andree putman: the coco chanel of interior design

back in the early 90s, an ad agency i worked for did a campaign featuring prominent architects and interior designers. one of them was the inimitable designer and stylist andree putman. in my mind's eye, i can still see the portrait that was used in the ad. it showed putman from behind, wearing a sharp-shouldered gold suit and smoking a cigarette. i remember the art director on the shoot saying that andree was a formidable subject. In the end, she had loved the image.

and why wouldn't she? the camera loves her. in addition to being french interior design's ambassadrice, she is also frequently referred to as its coco chanel. even in her 80s, she remains the epitome of french chic, with her signature asymmetrical bob, impeccably tailored suits and bright red lips, always the bright red lips.

putman's ball foot tub design

today, i rented a velib bike for the first time and took a ride over to the l'hotel de ville to check out the free exhibition of her life's work.

as the song goes, there was no time for cameras; i used my eyes instead. the exhibit was in french, so i found myself mostly staring at the images. it was easier than trying to puzzle through the idioms and conjugations with my limited language skills.

there was a photograph of putman as a young girl sitting on some stone steps. another image showed her as a young woman, lounging on a beach towel. she grew up in the same neighborhood we're living in now: st. germain. there was a wonderful abstract portrait of her painted by one of her many artist friends. one of my favorite things was a pop-art collage the artist jean tinguely sent in a letter to her in the 70s. there was also a beautifully crafted model of a private residence in tangiers, which was made mostly from a corrugated cardboard box. and i wish i could find a picture to show you of the steamer bag she designed for louis vuitton. it featured her trademark black-and-white checkerboard fading into the bag's signature LV's and fleur-de-lis.

putman was friends with artists jean tinguely and niki de saint phalle

among a display case of textiles, carpet swatches, and other detritus from putman's studio, there was an unassuming spiral bound notebook. it was open to reveal some of putman's musings on a hotel project she had undertaken (morgan's, perhaps?).  i was delighted to see that it was written in english:

it is startling (? this word was a little illegible) to start a work with a list of things i dislike most in different hotels i have lived in. it probably means that i invest too much passion in the way i look at things and fury when the thoughts behind the look are appalling...

and she goes on to illuminate the things she "dislikes the most"

huge lobbies
oversized flower arrangements
pompous staff
fake louis IV
fake dignity
questions about your departure before going to your room
patterns on the walls
flowers on fabric
sad plants
hidden tv in a pretentious field of furniture
horrendous lamps
chipped sink
hair in the tub (i nearly left when i found it)
printed signs on desk about hairdressers, etc.
small closet
too few hangers...i hate when they are tied to the rack
a hotel fragilises you...never enough care or fun to feel good. the amount of enjoyable things to steal.

it's a simple list, but one that would enlighten even the brightest of 5-star hoteliers. and  another example of how putman manages to shed light into even bright corners just as she makes sure they are never dull. it is why her most successful projects become "the perfect balance between discipline and revolt." much like the lady herself.


Anonymous said...

What a fascinating essay on a person I'd never heard of before. Putnam sounds amazing.

knitlit kate said...

thanks for reading and commenting, jennifer :)
she is totally amazing.
and if i could look one iota that cool when i'm in my 80s, i'll skip the botox and try aging gracefully...

Mishi said...

Loved this Andree Putnam piece Kate. I concur with her hotel dislike list..

btw - David L. is David Lebovitz, pastry chef and author living in Paris. check out his blog - LOTS of tips on navigating frenchie culture.

oxo - hope to skype in soon.

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