The London Design Festival finishes today. For the past 10 days, this event has been promoting the English capital as a design hub to the international creative community.
This year, visitors have been able to discover at first hand some of the superb work by French architect and designer Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) at Cassina's showroom in Knightsbridge.
The Italian furniture makers have teamed up with Louis Vuitton to honour Perriand as part of the French fashion house’s “Icons Collection”.
The LC4 chair
One of the stand-out pieces from the collection has been a fresh interpretation of a design classic – the LC4 chair – originally created in 1928 by Perriand with Swiss design deity Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret.
This new LC4 features a specially-developed mattress made of light cowhide with dark saddle-leather for the head and footrest, available in a 1000-piece limited edition.
The LC4 was just one iconic design that Perriand created at Le Corbusier’s studio on Paris’s Rue de Sèvres in the late 1920s and '30s during a fruitful collaboration that almost ended before it had even started.
Perriand first visited Le Corbusier in 1927, inspired by his books Vers une Architecture and L’Art Décoratif d’aujourd’hui.
His writings had apparently chimed with her ‘machine age’ vision of design more resonantly than the craft-based, fine art style espoused by the École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, where she had completed five years of study.
Le Corbusier (left) with Perriand (centre)
But ‘Le Corb’ was quick to show the 24-year-old the door, dismissively adding: “We don’t embroider cushions here!”
Later that year, however, Le Corbusier recognised his mistake after seeing Perriand’s metal and glass Bar sous le Toît (‘Bar under the Roof’) that she had created for the Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris, and duly invited her to join his studio.
Bar sous le Toît
The Bar installation followed on from the one she had created in her attic apartment on Place Saint-Sulpice, here featuring the iconic fauteil pivotant chair.
Bar sous le Toît featuring the fauteil pivotant chair
As part of Le Corbusier’s team, Perriand took the steel, aluminium and glass vibe of Bar sous le Toît and channelled it into new interiors and furniture.
An installation featuring three iconic Perriand chairs: LC4, LC2 Grand Confort and the B301
She also practically applied the ideas preached by Le Corbusier in his books, such as his tri-category classification of furniture – besoins-types (type-needs), meubles-types (type-furniture) and objets-membres humains (human-limb objects).
B301 sling back chair
As per Le Corbusiers’ wishes, Perriand developed three chairs featuring tubular structures made of chrome-plated steel, each with its own function.
LC2 Grand Confort
There was the B301 sling back chair for conversation; the square-shaped LC2 Grand Confort for relaxation; and the B306 – that became the LC4 – for relaxation.
Equally iconic was the publicity shot for the LC4 that revealed the feminist in Perriand: She was lying back with her legs crossed, wearing a skirt that was audaciously short for its time.
Over the course of the '30s, Perriand created furniture for a number of Le Corbusier’s projects such as student accommodation in the French capital’s Cité Universitaire campus.
Charlotte Perriand's conception for Le Pavillon Suisse at Paris's Cité Universitaire
In 1934, Perriand conceived La Maison au bord de l’eau, a breath-taking beach house which was never realised until Louis Vuitton created it at the end of last year for Design Miami.
In 1938, Perriand, again with Jeanneret, designed a spaceship-looking mountain shelter Refuge Tonneau which Cassina constructed for the first time at the Salone del Mobile in Milan two years ago. They have had it on display during this year's edition of the London Design Festival.
Once the Second World War began, Perriand set sail for Japan before moving on to Vietnam.
When she returned to France in 1946, the design touches that she had discovered in Asia – sliding panels and room dividers from Japan, the use of natural materials like bamboo and wood in Vietnam – came across in her collaborations with both Jean Prouvé and with Le Corbusier again in the 1950s.
Perriand's design for Le Corbusier's Unité d’Habitation apartment building in Marseille
Perriand's design for Le Corbusier's Unité d’Habitation apartment building in Marseille in detail
Perriand's interior for the Tunisian house at the Cité Universitaire in Paris
The type of room divider that Perriand worked on with Jean Prouvé
With Prouvé, she also refined a triangular table design with rounded corners (above) that seemingly informed her series of nesting tables (below).
And in the 1960s, Perriand undertook work on a series of ski resorts in Savoie, France with the likes of Guy Rey-Millet.
La Cascade, Les Arcs, France
But it was her designs and creations from the decade spent with Le Corbusier prior to the war that remain arguably her most famous work.
Perriand later said of the experience of working with the Swiss: “The smallest pencil stroke had to have a point, to fulfil a need or respond to a gesture or posture, and had to be achieved at mass-production prices.”
When she died in 1999, she was hailed as a pioneer, an icon of modernity and one of the few females to have triumphed so emphatically in such a male-dominated environment.
For more information on ‘Charlotte Perriand, an Icon of Modernity’, please visit: http://www.londondesignfestival.com/.