Required Reading

‘Woman Made’ Offers a Close Look at the Great Female Designers of the Past Century

Photo of Eileen Gray's leather and lacquer Bibendum Chair
Among the iconic pieces featured in WOMAN MADE: GREAT WOMEN DESIGNERS, recently published by PHAIDON, is Eileen Gray‘s leather and lacquer Bibendum chair — a bulbous piece that she joked was a feminist interpretation of Le Corbusier’s Grand Confort seat. Top: The book also celebrates LINA BO BARDI, Franziska Hosken, ROSANNA HU, Wendy Andreu, Lucienne Day, ILARIA BIANCHI and Marianne Brandt.

London-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.

The book’s spread on RAY EAMES highlights her work to create the mid-century pieces for which her husband, Charles Eames, often receives the majority of credit.

The book’s alphabetical organization results in intriguing juxtapositions of creators from disparate time periods and with different styles, like that of young contemporary talent Maddalena Casadei with postwar designer and Kartell cofounder Anna Castelli Ferrieri, both based in Milan.

The section on EILEEN GRAY shows the Bibendum chair in situ, in the living room of her first completed building, a modernist villa in the South of France.

Iraqi-born Pritzker Prize–winning architect ZAHA HADID is represented by her Mesa table.

Bauhaus legend Anni Albers shares a spread with young Kuwaiti furniture designer Kawther Al Saffar. Both are notable for their creative use of weaving techniques and materials. 

FLORENCE KNOLL revolutionized design not only with her own creations but also by commissioning talents like ANNI ALBERS and Lella Vignelli to make pieces for Knoll, the furniture company founded by her first husband, Hans Knoll. At right, a work by Belle Kogan, often referred to as the godmother of industrial design.

Another pairing brings together British contemporary designer FAYE TOOGOOD (represented by her 2014 Roly-Poly armchair) and the late Finish mid-century glass specialist Helena Tynell (represented by her Sun bottle of 1964).

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.

Explore More by these Designers on 1stDibs

Zaha Hadid
Shop Now
Zaha Hadid
Florence Knoll
Shop Now
Florence Knoll
Faye Toogood
Shop Now
Faye Toogood
Eileen Gray
Shop Now
Eileen Gray
Rosanna Hu
Shop Now
Rosanna Hu
Ray Eames
Shop Now
Ray Eames
Antonia Astori
Shop Now
Antonia Astori
Anni Albers
Shop Now
Anni Albers
Bec Brittain
Shop Now
Bec Brittain
Lina Bo Bardi
Shop Now
Lina Bo Bardi
Maddalena Casadei
Shop Now
Maddalena Casadei
Anna Castelli Ferrieri
Shop Now
Anna Castelli Ferrieri
Ilaria Bianchi
Shop Now
Ilaria Bianchi

Loading next story…

No more stories to load; check out The Study.

No more stories to load; check out The Study.