October 31, 2021London-based scholar Jane Hall was extremely productive during the pandemic lockdowns. She used the time to write a book, and a remarkably researched one, at that. The new volume, Woman Made: Great Women Designers, published by Phaidon, pays homage to more than 200 female talents from upwards of 50 countries who created furniture, lighting, products and textiles over the past one hundred-plus years.
Phaidon tapped Hall for the project following her successful 2019 release for the publisher, Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women, which showcased 180 building projects from the past century.
Women Made devotes one or two pages to each featured designer, with text written by Hall accompanied by an image of a career-defining creation. In its 220 pages, 20th-century pioneers of high-end industrial furniture, including Florence Knoll and Antonia Astori (cofounder of Italian brand Driade), are joined by such cutting-edge contemporary names as lighting specialist Bec Brittain and aesthetic polymath Ilaria Bianchi. Textile doyennes like Anni Albers and Lucienne Day are celebrated along with such contemporary furniture eminences as Rosanna Hu and Faye Toogood.
Thanks to the book’s alphabetical (rather than chronological) organization, designers who worked decades apart appear just a few pages from each other, making for some telling juxtapositions.
Among these is the pairing of two Milanesi: influential postwar European designer and Kartell cofounder Anna Castelli Ferrieri and young contemporary talent Maddalena Casadei. Both women embody the Italian design capital’s creative boundary pushing, Ferrieri with her still-in-production ABS-plastic-injected Componibili modular storage system and Casadei with her metal Verso table, whose shapely legs combine gentle curves with sharp-edged facets.
Despite the women’s different nationalities and ages, the book highlights significant commonalities. Some 80 percent of them, for instance, trained as architects, and many, Hall tells Introspective, see design “as a spatial practice more than an object-based one.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that names appearing in this book — Lina Bo Bardi, Ray Eames, ZAHA HADID and EILEEN GRAY — are featured as well in Hall’s previous, architecture-oriented one, showcasing how they interweave the two fields in their design practices.
This interconnection is illustrated in a spread featuring Gray’s iconic leather and lacquer Bibendum chair — a bulbous piece that she joked was a feminist interpretation of LE CORBUSIER’s GRAND CONFORT SEAT — which sits opposite the living room of her first completed building, a modernist villa in the South of France that she designed for herself and her then-lover, the Romanian architect and critic Jean Badovici.
That space, with its gridded floor tiles and the long mullions of its window walls, seems to echo the horizontal linear elements of the Bibendum, a white-leather version of which holds pride of place there.
The villa, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was vandalized by Corbusier at the urging of Badovici following his breakup with Gray. Hall includes this anecdote in her commentary, a poignant reminder of a point she makes in her introduction where she sets out her mission.
This book, she writes, aims to position “women designers as pioneers, while underscoring the obstacles they faced at a time when womanhood was still viewed as a professional disadvantage.”
One woman, and one object, at a time, Hall does just that.