite d'Habitation’ (1952) designed by Corbusier, Perriand and Prouvé monitored the planning of facilities such as the kitchen, storage, and staircases. These designs were to be used in more than 300 dwellings, showcasing versatility with disciplined beauty and function. Starting 1967, Perriand was involved in the development of a ski resort that could accommodate 30,000 guests, overseeing the overall design as well as the interiors and furnishings of private rooms. Earlier, Perriand envisioned a new way of life, wearing the symbol of the machine age, but before long, she withdrew and returned to design with a strong awareness of its relationship with society.


Charlotte Perriand, Bahut, 1977, Paris, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Adagp, Paris, 2019, MAD, Paris © Jean Tholance

In her autobiography, Perriand concluded that individual consciousness constitutes society, and must be considered and anticipated to open new avenues for reflection and exploration. Today, we are living in a new age that requires “A New Way of Living,” and it may seem imprudent to discuss ideals and dreams for the future. Yet, these words by Perriand resonate with us. If we do not start by confronting reality and envisioning our future, we will never be able to achieve our goal. As inspired by Perriand, her pursuit of “A New Way of Living” remains an impact more than ever.

Text: Sakura Nomiyama