The acclaimed designer Andrée Putman died at her Left Bank apartment in Paris on January 19. She was 87.
This is a tragic loss to the design and style and fashion worlds and to Andrée’s many friends, collaborators, clients, colleagues, and admirers around the world, and for her daughter, Olivia and son, Cyrille who continue to operate Studio Putman.
The universe of ideas and inspiration, design and style has lost an icon.
“Dreams lead you very far.” —Andrée Putman commented to me in an interview in 2002
Was Andrée the greatest and most cohesive and prolific designer of the late twentieth century? Very likely.
When you read my tribute today, and learn about and understand her extensive body of work over four decades, you’ll see her endless creativity, the astonishing international scope or her work, her philosophy, the endless invention, her rigorous perfection.
Few designers come close.
This is a super-long post—even by my standards. I think it’s the longest. No tweet.
I suggest that you pour a glass or two of very good French wine (chilled Montrachet, perhaps), or make a large cup of wonderful Bellocq tea, and settle in.
I’ve rounded up lists of Andrée’s recommended books, lots of images, her work, her humor, her ideas about design, her observations about life, my meetings with Andrée, and always her life. Come with me.
“"I ask myself, 'Are people going to be happy in my hotel rooms? Is it human? Does it make you smile when you are alone in the world? Does it drive you and inspire you?' Those are among my criteria-along with harmony, balance, elegance, simplicity." —Andrée Putman in an interview with me 1990
Andrée Putman finessed interiors, product from Baccarat to Christofle to jewelry, and her purview crisscrossed retail, residential, luxury, mass, accessories, commercial buildings, hotels, fabrics, carpets, graphics, even perfume.
She was one of the most versatile, witty and admired designers, and easily the most articulate.
“When your imagination is constrained, it’s very good for interior design,” she told me.
I met her at the time she was designing Morgan’s and interviewed her many times over the years.
This week: my heart-felt homage.
I scrolled back into my extensive files on Andéee and found unpublished interviews with her, as well as pieces I wrote about her for PAPERCITY and other publications.
Among her designs are the Wasserturm hotel in Germany, scenography for “The Pillow Book” an erotic film by Peter Greenaway, tableware for Sasaki, a mannequin collection for Pucci, New York, and a seating collection for Domeau & Peres, Paris. Clients as diverse as the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, the BHV department store in Paris, Acme pens in Hawaii, the Hotel Pershing in Paris, Baldinger lamps, New York, and French L’Amy sunglasses have entrusted her to bring new products, museum exhibits, hotel decor and textiles to an impatient public. Her work is ethereal, often mysterious, and benefits from quiet reflection.
EXCLUSIVE: This week see below unpublished, never seen Andrée Putman’s plans, drawings, fabric selections and other design notations for a New York penthouse commissioned by my friends Serge and Tatiana Sorokko, who live in Northern California. Serge is the noted art dealer and Tatiana is the well-known fashion and style expert and vintage fashion collector.
The architect for the penthouse was the great Stanley Saitowitz.
Scroll down to see my exclusive report on this exceptional design by Mme. Putman.
“I put a lot of passion into my work. I would say my work is always rigorous—but it is whimsical, too. Design is a serious business, but it’s important to keep the spirit light.”–Andrée Putman in an interview with me 2005
I first met Andrée Putman somewhere in the early eighties, when she was working on Morgan’s hotel—the first of the chic boutique hotels and really the start of her international career.
“Think globally is my design mantra,” she told me. “And I work to create design that is almost absent--so that the design work is invisible, not too extreme or overbearing.”
At the time I first met this remarkable woman, she was also commissioned to create the interiors for an Yves Saint Laurent boutique in San Francisco. Bliss.
Over the years, I interviewed Andree many times, spent time with her in Paris, New York and San Francisco.
Her smoky voice, her droll wit, her gestural statements, and her broad range of references linger in my memory.
“Jean-Michel Frank has been a wonderful inspiration for me, for the modesty and elegance of his interiors and furniture.” –Andrée Putman, in an interview with me 1992
From my final interview: 2008Even at an elegant 83 years old, Andrée Putman is considered one of the greatest French designers. Immersed in the world of design at the top level, she was named to head a new Design Committee of Paris, which addressed matters of aesthetics and beauty, and she introduced a line of sunglasses. Andrée Putman was honored with an exhibition, ‘Beyond Style, Andrée Putman’ curated by her son, Cyrille Putman, at the French Embassy in New York.
