Xerjoff Magazine

Women and design: a winning combination


The great contribution of women to the world of design over the past 120 years is at the center of an exhibition organized at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein.

Although design history books often don’t emphasize it enough, the contribution of women to the design universe, whether it be furniture design, fashion design, industrial design, or interior design, has been very significant, both in commercial and creative terms. An exhibition planned in Germany at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein (Charles-Eames-Straße 2,) aims to remedy, at least in part, this injustice. It does so with “Here We Are! Women in Design 1900 – Today“, an exhibition that traces the contribution of women to the world of design in over a century of history. There are about eighty women designers in the exhibition, starting from the protagonists of modernism such as Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand, Lilly Reich and Clara Porset, passing through business leaders such as Florence Knoll and Armi Ratia and lesser known figures such as the social reformer Jane Addams up to famous exponents of contemporary design such as Matali Crasset, Patricia Urquiola, Julia Lohmann, and the Matri-Archi(tecture) Collective.

The exhibition is structured in 4 sections: the first focuses on the development of design in Europe and the United States around 1900. A period characterized by the struggle for suffrage and women’s emancipation in which the work of Jane Addams and Louise Brigham developed, which today we would define “social design”. The second section analyzes the period of time between 1920 and 1950, years in which the work of designers began to be recognized internationally, despite a persistent patriarchy. Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Clara Porset, and Jeanne Toussaint -creative director of the prestigious jewellery brand Cartier, are the protagonists of this part of the exhibition, which also reserves a space for those designers who collaborated with their partners: Ray Eames with her husband Charles, Aino Aalto with Alvar. The third part, which focuses on the years between 1950 and the end of the 1980s, highlights the birth, in the 1960s, of a second wave of feminism as a reaction to the conservative mentality of the post-war period, expressed, for example, by an exhibition organized in 1958 in Switzerland that focused on the work of women, identified exclusively in the care of the home. The liveliness of the ’70s is instead present with the colorful design of the Marimekko brand, while the ’80s come alive in the original creations of great Italian designers such as Nanda Vigo, Gae Aulenti and Cini Boeri. The final part, focused on contemporaneity, it shows how today, finally, access to the world of design is no longer problematic for a woman. This is demonstrated by the success of world-famous designers such as Matali Crasset, Patricia Urquiola or Hella Jongerius and the fertile research carried out in the field of design by figures such as Julia Lohmann and Christien Meindertsma.

Curated by Viviane Stappmanns, Nina Steinmüller and Susanne Graner the exhibition is open from September 23, 2021 to March 6, 2022.

Above: Cini Boeri, Ghost, 1987 © Vitra Design Museum, photo: Jürgen Hans