For Chalotte Perriand, the coming out party has been a long time coming. The French Modernist pioneer and one-time Le Corbusier collaborator spent a lifetime defying gender stereotypes while crafting pragmatic furniture that merged Functionalism’s austere lines with a rich, organic subtext. Among Perriand’s most standout career achievements was furnishing Les Arcs, a world-class ski resort located in the French Alps, which opened in 1968.
In our second installment of the DECASO Seminar Series, we partnered with Matthew Rachman Gallery in Chicago to uncover the story behind the simple yet lyrical furniture Perriand designed for the famed ski resort. Given the resort’s postcard locale, Perriand leaned heavily into her functionalist background, designing minimalist but highly effective furnishings that underscored the area’s natural beauty. The result is the kind of furniture that would be easy to overlook out of context, but when viewed through the lens of snow-capped peaks and white-brushed slopes, feels inarguably right. Here, Rachman and his team walk us through the exhibition’s most standout pieces.
Perriand overlooked no detail when it came to Les Arcs, including the oft-forgotten front door. “The door, usually timeless and modern, stands at the forefront of utility and sculptural ornamentation,” says Rachman. “It’s always a treat to see how the philosophy of modernist design can be encapsulated in one piece, and this door certainly does that.”
THE FORME LIBRE
According to Rachman, the Forme Libre, or ‘free form’ table, was originally created by Perriand in 1938 for her atelier in Montparnasse. “She returned to this design many times in her career, continuously reworking and elaborating its form,” says Rachman. “Characterized by its asymmetrical shape and made out of wood, the Forme Libre table for Les Arcs alludes to Charlotte’s long-standing connection with the natural world, and the beauty she saw in it.”
Among the rarest finds in the gallery’s collection are a series of metal cabinets which functioned similar to medicine cabinets. “I find their style and shape really harks to French modernism and alludes to De Stijl through its geometry and color,” says Julia Kulon of Matthew Rachman Gallery.
THE GATHERING SPOT
If there’s an iconic ski lodge piece in the Les Arcs collection, it’s this pine, picnic-style dining set. “The pine dining table set directly speaks to Perriand’s belief that better design helps in creating a better society,” says Rachman. “The set, consisting of two benches, a table and two stools, also made entirely out of pine, links the natural with the communal—really getting at the heart of the human spirit.”
The bedrooms of Les Arcs were outfitted with sleek, almost profile-less sconces. “The CP-1 sconce lights are a paradigmatic staple for any Charlotte Perriand collector,” says Rachman. “In addition to being an accessible introduction to her work, they’re incredibly versatile. These sconces can be positioned in variety of directions and perspectives.”
THE SELF-CONTAINED POD
Highlighting the role function played in Perriand’s design philosophy are a series of prefabricated bathroom units that she designed with architects Bernard Taillefer, Gaston Regairaz and Roger Boulet. “Made out of polyester and fiberglass shell, the unit is a self-contained bathroom and includes a sink, mirror, bidet and tub,” Rachman explains.
Sourced from Les Arcs squash court is this low reception table, which mirrors a coffee table design also found on the resort’s property. “Made out of pine, the table exemplifies the relationship between play and simplicity,” says Rachman. “The form is astonishingly direct and thoughtful.”
All photos courtesy of Nathaniel Smith Photography