October 18, 2013 7:15 pm

Design classic: Nuage bookcase by Charlotte Perriand

The Nuage bookcase with multicolored sliding doors and shelves

Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) was so inspired by the work of Le Corbusier that in 1927 she turned up at his studio asking for a job, only to be rebuffed with the words: “We don’t embroider cushions here.”

Undeterred, she created a glass, steel and aluminium rooftop bar for that year’s Paris Salon d’Automne, which so impressed Le Corbusier that he rethought his earlier decision.

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The young French designer and the Swiss architect embarked on a long collaboration and, together with Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, popularised the “machine age” style, which drew on streamlined forms and the use of industrial materials such as chrome and plastic.

One of the few women to have succeeded in this arena, Perriand was known for her metal tubular designs, often upholstered with cowhide or ponyskin. Many of the classic Le Corbusier designs were created with Perriand, including the LC4 recliner and the LC7 swivel chair.

She also worked with Jean Prouvé and spent time with the Japanese designer Sori Yanagi after a six-month trip to Japan in 1940 turned into a six-year stay in Asia, including four years in Vietnam, because of the naval blockade.

After the second world war, she returned to France and created pieces influenced by her time away, using natural materials such as wood and bamboo. The Nuage bookcase range, the drawings for which are thought to have been done while she was in Japan, comprises five models of varying heights, all of which feature sliding panels. Cassina, with whom she began collaborating in 1978, recently reissued the Nuage bookcase in bright colours.

Perriand would draw on Japanese elements for the rest of her career in projects such as the League of Nations building in Geneva and the remodelling of Air France’s offices in London, Paris and Tokyo. Although much of her work was produced in collaboration with others, there is no doubt that she influenced the men around her and it is doubtful whether Le Corbusier’s designs would still be as famous if Perriand had not been involved.

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