As a student in Paris in 1927, young designer Charlotte Perriand was turned away by the legendary Le Corbusier after being told, “We don’t embroider cushions here.” A few months later, after a colleague took him to see a glass, steel and aluminum rooftop bar she had designed, he hastily changed his mind. She worked with Le Courbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, for years, constructing tubular steel chairs now regarded as icons of “machine age” décor. She also collaborated with artists Fernand Leger and Jean Prouvé, becoming one of only a handful of women who flourished in the previously testosterone-dominated field of design. (Perriand, in a 1999 interview with ArtForum magazine, explained one of her secrets to success in that all-male circle: “There is one thing I never did, and that was flirt. … I didn’t dabble-my job was important.”)
Perriand (1903-1999) was known for creations mixing natural woods and metal that seemed bold despite their simple forms. Along with innovative desks, chairs and storage units, Perriand’s varied body of design and interior-architecture work includes design fixtures for the Salvation Army headquarters in Paris, the League of Nations building for the United Nations in Geneva and ski resorts in Savoie.
The designer’s career took an unexpected turn with her appointment as an adviser on industrial design to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1940. Trapped by a naval blockade, she spent much of World War II being shaped by a traditional, mostly purist, Japan. Stimulated by the minimalist way of living that she encountered, her subsequent work featured cleaner lines and incorporated regional materials-more woods-and traditions.
This Bench with drawer and side table, executed in 1958, is made of oak, plastic-laminate-covered wood, oak-veneered wood and fabric. About 102 inches long, and expected to bring from $18,000 to $25,000, it goes on the block at Phillips de Pury in London on Sept. 28 (www.phillipsdepury.com).
The market for Perriand’s work has been climbing in tandem with a general upswing in prices for 20th-century design. An influential retrospective of her career at the Design Museum in London in 1998 didn’t hurt, either. In May, Christie’s auction house sold a rare limited-edition ash-olive, formica and plastic sideboard designed by Perriand for $298,000. That was nearly triple the price that it had been expected to bring.