Paris people

Andrée Putman: War against symmetry

She still is beautiful for her age, classical and extravagant at the same time. She is the kind of women that makes turn around heads when she enters a room, even at the age of 84.

Last time I met her, it was on the Eiffel tower, a press lunch. She just had redesigned the Morgan’s Hotel in New York that she had done for the first time in 1983, what had brought her worldwide recognition. It was acclaimed as “a revolution in beige and grey”. It was her breakthrough.

Putman herself looked like being a sight

More than two decades later, in Alain Ducasse’s restaurant Jules Verne, Putman was posing for the photographs. It was an easy game for them. In front of the steel girders and the urban landscape of Paris in miniature down to her feet she looked as if she herself would be a sight. The hair cut a bit asymmetrically, always lipstick on her lips, the chararcteristic nose proudly presented to the observer. This day, she was wearing black Rayban glasses and bicolour shoes from Chanel. It’s an art in itself to look that cool at that age.

Just before la grande dame du design will celebrate her 85th birthday in December, Putman is honoured by a retrospective exhibition, opening on next Wednesday at the town hall, curated by her daughter Olivia. It’s an opportunity to discover how profoundly Putman changed French aesthetics. Philippe Starck without her is unthinkable. She actually liberated the French of their rococo plush.

From the Concorde to the Guggenheim

Putman is une touche a tout, how she puts it, somebody who tries everything, like a child. She designed furniture, grand pianos, the houses of celebrities like Karl Lagerfeld, Bernard-Henri Levy and much other. She designed flagship stores, hotels, she transformed the Guggenheim museum, did the interiors of the Concorde airplane and even filmsettings for Peter Greenaway.

Some years before this lunch at the Jules Verne, I had a long conversation with Putman in her office, a beautiful townhouse in the 14th. She was wide-awake intellectually, talking about her loves and her allergies. About Samuel Beckett, a friend of hers, and the painters she adored. She hates, she said, le bon gout, the good taste. “I was fighting”, she said, “a lifelong war against the good taste.”

Modernity is a state of mind

She hates also symmetry: “one lamp on the right side of the fireplace, the other on the left side, gosh”, she shuddered with disgust.

Putman is radically modern. But she understands modernity as something out of the time. As a state of mind. I guess she has won her war.Photos:
AFP, Catherine Gugelmann