The daughter of a tailor and a haute couture seamstress, Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) attended the Ecole de L’Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris from 1920-1925.
By 1927 Perriand had found that the possibilities for a female designer were limited, but after reading two books by avant-garde architect Le Corbusier, Perriand was convinced she had found her mentor.
She orchestrated a meeting, only to be told “we don’t embroider cushions here” by Le Corbusier.
His cousin, Pierre Jeaneret, took a greater interest in Perriand and encouraged Le Corbusier to see her radical rooftop bar of steel, glass and aluminium at the Salon D’Automne a few months later, and she was given a job soon after.
Perriand designed furniture at Le Corbusier’s studio for over a decade, collaborating with him and Jeanneret on most pieces.
The famous B306 chaise longue (now sold as the LC4 chaise) and the B302 swivel chair (now sold as the LC7 swivel chair) were some of her early designs that used tubular chromed steel to create furniture for the modern age.
By the late 1930s, however, she began designing in a more rustic style, perhaps inspired by her love of the mountainous region of Savoie, where she had often stayed with her grandparents as a child.
In 1937, she left Le Corbusier’s studio and worked with artist Fernand Léger, then designer Jean Prouvé.
From 1940, Perriand advised the Japanese government on industrial arts, but when Japan entered World War II she tried to return to France. She got as far as Vietnam, where she saw out the war learning local woodwork and weaving techniques.
Returning home to Paris in 1946, Perriand again worked with Prouvé and Léger and, in 1950, with Le Corbusier on his Unite d’Habitation apartment building in Marseilles in southern France.
Throughout the ’50s, she also worked independently on large-scale projects, like the refit of the United Nations conference rooms in Geneva and Air France offices in London, Paris and Tokyo.
In 1959, she designed furniture with Jean Prouvé for the common rooms in Le Corbusier’s Maison du Brésil at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, while the ’60s saw her design the French Tourist Office in London and work on ski resorts in Savoie. Charlotte Perriand’s last major work, in 1993, was an outdoor tea house for the UNESCO building in Paris.
Charlotte Perriand forced her way into design and architecture when most women were expected to stay at home. Her early works followed the principles of Le Corbusier and the influential Bauhaus school and were essentially chromed tubular steel, leather and glass.
After leaving Le Corbusier’s studio, Perriand then became more interested in natural materials and her designs varied in style from post-constructivist compositions (co-designed with Jean Prouvé and Sonia Delaunay) to simple, peasant-like stools.
Best known for
The extraordinary B306 chaise longue (now sold as the LC4 chaise) was probably Perriand’s own design, even though all her furniture from this period has ended up sharing a design credit with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret.
This bold item, above all of her other early tubular-steel designs, shows her inventiveness. Later pieces, such as Perriand’s collaboration with Jean Prouvé on bookshelves for the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, are now considered iconic pieces of 20th-century design.