The eighth of March each year marks International Women’s Day. It’s a day that is designed to ‘celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women’. So what better excuse will we have to write about some amazing female mid century designers? (Other than they are all totally talented and inspirational!).
Here’s our top six female designers of the 20th century – girl power!
Florence Knoll Bassett
It’s difficult to sum up Florence’s work in a few short words. From experimenting with furniture design with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, to studying architecture, to being a founding partner of the successful Knoll Associates, to designing furniture in her own right, to directing the interior design services of Knoll Associates – she is a woman with many, many talents and achievements! Without Knoll Associates, the American design landscape may have panned out very differently, and Florence was hugely responsible for not only creating some of their iconic designs, but also for organising some of their most successful collaborations with other designers.
Ray was one half of the magnificent Eames empire. Without her input it undoubtedly would not have been as successful as it was. She was a talented artist, designer and filmmaker, and the design process between Charles and Ray was highly collaborative – their names and work are inextricably linked. She was wonderfully talented and driven, and Charles once said: “Anything I can do, Ray can do better”. Read more about the Eames’s in our article dedicated exclusively them here.
Lucienne was a pioneer in textile design during the mid century period – with some of her prints still in production today. She bought colour, boldness and abstract designs to dreary post-war Britain. Her achievements were recognised by many awards; she won the International Design Award of the American Institute of Decorators in 1952, and deservingly was made a Royal Designer for Industry in 1962 (she was only the fifth woman to achieve this). She was married to successful furniture designer Robin Day, but her own success was completely down to her talent, passion and beautiful designs.
Charlotte was a fascinating architect, designer and woman. Incredibly talented and undeniably passionate about her work, it’s unsurprising that despite her initial rejection to Le Corbusier’s studio in 1927 – being told that “We don’t embroider cushions here – she relentlessly chased this dream and ended up working with Le Corbusier for over ten years. It’s no surprise that her exciting life lead her to 4 years being trapped in Vietnam during the war! Yet on her return she reestablished herself as a leading French designer, going on to design the League of Nations building in Geneva, redesigning the Air France office in Paris, London and Tokyo, and was an influential part of the Les Arcs ski resort design team for over a decade.
Gray was an Irish furniture designer and architect who lived between 1878-1976. She dabbled in various art forms in her earlier years studying at Slade, including traditional painting and laquer work, but she soon progressed onto furniture design. One of her most successful designs is the Bibendum chair, which critics at the time declared a “triumph of modern living”. In 1924 she collaborated with Jean Badovici to begin work on a fascinating piece of architecture: building E-1027 in the south of France. Sadly the building is now in a sorry state, however there are plans being prepared by the French government for its renovation.
There is a saying that goes: “if you can’t do, teach”. But this is a saying that most definitely does not apply to Greta Grossman. Between 1957-1963 she lectured on furniture design at UCLA and her achievements prior to this are impressive. How many people can say they designed a living room for Frank Sinatra? Not many. Her Swedish roots and influences proved popular amongst the Los Angeles elite; from the 40s to the 60s she was a prominent influence on the LA architectural scene, with her first villa in Beverley Hill being recognised in the Arts & Architecture magazine. Her furniture designs are characterised by that unique Scandinavian use of mixed materials and slender proportions. Last but not least, she also designed and built at least 16 architectural commissions! What a lady.
What an amazing list of women. Each talented and unique designers and / or architects in their own right. This day is all about celebrating the success of women who have positively influenced our world in some way, and without each one of the women listed here the world of 20th century design simply would not have been the same. Ladies: thank you!
To find out more about International Women’s Day click here.
Post by Lucy Victoria Jackson, our wonderful contributing writer. You can read more about her work here.
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