Pierre Paulin: Paris toasts the furniture designer

Iconic designs and limited editions at exhibitions honouring the late French visionary

It can sometimes take decades for the brilliance of a modest, unassuming designer to be acknowledged and appreciated. So it is heartening that the late French designer Pierre Paulin will be lauded at a forthcoming retrospective at Centre Pompidou next summer and, before then, simultaneously at two selling exhibitions in Paris – at Galerie Perrotin (October 22-December 19), where several limited editions will be available for the first time, and at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche (October 21-November 30).

Born in 1927, Paulin’s creative epiphany came during a trip to Scandinavia in 1951. Here he discovered clean, simple indigenous designs using natural materials – a far cry from the Louis XIV and Napoleonic styles. He immediately began self-producing comfortable wood furniture designed to appeal to youthful postwar households, and which proved an instant hit when exhibited in the Foyer d’Aujourd’hui at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in 1953. Commissions followed for interiors as well: Paulin designed Dior’s office in Paris (1967), the French Pavilion at the Universal Exposition in Osaka (1970), and President Pompidou’s private apartment at the Elysée Palace (1971). And in 1975 he joined the industrial design agency ADSA + Partners with his wife Maia, creating pieces that combined the avant garde with exploratory new techniques.

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A chance meeting with Michel Roset in 2007 resulted in a collaboration with the long-established French furniture manufacturer Ligne Roset, continued by Maia after her husband’s death in 2009. Now, with more than 20 Paulin designs in its collection, Ligne Roset will exhibit and sell a selection of his iconic pieces (€960-€3,340) at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, including the curvaceous Pumpkin seat (first picture), elegant Daybed (fifth picture) and neat Fauteuil Elysée. Pieces produced by Paulin’s other great collaborator – the Dutch company Artifort – such as the cheeky Tongue chair, innovative Ribbon and Orange Slice chairs, and graceful Tulip and Little Tulip chairs will also be available. “Pierre’s designs were outstanding,” says Michel Roset. “His rigour for every single detail, and his perception of proportions and volumes made all his projects faultless. His furniture and lighting look as contemporary today as they did 50 years ago, and remain among Ligne Roset’s bestsellers.”

Pierre Paulin fans will be just as excited by the limited editions (€6,000-€48,000) at Galerie Perrotin. Most of the original designs only reached prototype stage; this is the first time they have ever been made, thanks to an initiative by Paulin, Paulin, Paulin, a company run by Paulin’s son, Benjamin, and backed by the expertise of Paulin’s technical adviser, Michel Chalard. They include La Déclive (second picture), a graceful lounger with a flexible shape designed in 1966, and the glass-topped, aluminium Table Cathédrale (third picture), initially made in 1981 by Artcurial and given a short run a decade or so ago. Ensemble Iéna – originally ordered by the Ministere de la Culture as a one-off commission for the Palais d’Iéna – is a first collection comprising seven geometrically patterned rugs, 12 chairs and four octagonal tables . A first edition of the faceted, modular L’ensemble Dune seating (third picture), the prototype of which was produced in 2014 and shown by Louis Vuitton during the last Art Basel Miami, and origami-like Tapis-Siège (sixth picture) rug-cum-seat – designed for Herman Miller in 1970 but never produced – will follow a much-acclaimed collaboration with Louis Vuitton on prototypes shown at Design Miami last year.

The show will also feature work (€30,800-over €900,000) by a number of artists including Elmgreen & Dragset, Bertrand Lavier and Candida Höfer, who have used Paulin’s designs in their own work, along with others such as Mike Bouchet, John De Andrea and Laurent Grasso, whose art evokes Paulin’s innovative spirit.

Meanwhile, a soon-to-be-launched Paulin, Paulin, Paulin website dedicated to the designer’s work launches in mid-November, exploring and honouring his creativity. The site aims to spread awareness of his work, become a research tool, and re-direct potential purchasers to relevant manufacturers and distributors.

As Pierre Paulin once said: “One expects from a designer a practical object with, if possible, a touch of poetry and elegance.” It was a trick he pulled off time and again, as these shows so eloquently reveal.

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