Friday, May 6, 2011

Hi, Mom!

In honor of Mother's Day, a tribute to three mothers of modern design.
Charlotte Perriand lounging in the LC4 in 1928. Photo courtesy apartmenttherapy.com
Architect-designer Charlotte Perriand (1903–1999) had to contend with doors closing resolutely in her face when she applied for design jobs in 1920s Paris, despite the gains made by women in Europe after World War I. Modernist icon Le Corbusier himself rudely rejected her by saying, "We don't embroider cushions here," only to have a change of heart after his design and business partner, cousin Pierre Jeanneret, took him to see her tubular steel furniture at the Salon D'Automne design exhibition in 1927. The resulting collaboration yielded some of the 20th century's most recognizable pieces, including the Chaise Longue (LC4, above) and the Grand Confort B302 (LC3). Perriand left Corbu's studio in 1937 (although she was to collaborate with the pair again over the years) and went on to design furniture and interiors largely influence by her time in Japan and southeast Asia.
Top, Perriand's Sub-Sahara Bench (ca. 1950s); the Table Gorge (1954). Photos courtesy Magen Gallery
Marianne Brandt (1893–1983) also knew something about pigeonholing. A star pupil from her first semester at the famed Bauhaus in 1924, she was nonetheless barred from entering the architecture department and was instead steered in the metal workshops. But hers was the last laugh, as her designs went on to become some of the most recognizable of the Bauhaus output. She eventually succeeded her mentor, painter-photographer Lázsló Moholy-Nagy, as head of the metal workshop, during which time she collaborated with students and colleagues alike. Despite her acknowledged talents, Brandt was never able to secure a job as an industrial designer, but she taught until the mid-1950s. She turned from design to painting, and lived quietly until her death. Her fixtures still light the halls of the iconic Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, and her teapot is recognized even by those who claim to know nothing about design.
A self-portrait from the 1930s; the famous teapot, expressing the basic tenets of the Bauhaus: geometry, form and function—and no more (courtesy Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin)
Eileen Gray (1878–1976) fought her own battles. Her interiors and furniture were synonymous with early modernism and the misnamed Art Deco era, but she didn't receive proper due until years later, after the respected Italian design magazine Domus published an appreciation of her work in 1968. She began as a painter, traveling with her artist father to Italy as a child and later studying in Paris as a teenager. She became enamored of lacquer work, learning the craft from a Japanese master living in Paris. Her screens were sought after by wealthy clients and her lacquer work often adorned the interiors she designed for them. Her architectural output was very small but influential—she designed much of the furnishings for the homes she designed. She built herself a small home on the French coast and lived in obscurity until the 1970s, when her furniture was reissued, then badly copied for mass consumption. Today, much of her furniture is carefully reissued in numbered editions, but copies of her most famous piece, the E1027 table, can still be found almost everywhere.

Top, Le Destin (1914), a screen purchased by couturier Jacque Doucet (photo courtesy The Transat armchair, 1929, was designed for the E-1027 house, on the French Mediterranean coast, as was the E-1027 side table.

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