The rich history of women in design, from 1900 to the present day

Advertisement for Liisi Beckmann’s Karelia lounge chair (1969) (courtesy Zanotta SpA – Italy, all images courtesy Vitra and as designated)

While some people have thrived working from home during the pandemic, others are eagerly awaiting a safe return to the office – especially Carol, who enjoys cornering you in the office kitchen and asking you questions about your weekends. -end before having had a good cup of coffee. But Carol isn’t the only woman with a signature office style; Swiss furniture design company Vitra greets women in the workplace this month, with the opening of a massive exhibition exploring the role of women in modern design.

The Vitra Design Museum presents Here we are! Women in Design 1900 – Today, which examines the crucial contributions of women in the fields of furniture design, fashion design, industrial design and interior design. The four-part exhibition showcases some 80 women – from the best known to the most influential – and the impact of their work over the last 120 years of design. From 1900, the first part of the exhibition took a broad view of design, presenting not only creators of objects but also social reformers like Jane Addams and Louise Brigham, framing their work as what we would call now “social design”.

The next section spans the 1920s to 1950s, featuring designers like Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Clara Porset, and Cartier Creative Director Jeanne Toussaint. The third part of the exhibition tackles 1950 to the late 1980s and seeks to demonstrate the impact of Second Wave feminism on the ground – for example, in the Swiss Exhibition on Women’s Work held in 1958. La final section connects to the present day and includes works by established international designers like Matali Crasset, Patricia Urquiola and Hella Jongerius. This section also introduces experimental designers Julia Lohmann and Christien Meindertsma and presents recent initiatives that use feminist discourse to question notions of fatherhood, education and recognition in design and architecture.

Designer Julia Lohmann at work in the studio.

Beautiful objects with influential movements, Here we are! offers unlimited inspiration, whether you’re looking to spice up your home office, dismantle the hegemony of the built environment, or just stock up on talking points for the next time Carol sets up an ambush at a coffee shop.

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