Thanks to Louis Vuitton, the American public is about to learn more about one of France’s pioneering figures in architecture and design: Charlotte Perriand, whose timeless furnishings and better-living-via-design ethos still resonate.
During the Design Miami fair, the French luxury group is to unveil La maison au bord de l’eau (house by the shore, in English), a U-shaped beach house conceived in 1934 yet never realized until now.
This story first appeared in the December 3, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I don’t think it’s ever been done before,” Michael Burke, Vuitton’s chairman and chief executive officer, said of the retro building project. “It’s a nice way of paying homage to one of the first modern designs of the 20th century.”
Meticulously constructed in Italy according to Perriand’s sketches, the structure was shipped by boat to Florida, where it will go on display from today through Saturday on the beach fronting the Raleigh Hotel.
In tandem, Perriand posthumously inspired Vuitton’s summer 2014 Icônes fashion collection, designed by women’s studio director Julie de Libran and just shipped to some 100 Vuitton stores, including its temporary location in the Miami Design District.
The project will culminate in January with Perriand-inspired windows at Vuitton’s 468 boutiques worldwide.
The fair has attracted several other luxury brands that return each year, offering their own design sensibilities. Fendi will repeat at Design Miami for the sixth consecutive year in a collaboration with the French designer Maria Pergay, who has created an installation of unique furniture pieces. Berluti commissioned four pieces from the designer Maarten Baas, including a chaise lounge, to be unveiled at the house’s Design District store.
Swarovski, another regular at the South Florida bacchanal that is now in its sixth year as the main sponsor of Design Miami, this time asked the Brazilian designer and architect Guilherme Torres for its annual installation, the “Crystal Palace.” Christian Louboutin and the curator Xavier Laboulbenne are exhibiting five sculptures made with untreated leather by the artist Carmelo Tedeschi. Maison Martin Margiela tapped the French artist Baptiste Debombourg to create — yet another — “exclusive installation” for its Miami store. And Jeff Koons’ limited-edition collaboration with Dom Pérignon is getting another toast with a party at the W South Beach that’s one of the more coveted invitations of the week.
As for Vuitton, like a Basel-long Brigadoon, the minimal house of iroko wood slats and a marine blue roof really comes to life installed in the Raleigh’s sandy oasis. The airy, spartan rooms display the 2014 Icônes collection like someone actually lives there — a checkered sun hat and curled orange belt on a shelf, a leather jacket laid across the bed, more items hanging in built-in cupboards from where trundle beds emerge.
In a way, it’s very much how a real estate agent might stage a home for sale, which it is, incidentally, privately through Sotheby’s. Since protective booties hadn’t been supplied yet, art collectors like Aby Rosen and Jose Mugrabi already were touring it barefoot Monday before its public unveiling.
Set atop short pillars that can be extended to meet owner specifications, the layout’s open terrace links indoor areas, one for living and dining, and the other for sleeping and bath quarters. Due to the small scale, every nook and cranny holds a function, whether aesthetic, like the “collector’s wall” to exhibit natural found objects like coral fans and starfish, or a large wooden tub filled with bobbing succulents to collect rainwater through the hole of a sail-inspired canopy. Residents can listen to its trickle while reclining on low slatted chaises, part of the minimal, but meaningful, decoration that also gives a sense of Perriand’s innovation. A trio of vintage stools balances a sleek banquette around the Gutmann table, and iconic Siège Tournant leather armchairs occupy each bedroom.
In an interview on Monday, Burke said Perriand’s pioneering spirit, audacity, sense of adventure and commitment to simple-yet-luxurious designs dovetails with Vuitton’s brand values.
He explained that this “gutsy” woman made her mark in a profession dominated by men, although she was long overshadowed by French contemporaries such as Le Corbusier. In another daring move, she lived and worked in Japan in the Forties, creating furniture and helping the government raise design standards.
Perriand is emblematic of a group of architects and designers in the Twenties and Thirties, when many enduring design principles were forged. “All designers are still tremendously influenced by the period,” Burke marveled.
Perriand, who died in 1999 after a long career that also included photography and urban planning, is “very well known in the design field,” Burke said, while acknowledging the Miami exhibition “is going to be an eye-opener for the general public.”
Perriand’s daughter, Pernette, told WWD her mother designed many of her own clothes for her trips in Asia, right down to the fabrics. As with her modular furniture, the architect experimented with standardized wardrobes. While in Japan, for example, she made do with four skirts, sweaters, blouses and bustiers to create a variety of silhouettes.
“By adding scarves, stoles, atypical jewels and gloves, I achieved a wide variety with a great deal of surprise and fantasy — always similar, but never the same,” she wrote at the time.
Perriand had a penchant for arty and demonstrative jewelry, sometimes designed by herself and incorporating shells collected on her travels, her daughter said. Her jewelry box also included pieces by Alexander Calder and Jean Fouquet.
Jacques Barsac, a Perriand historian, noted that she and Vuitton had collaborated on a “concept house” in the Fifties, at a time when French magazines invited various creative types to imagine new ways of living.
Pernette Perriand said her late mother remains an inspiring figure, given how she broke through in a male-dominated trade with her fundamentally modernist approach to her work and life.
“Her demeanor was very fashion-forward,” Burke concurred, noting that her colorful furniture, building designs and personal style pointed to a “whole modern lifestyle.”
Separately on Monday, Vuitton said it would open a pop-up store on Dec. 13 in the ski resort of Courchevel, France, where it also operates a permanent location at the LVMH-owned Cheval Blanc hotel. It is to remain open until April 6.