Some things are worth waiting for. The Tokyo chaise from Charlotte Perriand is one of them. Only recently produced and made available by the modern-minded Italian furniture manufacturer Cassina, the chaise was designed in 1940 by French furniture pioneer Perriand. If its lines look familiar, good call: the chaise is her wood or bamboo redo of the 1929 leather and steel chaise she designed with the vastly more well-known architect Le Corbusier and his not so known cousin Pierre Jeanneret.
The trio produced a line of seminal modernist furniture in the late 1920s; much of it appears in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art as well as in many a modernist fan’s living room, and since 1964 has been part of Cassina’s Masters Collection.
Less known than the furniture itself is the fact that Perriand was a primary designer. In fact, some of the “equipment for dwelling,” as Le Corbusier described the line for the 1929 Paris Salon d’Automne, was actually designed, built and exhibited by Perriand before she joined the brilliant architect’s studio.
The swivel chair (“siege tournant,” now known as LC7 in the Le Corbusier line) had been part of her “machine age” renovation of the apartment she and her new husband rented in Paris when she was a young design school graduate. She’d exhibited the chair in her installation at the Salon d’Automne of 1928, which led to her being hired by Le Corbusier.
(Actually, she’d managed to get an interview with the already groundbreaking architect the previous year, but he’d told her, “We don’t embroider cushions here.” Luckily, she didn’t give up, stayed in touch, and he later apologized. She designed furniture for many of Le Corbusier’s projects until the late 1930s.)
The Chaise Longue, aka LC4, is a particular symbol of European early modernism. Corbusier dubbed it the “relaxing machine” in the line of furniture, and, visionary and publicity-minded as he was, featured it many of his influential projects. And the woman shown reclining in the original publicity photograph of the chaise that Corbusier exhibited in the 1929 Salon? Perriand herself, facing away from the camera, head to the wall, anonymous.
Luckily, Cassina hasn’t forgotten about Perriand, who died in 1999 at age 96. She is the one woman of their modern “masters,” and the release this year of her redesign of the chaise is timely, if a long time coming. Living and working in Japan from 1940 through 1946, she turned away from the machine aesthetic tubular steel and experimented with the more affordable wood and bamboo.
The Tokyo Chaise is available now in teak, beech and bamboo, and highlights what a difference material can make in the look and feel of an object. While keeping the profile of the chaise, Perriand made slight changes in its structure. The ribbons of wood or bamboo loop back on themselves at the head and foot of the chaise, curving gracefully. With the popularity of bamboo these days, and the Portland propensity for wood, this 1940 chaise should be welcome anywhere in our town today.