‘It's unusual to see much black in homes. It brings contrast, power and depth’

Interior designer Fredrik Karlsson curates monochrome works by Georges Jouve, Diego Giacometti and Charlotte Perriand from the upcoming Paris Design sale

Design is back — and black — at Christie’s Paris. The auction house’s upcoming sale of nearly 200 lots is themed around the colour. It features works by Jean Royère, Félix Agostini and Pierre Chareau, but the highlight is 17 pieces designed and owned by Charlotte Perriand (1903-99). It also includes objects made by François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne, Jean Prouvé and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

The Design auction, on 25 May, will be preceded by a five-day exhibition curated by the young Swedish interior designer Fredrik Karlsson, who loves black and happens to collect the same kind of vintage furniture that is on sale. ‘When I saw the list of objects, I was excited. Most of the names on it were familiar to me,’ he says.

Karlsson, who grew up in a small town south of Stockholm, rose to fame on social media, where he quickly amassed a global following. The American fashion designer Virgil Abloh (1980-2021) saw his work on Instagram and asked if he wanted to help with his Milan showroom.

The same thing happened with Flavien Gaillard, head of the Design department at Christie’s France. Gaillard and the rising star met in person last summer and decided to work together. They were just waiting for the right project to come along. ‘As a collector, I am always on the hunt. It’s nice to be on the other side. And collaborating with a house like Christie’s is such an honour,’ says Karlsson.

Karlsson chose to display only black pieces with a collection of fashion photographs from the Susanne Von Meiss collection. ‘It’s unusual to see much black in homes,’ he explains. ‘And yet I think it’s a great colour. It brings contrast, power and depth. I don’t say that you should paint all your walls black. It’s about combining the right materials.’

Charlotte Perriand (1903-99) and Jean Prouvé (1901-84), Brazza cabinet, 1950-51. Oak, partially painted fir, aluminium sheet, Pointe diamant embossed aluminium sheet, folded painted steel sheet, chrome plated steel, thermoformed plastic and painted chipboard. 99¼ x 61¾ x 23⅝ in (252 x 157 x 60 cm). Estimate €100,000– 150,000. Offered in Design on 25 May 2022
Charlotte Perriand (1903-99) and Jean Prouvé (1901-84), Brazza cabinet, 1950-51. Oak, partially painted fir, aluminium sheet, 'Pointe diamant' embossed aluminium sheet, folded painted steel sheet, chrome plated steel, thermoformed plastic and painted chipboard. 99¼ x 61¾ x 23⅝ in (252 x 157 x 60 cm). Estimate: €100,000– 150,000. Offered in Design on 25 May 2022 at Christie's in Paris

The designer followed his own advice, showcasing pieces of pottery by the French ceramist Georges Jouve (1910-64) on top of a black free-form table by Perriand. ‘The intensity of black varies depending on time and texture.’ The logical choice was to place the Méribel chairs Perriand designed for her cabin in the village of the same name, but Karlsson chose to place them a little further away. ‘I was asked to do things differently. I decided to treat the space not as a showroom but as a home, and tried to play around with the collection.’

Among the highlights of the black section is a pine-cone lamp by Giacometti (1901-66), who drew inspiration for his slender figures from Etruscan art, which he had discovered at the Louvre in 1955. ‘This is a rare design. The pine cone has many meanings depending on the civilisation. Etruscans saw it as a symbol of fertility, renewal and regeneration,’ says Gaillard.

Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), Égyptienne lamp, 1933. Plaster. 20⅛ x 19¼ x 7½ in (51 x 49 x 19 cm). Estimate €300,000– 500,000. Offered in Design on 25 May 2022 at Christies in Paris
Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), Égyptienne lamp, 1933. Plaster. 20⅛ x 19¼ x 7½ in (51 x 49 x 19 cm). Estimate: €300,000– 500,000. Offered in Design on 25 May 2022 at Christie's in Paris

The second floor is home to a unique 2009 bronze and copper chandelier by Claude Lalanne (1925-2019), which conveys the idea of an inverted tree defying gravity as a source of light and life. This poetic creation can hold 16 candles. Like her husband François-Xavier, Lalanne incorporated both vegetal and the animal forms into her practice. He is represented in the sale by a gilt-bronze monkey supporting a hemispherical crystal lampshade.

On the second floor of the exhibition are two rooms devoted to Perriand. Karlsson used archive pictures of her home to decide where to place the pieces of furniture. However, he did not try to recreate her apartment exactly: ‘The space recounts her life, the places she lived in,’ he says.

The same approach applied at a large retrospective of Perriand’s work at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in 2019-20, which showed how she stood out as one of the few women who were internationally recognised in the design field. ‘She is one of my personal favourites,’ says Karlsson. ‘She resorted to different types of woods depending on where she was living. We are still fighting for gender equality, and there she is, as collectible as can be.’

Perriand worked with both Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé in Paris before the Second World War. In 1946, having spent the war in Japan, she moved to Rue Las Cases, in Paris’s seventh arrondissement. Around this time she started designing modular bookcases with vertical aluminium elements. The one being auctioned at Christie’s was designed to separate the living room and the office in her apartment, which she envisioned as an open-plan space. This unique design served as a prototype for the Plurima bookcase made in 2009 by the Italian company Cassina to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her death.

Charlotte Perriand (1903-99), Bibliothèque plots bookcase, as seen at 18 rue Las Cases, Paris, 1986. Photo Jacques Barsac  Archives Charlotte Perriand  © Adagp, Paris, 2022. Painted fir, fir and aluminium. 66½ x 67⅞ x 13 in (169 x 172.5 x 33 cm). Estimate €150,000-200,000. Offered in Design on 25 May 2022 at Christies in Paris
Charlotte Perriand (1903-99), Bibliothèque plots bookcase, as seen at 18 rue Las Cases, Paris, 1986. Photo: Jacques Barsac / Archives Charlotte Perriand / © Adagp, Paris, 2022. Painted fir, fir and aluminium. 66½ x 67⅞ x 13 in (169 x 172.5 x 33 cm). Estimate: €150,000-200,000. Offered in Design on 25 May 2022 at Christie's in Paris

Another notable gem is a 1951 Brazza partitioned cabinet, with blue and red sliding doors, which Perriand designed with Prouvé. Meant for the Air France building in Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo, it was showcased the following year at an exhibition staged by Formes Utiles, an offshoot of the Union des Artistes Modernes, which championed simplicity and functionalism in design.

Some of the designs by Perriand in the auction are testimony to the influence her years in Japan had on her work. There she developed a greater attention to detail, committed more strongly to minimalism, and revisited some of her older works in materials that were newly available to her, such as bamboo. A wooden unit she made in 1969 for her husband’s official accommodation in Tokyo (Jacques Martin was the director of Air France in Japan) is a case in point. It has stayed in the family ever since.