Instead of asking Andrée Putman about her newest clients, or begging to know her philosophy of design, perhaps one should cut to the chase and ask her the secret of her extraordinary life-long enthusiasm, curiosity and creativity—or beg her to reveal her tips for looking chic and fabulous despite running a design firm with 27 associates and traveling constantly to New York and Venice, Hong Kong and Berlin and Japan.
Morgan’s, the Manhattan hotel that first launched her in the US in the early eighties, recently received a complete Andree redo—though in fact she did not change the dramatic essential design elements, like the black and white bathrooms and the superbly controlled and paled-down gray/taupe color range.
Over the past twenty years, Andrée Putman has become internationally admired and praised for her refined and intellectually rigorous interiors, and for the subtle luxury of her furniture and product designs for an impressive international roster of luxury-goods clients.
It was not surprising that the House of Guerlain, the 177-year-old Paris-based fragrance house, approached Putman to redesign and update the historic Guerlain boutique, which had opened in 1914 at 68 avenue des Champs-Elysees.
“This was a marvelous assignment,” said Putman, admired among design insiders for her original designs for the interiors of the Concorde, for Bastide restaurant in Los Angeles, for Ebel watch stores.
In a chat one day at the Café Deux-Magots opposite the Saint-Germain-des-Pres church, Andree told me of her ‘horrible’ childhood growing up on the Left Bank, on the rue des Grands-Augustins, with parents she considered charter members of the dreaded ‘haute-bourgeoisie’.
She recalled that as a young girl she went most summers to the Abbey at Fontenay, a magnificent Cistercian structure, which had at one time houses the Montgolfier brothers’ workshop. (The Montgolfiers, famed for their hot-air balloons, were ancestors of her mother’s.)
She spoke of the influence of spending time at the limestone abbey, and loving the austerity of its rigorous architecture. She said it influenced her with its pared-down architecture (you can see how she was drawn to it) and the effects of light, the repetitious arches, the simplicity, and the textures, richness and attraction of its ivory/grey/white/ non-colors.
Andrée spoke to me of working on the re-design and re-direction of the Guerlain perfume boutique on the Champs-Elysees (worth a visit).
“It was especially challenging because the building and the interiors are on the Paris landmark list. The entire building, from the façade to the stairways and the furnishings, is considered an essential part of the architecture and design patrimony of France. We couldn’t even change a wall that was not even visible in the building. The codes were absolutely rigid and enforced by the Ministry of Culture. We could not alter a centimeter. I embraced this challenge with great enthusiasm.”
Putman worked with architect Maxime d’Angeac on the project.
Situated in the heart of the chicest Paris neighborhood, and just a few moments’ walk from the iconic Arc de Triomphe, the Guerlain boutique had originally been built in 1914 in the Belle Epoque style by the architect, Charles Mewes. He was also responsible for the design of the glamorous Hotel Ritz overlooking the place Vendome.
The elegant perfume boutique, which was on the first floor of the Guerlain building, boasted hand-forged iron stair-rails, a Baccarat chandelier, and walls faced with Carrara marble in shades of yellow, pink, and green. The third and fourth floors were later converted to office space, with a beauty institute installed on the second floor in 1939.
It was the 1939 renovation and remodel that would provide d’Angeac and Putman with some of their most creative flights of fancy. In an astonishing and highly inspired move in 1939, Guerlain had hired the interior designer Jean-Michel Frank and his associate, Adolphe Chanaux to design the beauty institute on the second floor. The fashionable and talented pair, still admired today for
Guerlain also hired the artist/ theatrical set designer Christian Berard and sculptor Diego Giacometti to create lighting, a decorative niche, and other design flourishes.
Sadly, little was left of their design flights of fancy in 2005. The upper floors of the building were sadly neglected when Putman began the very lengthy project of restoring glamour to the building.
“I decided to use the complications and restrictions of the current building codes as an asset. When your imagination is constrained, it’s very good for interior design,” she told me.
Meeting John Dickinson: Another Surprising Interview I Had with Andrée PutmanThis article is from a piece I wrote for PAPERCITY.
