Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) was lured into the design world by famed architect Le Corbusier. As she tells it in her memoirs, Une vie de création, she was so inspired by his Towards an Architecture that she sought him out at his studio and invited him to her show at the Paris "Salon d'Automne" in 1927. He came and liked her work enough to establish what would become a lifelong collaborative relationship with her. They worked together to create buildings in which there was no disassociation between the interior furnishings and the exterior form. In the 1920s they, along with Pierre Jeanneret, designed a successful group of armchairs and a chaise longue, many of which were later reissued by Cassina. The chairs were produced in chrome plated or matte enamel tubular steel frames with a variety of upholstery choices including ponyskin and cowhide. This work, the chaise longue in particular because Perriand was photographed lying in it for an exhibition, has become one of the defining icons of Perriand's career. In honor of her affinity for cowhide, the 1997 Charlotte Perriand exhibit at the Design Museum in London featured a washing machine commissioned by the sponsor, Whirlpool, with an imitation cowhide exterior.
Perriand, born in Paris, was trained at l'École de l'Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs. She was one of the founding members of the Union des Artistes Modernes, where she met Jean Prouvé with whom she would design furniture and interiors to showcase his furniture. She worked with Prouvé, Pierre Jeanneret, and Georges Blanchon, at "Les Ateliers Jean Prouvé," designing prefabricated aluminum buildings. Another famous friendship and collaboration, with painter Fernand Léger, was showcased recently in an exhibit in France put together with the assistance of Perriand's daughter Pernette.
A trip to Japan, planned for six months in 1940, evolved into a stay that lasted throughout the war. She was the acting adviser on arts and crafts to the Japanese ministry of commerce and she became a sort of design ambassador to both countries. In Japan she organized two exhibitions of French design. Back in France, her own work reflected the materials and the aesthetics of space that she had worked with in Japan. In 1953 she produced a simple, bent plywood chair which she called a "synthesis of arts" of Western and Japanese culture and design. In 1993 she designed a tea pavilion for UNESCO as part of the Japanese Cultural Festival in Paris.
The conference rooms of the United Nations in Geneva are one of Perriand's largest non-collaborative interior design commissions. Perriand described her working life as "a sincere and constant search for a modern living art."