February 1st, 2013, 12:11 AM
R.I.P Andrée Putman
Design pioneer Andrée Putman was a woman of firsts
The French style icon left an indelible impression on 20th-century design.
Andrée Putman, who died recently at 87 and was fittingly memorialized last week at Paris’s famed Saint-Germain-des-Prés church, was a woman of many firsts.
Widely known as the “Grand Dame” by her circle of café-society friends (which included Karl Lagerfeld, Helmut Newton and Yves St-Laurent), Putman embarked upon design at the age of 53 after a career in journalism. She was the first to champion the work of forgotten — now highly collectible — modernist designers such as Eileen Gray, Robert Mallet-Stevens and Jean-Michel Frank. But she was also, arguably, the first to mix high and low in “rich” and “poor” materials in interiors; the first to curate a lifestyle boutique (Créateurs & Industriels in the 1970s); the first to democratize design (for the French chain Prisunic in the late 1950s); the first to design what was to become the phenomenon of a boutique hotel (Morgans in New York in 1984 for Ian Schrager); and certainly the first on Paris’ Left Bank to live in a loft.
“She had such curiosity in life and found beauty in the most ordinary objects — things that others in the design world weren’t even looking at back then, like a simple white ceramic tile,” remembers architect and Roots Canada design director Diane Bald, who had the good fortune to work with Putman in her heyday on a number of high-profile projects, including boutiques for Yves St-Laurent and the Morgan hotel, along with a furniture collection for Roots.
“We just met and fell in love,” says Bald. “I had six months of school left to finish my degree, but she said, ‘come work with me,’ and I started the very next day.”
According to Bald, and everyone who ever encountered her, Putman left an indelible impression. Famously bobbed and impeccably dressed in her pared-down palette of black, white and grey — with perhaps a soupçon of cobalt blue — and always a signature piece of bold geometric jewelry, the straight-backed, smoky-voiced Putman shared the rigorous monastic tastes of her fellow countrywoman and pioneering design legend Coco Chanel, whose own enduring signature has similarly come to define classic good taste.
Born to a wealthy banking family descended from the Montgolfiers, the inventors of the hot air balloon, Putman was raised in luxury, yet turned her back on its trappings (in her words, “too much Louis and too many flowers”).
At her family’s comparatively austere summer house, a former Cistercian monastery in Eastern France called Fontenay Abbey which came to influence her spare, elegant style and vision, Putman described herself as in a state of “visual arousal bordering on the spiritual.”
At 20, she famously emptied her bedroom of all its contents and furnished it with a steel bed, Mies van der Rohe chairs, a Noguchi chandelier and a collection of ethnic spoons displayed on a bench.
“Design is damaged when an object is done merely to impress,” Putman once said. Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld described her as “disciplined,” and her style as “very French, impeccable, very clean, like herself.”
In her long career, Putman designed interiors — from the Guerlain flagship on the Champs-Elysées to the interior of the Concorde, even a Hong Kong skyscraper named The Putman.
Her impeccable eye re-evaluated everything from furniture to flatware, crystal, carpets and pianos; her sharp Roman nose divined a line of scent. As a stylist for Prisunic, she commissioned artists to produce stylish housewares for less (à la Target); the campaign motto was “Beautiful for the price of nothing.”
At Créateurs & Industriels, she launched the careers of Azzedine Alaia, Jean Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake and Thierry Mugler, while her design company Ecart (“trace” backwards) reissued and popularized iconic pieces by early 20th-century designers such as Pierre Chareau, Eileen Gray and Mariano Fortuny. She is the subject of a Rizzoli monograph, and in 2010, an exhibition of her work at the Paris City Hall curated by her daughter Olivia attracted more than a quarter of a million visitors.
Bald first met Putman in 1982 on a visit to Paris, where her now-husband, Roots’ co-founder Michael Budman, was publishing a magazine called Paris Passion and living in an apartment on the rue de Rivoli that Putman had decorated.
“It was all very unusual,” says Bald, “the penthouse of this Left Bank building with a classic 1930s façade, and she had put in these sliding glass doors so that it had magnificent views. Since it was small, she had designed a lot of the furniture, including a long, narrow dining table that was like an emergency room trolley on these hospital wheels that could have been designed yesterday.”
In Bald’s view, what distinguishes Putman’s work was her devotion to detail as well as a certain avant-garde timelessness: “Everything she designed was so beautifully appointed. I still have all those pieces from that original Paris apartment and even though they’re now 50 years old, they are all still perfect today.”
February 1st, 2013, 05:36 AM
Re: R.I.P Andrée Putman
She certainly was a design legend.