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Art Basel Miami Beach week is known for the main fair at the convention center, the many satellite fairs, and even more events. Unfortunately, few of those who go annually to Miami Beach in December are able to find time to actually visit the beach, let alone appreciate it. A Design Miami/ satellite exhibition during this year’s fair just may offer the chance to do so. From December 3 to December 8 at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach, Charlotte Perriand’s “La Maison au Bord de l’Eau” will be on view, built for the first time with the help of Louis Vuitton.
Perriand designed the house in 1934 as “a system for contemplating nature,” said Jacques Barsac, the husband of Perriand’s daughter Pernette. It emphasizes “a free relationship to the body, and a relationship between what’s outside and what’s inside.” La Maison au Bord de l’Eau promises to offer a rare moment of pause and reflection, and a chance to see still-relevant architecture eight decades later.
Perriand is one of the most important designers from the early modernist period. She was successful in a field that was and still is dominated by men. Born in 1903, she was the first woman to work as an architect, designer, and planner. At the age of 24 she was bold enough to ask for a job at Le Corbusier’s studio. She was initially rejected, the architect telling her, “We don’t embroider cushions here.” He changed his mind after seeing the glacial rooftop bar she designed in glass, steel, and aluminum for the Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris. She became an integral part of the design team at the studio, working with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret on works that would become iconic modern furniture.
She was a pioneer in design, but she was also known for her character and energy. She was a free spirit who actively traveled—skiing, climbing, rafting, canoeing, and even spelunking throughout Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Perriand as the fearless, modern woman, along with her confident use of color, is what first inspired Louis Vuitton to visit the designer’s estate and family, her daughter, Pernette, and husband Barsac. That initial collaboration resulted in the fashion house’s spring/summer 2014 “Icones” collection.
“Charlotte Perriand was a creative and strong woman of her time. She expressed her freedom through her work and was a nomad who travelled for inspiration,” said Julie de Libran, Louis Vuitton’s women’s
Creative Director. “Charlotte’s approach to design and functionality in her way of life and her work had a natural connection with the collection,” she continued.
When we spoke with Barsac about the fashion collection, he shared a similar sentiment. “The fashion collection is inspired by Charlotte Perriand’s creations, but mostly it’s inspired by her personality, by the figure of Charlotte Perriand,” he said.
De Libran created 16 looks composed of interchangeable garments—a characteristic that reflects Perriand’s appreciation for practicality and adaptability. They travel well, are worn lightly, and can be adjusted for temperature and comfort. “An example is the cashmere reversible cape that is light, very supple and soft, and can be worn or used as a travel blanket. Our nylon parka is reversible but can also be folded into a pocket and carried around the waist for functionality. Our jackets in cotton or supple leathers are designed with sleeves [that can] un-zip for warmer weather,” said de Libran.
While the material and fabric of the collection were influenced by Perriand’s personality and lifestyle, the colors and patterns of the looks parallel her design approach. “Her bookcase was very inspiring for the colors, contrast materials, and useful function. . . . The bags were more the way she approached her designs with colors, functionality, the masculine, feminine influence and use of space in the colorful Damier,” said de Libran.
It was the success of Icones and the pleasure of working with Pernette and Jacques that led Louis Vuitton to realize, for the first time since Perriand dreamed it up eighty years ago, La Maison au bord de l’eau in Miami. Why that specific project? “This really was one of the projects that Charlotte would have loved to see realized,” explained Pernette. “Because this project was not ordered, she went ahead and never looked back.”
The design received second prize at an L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui magazine contest but it was never commissioned. Made with a unique combination of wood and metal, it is meant to be a prefabricated, mass-market, economical vacation home. “It’s quite a small house. It is only a 100 square meters but it’s very comfortable,” explained Barsac. It is a space designed around a small, two-person bed, similar in principle to Japanese architecture.
While it was made a few years before Perriand herself would travel to Japan, “she understood that what the modernists were trying to do was exactly what the traditional Japanese were doing with their house in architecture,” said Barsac.
When she did travel to Japan in 1940, her style further evolved. “She learned Japanese traditions; for design to be more pure, simple, and sober. Her use of different woods and contrasting materials, calculating space differently and designing in that space using more functionality,” said de Libran.
When Whitewall spoke with Pernette and Barsac in October, their excitement was palpable. “We’re very excited, very happy,” said Barsac. “You will see for yourself in Miami that the house will be as beautiful and perfect as the Louis Vuitton handbag.”
This story is published in Whitewall’s winter 2014 Luxury Issue, out now.