Andrée Putman: The revolution of taste

There’s nothing she didn’t do: the stunning interior of the Concorde, that was her’s. The first boutique hotel, the famous Morgans in New York, that was her too. The first Parisian living in a loft in the posh sixth arrondissement, that was also her : Andrée Putman, the grande dame of French design. Rumour has it, that she was actually the first to have her bed in the living room only separated by curtains and to receive friends for dinner in her kitchen.
A revolution? A big one in the circles of French bourgeoisie where codes were stiff and rules rigid. Today the work of Andrée Putman looks so classical and sober that it’s actually hard to imagine the radical change she brought into French interior design. But Andrée Putman revolutionized taste.

Her first retrospective in France

Just before la grande dame du design celebrates her 85th birthday in December, Putman is honoured by a retrospective exhibition, curated by her daughter Olivia, it will help the public appreciate the impact of her work. The exhibition held in the Hôtel de Ville, the first retrospective in France deserving of her name, provides an overview of five decades of her eclectic career. It’s the opportunity to recall her work through the recreation of interior spaces and the display of numerous pieces of furniture.

Serene but not cold

What do you see: sofas not made for couch-potatoes like crescent moon. Her famous black-and-white bathroom from the Morgans that made her known as the queen of the checkerboard. Lamps and lights, plates and pianos. You get a feeling of why she can say of her work: “My sites are simple but not impersonal, serene but not cold, seductive but not opulent, charming but not nostalgic, refined but not restrictive.” Could there be a better description of her style? Most of the visitors actually get stuck in front of the various screens displaying interviews with Putman herself, fascinated by the way she talks about her life and her work. Putman never changed. She is as witty, as bright as she always has been: Behind the sharp eye there is always a sharp mind.

A piano called the milky way

The masterpiece of the exhibition is the piano she designed for Pleyel, called voie lactée (milky way), such a beautiful and inviting instrument that a visitor couldn’t stop himself sitting down to play a concerto. You can imagine the agitation among the security staff. I’m pretty sure that Putman would have loved this moment in which the seduction of her work was stronger than rules and conventions. Putman herself was meant to become a concert pianist (by her musician mother), but she realized that she couldn’t breath in the straitjacket of musical professionalism and turned to design. The exhibition helps to remind us that the real breakthrough came when Putman was already 60 years old. It was then that she remodelled the Morgans Hotel in New York and invented the concept of the boutique hotel: doing something extremely luxurious and elegant with very simple materials.

Houses for friends like Karl Lagerfeld

She until than had worked for various style agencies and had designed private residences and boutiques for friends such as Karl Lagerfeld before setting up her own company, Écart, at the end of the seventies. Écart, which literally means deviation in French, was specialised in reeditions of furniture by designers such as Eileen Gray and Robert Mallet-Stevens, who were mostly forgotten at the time. Putman herself was far from being successful as an interior designer at that point. Putman proves: Great changes never happen without resistance.
Andrée Putman - Ambassadrice du style Hôtel de Ville de Paris 5, rue de Lobau 75004 Paris Métro: Hôtel de Ville  Until 26nd of February 2011
Open everyday except on Sundays and holidays from 10h - 19h Free admission
Studio Putman