Since the late 19th century, women have been at the forefront of modern design and their influence on contemporary design and designers is unmistakable. Here are just four of our favorite women designers:
Eileen Gray 1878 - 1976
Born in Ireland in 1878, Eileen Gray first gained an international reputation for her laquerwork but her love of innovation drew her to become a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture and a cutting-edge furniture designer. She studied at The Slade School of Fine Art, London, but her love affair with Paris and all things innovative began when she visited the 1900 World Fair. She was particularly taken with the day’s innovation - displays of electricity, automobiles and planes. In 1907 Gray moved to Paris, learned to fly and became one of the first women in Paris to get a driving license. But she also studied lacquerwork with the famed laquerist Seizo Sugawara and started to make her name for herself creating work for the cream of Paris society, culminating in 1913 with “Le Destin’, a four-piece panel which sealed her international reputation.
Le Destin a four-piece panel front view.
Le Destin four-piece panel rear view.
Post-WW1, Gray diversified into interior and furniture design, designing the furniture for a high-end Paris apartment at the rue de Lota: her Dragon’s Armchair “Fauteuil aux Dragons” and Pirogue Sofa made Harper’s Bazaar sit up and take notice. The magazine describes the apartment as ‘thoroughly modern although there is much feeling for the antique’. The lacquered chair became the most expensive chair ever sold at an auction in 2009 selling for a whopping $24,709.519.00 USD.
“Fauteuil aux Dragons” armchair by Eileen Gray.
She left “the antique” far behind in 1927 with her stunningly designed multi-functional E-1027 table: a minimalist, clean-lined contemporary work that looks like it could have been designed today.
E-1027 table by Eileen Gray
E-1027 table featured in orginal photograph.
Charlotte Perriand 1903 - 1999
Driven by her philosophy that design should follow function and harmonize with how people actually live, Charlotte Perriand was a French architect and designer who caused a sensation in 1927 with her use of aluminum, steel, and glass in a modernist, industrial-flavored bar design for Paris 1927 Autumn Exhibition. Her desire to design for low-cost homes and mass production led her to work with Le Corbusier. Some of her innovative designs include three different chairs for conversations, relaxation, and sleeping. These chairs are still in production by the Cassiana company and go by the original number codes. LC2, B301, and B306.
Perriand’s industrial-inspired bar design for Paris 1927 Autumn Exhibition
The Corbusier alliance continues when he asked her to design the interiors and kitchens for the Unite d'habitation.
After leaving Corbusier’s atelier, she began working with Jean Prouve. His passion stemmed from using contemporary metal forming and shaping technologies to advance his designs. Many of his originals products are still sold exclusively through Vitra a Swiss furniture manufacturer.
As an architect, Perriand’s passion for minimalism and standardization led her to design iconic buildings, such as France’s minimal Les Arcs which opened in 1968. It bosted modestly-sized apartments, but eliminated room partitions and featured large windows to keep them airy and comfortable.
France’s minimal Les Arcs ski resort
Ray Eames 1912 - 1988
Sacramento-born Ray Eames is perhaps one of the most well-known female designer pioneering modern design, skyrocketing through a 60-year career that challenged and contributed to almost anything designable: architecture, furniture, film, children’s toys, magazines and much, much more. Daughter of a theatre-impresario-turned-insurance-salesman, Eames (nee Kaiser) had a strong liberal education and studied abstract expressionist painting with Hans Hoffman. She went on to apply her artistic expression and social principles to a whole host of art forms.
At Cranbrook Academy of Art she worked with Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen and met her soon-to-be husband and creative partner, Charles Eames.
A vigorous, petite women (at 4ft 11, she designed her own clothes) with a searing eye for detail, a playful nature and a delight in everyday objects, Eames brought her artistic vision and sense of practicality to what they created together. Eames was innovating in design before she even met Charles, and her experience and vision formed a basis of their many lines of molded plywood furniture, including the iconic Eames chair. She won awards for her textile design and was much in demand for her graphic design.
Anything I can do, Ray can do better. — Charles Eames
I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette. — Ray Eames
Zaha Hadid 1950 - 2016
Zaha Hadid was a British-Iraqi architect who earned many firsts - including the Stirling Prize and the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Her contemporaries praised her as “a planet in her own orbit” and her form-bending, angle-splitting designs have drawn praise and gasps from onlookers.
Her first built design, a fire station for the Vitra campus in 1993, had intersecting planes cast on-site in concrete that, some say, looked like a frozen explosion.
Fire Station for the Vitra campus in 1993
World-renowned and sought-after, her designs span the globe. They include the London Olympics Aquatic Centre, London: National Museum of the Arts of the 21st Century, Rome; the Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou; the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University; and the Heydar Aliyev Centre at Baku.