A few months before her death in 1999, Charlotte Perriand was asked in an interview whether she considered herself an architect or a designer. She rejected both titles. “I’d say first of all that I’m nothing. For the following reason: I have never designed an object, a form, a piece of furniture that I didn’t need to relate to a whole. If you asked me today to design you a chair, I would say ‘To go where?’ I have no imagination.”
Such a claim seems like rich stuff, given the place Perriand has come to occupy in an increasingly design-obsessed culture. One of her iconic desks is in Jay-Z’s office. Perriand makes frequent appearances on The Row’s Instagram and in its boutiques. Last year, Aesop released its Rōzu perfume, a gender neutral fragrance “inspired by the life, work and enthusiasms of the modernist designer.” Shoe design brand LoQ’s FW ‘20 collection was also inspired by Perriand. So was jewelry designer Sophie Buhai’s. Fashion designer Isabel Marant has long cited her as an influence, the freeform offerings from brands like Wiggle Room seem obviously indebted to her. There have been two major retrospectives of her work in the past two years, first in Paris and then in London. Oh, and Kris Jenner bought one of her credenzas from Ellen DeGeneres. Weird!
So how did this relatively obscure figure, long overshadowed by collaborators like Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé, become so popular, so quickly? It can be hard to pinpoint where visual trends start, but in the case of Perriand, it’s safe to say that her most recent resurgence is largely due to a single, quaintly old-fashioned event: a museum exhibit. In 2019, the Louis Vuitton Foundation (LVMH’s nonprofit art museum, which opened in Paris in 2014) put on a major survey of Perriand’s work. All eleven galleries in the Frank Gehry-designed space were devoted to more than 200 scale models, furnishings, and photographs. Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World was the museum’s first show to focus on the work of one artist.
Patrick Seguin, whose Paris design gallery specializes in the work of French modernists like Perriand, Prouvé, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret—all of whom worked together at various points in their careers—says the value of Perriand’s work “gained a real significance” in the art world following the 2019 show. Today, many of her designs fetch six figures at auction. Part of Perriand’s appeal has to do with the limited number of original pieces in circulation—she always wanted to create accessible, inexpensive furniture, but like so many modernist ideals, this never came to be. Only one brand—Cassina, which collaborated with LVMH on the exhibit—is authorized to create reproductions of her work.