One fine day in October 1927, a 24-year-old French designer named Charlotte Perriand went for a job interview at Le Corbusier’s office. The legendary modernist architect flipped through the portfolio and dismissed her with a condescending remark: “We don’t embroider cushions here.”
A month later, having visited Charlotte exhibition that features an installation made with tubular steel, Le Corbusier changed his mind and offered her a job in furniture design. Thus, began the career of one greatest French designers of all time. She collaborated closely with Le Corbusier and his architect cousin Pierre Jeanneret for a decade.
Together, the trio created some of the world’s most famous chairs, including the legendary LC4 Chaise Longue that is so comfortable that it was touted to be the most popular prop in adult film industry. Yes, if you’re wondering, the LC4 is still available today from Italian furniture brand Cassina.
Charlotte stepped out of Le Corbusier’s shadow in 1937 and went to embark on a successful career. She served as an official advisor for industrial design to France’s Ministry for Trade and Industry in Japan from 1940 to 1942. She fell in love with Japan, and the country’s traditional crafts greatly influenced her design.
It’s been 80 years since Charlotte embarked on that ship to the Land of the Rising Sun, and more than two decades since Charlotte passed away at 96, and her time in the country continues to inspire us.
Aesop is not the first brand to pay tribute to Charlotte’s time in Japan. But it is the first to do so with a fragrance. Launched recently, Rōzu Eau de Parfum, Aesop’s fourth fragrance, was created in partnership with perfumer Barnabé Fillion and Pernette Perriand-Barsac, Charlotte’s daughter and the sole custodian of Charlotte’s estate and intellectual property.
Described as “an intense yet tender fragrance” that is intended to appeal to all genders, Rōzu (from the Japanese localisation of “rose”) was inspired by the variety of Japanese garden rose named after Charlotte, as well as the designer’s trailblazing career in a world dominated by men.
“It is designed to evoke both a sense of place and Charlotte Perriand’s life’s work and legacy—linking, for example, to the Wabara garden rose that was created in her name, the workshops of carpenters with whom Perriand collaborated and the bracing alpine environments she loved to explore,” says Barnabé.
“The prevailing character—florals with elements of green citrus, all tempered by earthy, woody Vetiver—calls upon the traditional men’s colognes she was known to favour. In its Japanese touch, it’s like a ghost; the trace left after a light incense has been burned,” he adds.
Home & Decor Editor-in-Chief Young Lim finds out more about Charlotte’s time in Asia from her daughter Pernette.
This must be a first! Turning Charlotte’s legacy into a perfume! What were your initial thoughts when the idea was proposed?
Charlotte Perriand created spaces you could see. A fragrance is also a form of space, but one you can see with another sense—smell. This perfume conveys a way of life, much like Charlotte Perriand’s architecture. The homage that is paid by Aesop through this fragrance is deeply touching. It is an invisible portrait of my mother.
Why do you think Aesop chose Charlotte, of all the iconic designers out there, for this project?
Perhaps it is because Charlotte Perriand was a free woman, a pioneer of the contemporary world, whose work meshes well with Aesop’s functional and aesthetic spirit. Aesop and Charlotte Perriand share certain values: the same relationship with nature and with natural materials; the high aesthetic standards based on the essential rather than the superfluous or the anecdotal; a certain form of purism with a human face.
Why is it so important for you to preserve your mother’s legacy?
Charlotte Perriand was born in 1903—in a way, she is the ancestor of the contemporary woman. She had to conquer her freedom, her financial and professional independence in the 1930s. She is a role model for modern women. Today, it is crucial to show that she stood on an equal footing with men because she was the best in her profession. One must preserve this legacy and highlight it, for the sake of all contemporary women.
Charlotte’s association with Japan recalls a rather stressful time in her life because of the war, so what are your thoughts about imbuing the Japanese influence into this perfume?
The war was horrible for the entire world. Charlotte Perriand, my father and I could have died in Indochina, which was under Japanese domination in 1945. Beyond these unfortunate circumstances, Japan is a fascinating civilisation. This fragrance embodies the meeting of two cultures—the French and the Japanese.
You lived in Vietnam with your mother till the age of three, what are your earliest memories of the place and how has Asia affected the way you think?
If you add up all the years I’ve spent in Asia, it’s quite a lot! I was the first girl to perform Kabuki in 1954—I was 10 years old. No woman had ever had the audacity to do so… Japan and its geography, which I know quite well—better, in fact, than many Japanese—allow me to have this double culture, but without actually feeling Japanese.