In the autumn of 1981, the late, great interior designer, John Dickinson, phoned me to say that Andrée Putman was in town to install her interior design for the new Yves Saint Laurent boutique on Sutter Street, in San Francisco. She was an insider’s designer at that time, hardly known in France, she told me, but admired by designers.
John loved Mme Putman’s work—its rigorous editing, the subtle use of color, her lack of sentimentality, her deep understanding of design history, and her rejection of theme design—and hoped to meet her.
He picked me up in his cane-sided black Jaguar (to fend off the San Francisco fog: camel-colored lap blankets with black leather piping) , and we cruised over. (John parked at fire hydrants.)
The boutique was aflutter with painters --and the regal Andrée Putman herself, awe-inspiring in a superbly tailored black suit, black stiletto heels, and bright red lipstick.
John was smitten, seduced by her Parisian allure, her baritone voice, her elegantly coltish legs, and her thoughtful and deliberate grace. The creamy interior, with its black lacquer fixtures and Eileen Gray “Transat” chairs in black leather, shone with sleek, timeless glamour.
Andrée, in turn, adored Dickinson’s monochrome décor, his ‘millimeters’ approach to perfection, his spiffy dress (Gap pants), breezy manner, and raucous humor, and we immediately made arrangements to have breakfast the following morning at John Dickinson’s famous Washington Street residence, a former firehouse.
Andrée, it turned out, had admired John’s work for years and felt an affinity with his superbly edited rooms, his palette, the sculptural quality of his furniture, and his uncompromising attention to detail.
I was working with John Dickinson on a book about his work—and Andrée agreed enthusiastically to write the introduction.
All too soon after this meeting, John died.
I received a beautiful letter from Andrée, written in her lyrical Italic script. We spoke often on the phone. She lit candles in his honor. She said prayers.
“I loved John,” she wrote to me, “He was the top of the top.”
I would say the same about Andrée.
Andrée Putman: An Overview of Her WorkWritten for PAPERCITY in 2006
Andrée Putman is widely recognized as the greatest living French designer, and travels the world for clients in Israel, Dallas, New York, Tokyo, Wolfsburg, Brussels, Los Angeles and Hawaii.
“I never stop,” said Mme Putman, talking on the telephone from her chic office in Paris. “I put a lot of passion in my work, and I love playing with changes.”
There is Putman work for mass production (tables, trays, chairs) and on infinitely refined designs for private enjoyment, reached at by her own process of wisdom, a search for quality.
Mme Putman said that one of the biggest misconceptions regarding her designs is that she dislikes color.
“I use millions of colors in my work, but I think that people don’t think of taupe and grey and ivory as colors--but, of course, they are, most decidedly,” she insisted.
“I now allow myself to play with odd colors,” she mused. “It seems right to experiment with a range of colors, and not be “Madame Noir et Blanc” any longer.”
Works included private houses in Tel Aviv and Brussels and Tangier, a family mansion in Paris, a hotel in Chile, and the Hoffman Museum in Dallas, with architect Bill Booziotis.
For Putman, if it’s Tuesday there's the opening of a Ritz-Carlton hotel, co-owned by Volkswagen, in Germany. A hotel in the old American Legion building in Paris opened in 2001, there was the Pierre Herme patisserie in Tokyo. Other projects included a vast private pagoda in Tel Aviv to house a Swedish client's art collection, and a redesign of Cadillac dealerships in the United States.
The projects are steady and diverse, like one for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
"I am intrigued to be designing some little kiosks to be placed outside of the Guggenheim," she said excitedly. "They will be breaking new ground."
Also on her roster, a chair she designed for the American firm Emeco, a line of sunglasses for RAC Paris, a collection of carpets for Toulemonde Bochart, a knife for Laguiole, as well as furniture for Fermob and Silvera. The Studio was also called upon to imagine the scenography for French singer Christophe’s concerts at the Olympia and at Versailles, and the Madeleine Vionnet exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
I asked Andrée Putman to send me a list of her favorite books:
In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki
The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust
Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
My Dinner with AndréeIn 2008 I asked Andrée Putman 10 questions:
DDS: Is there anything you have not yet designed and are longing to work on?
AP: A fantastic yacht
DDS: Current favorite inspirations for design?
AP: Inspiration can come from many sources, for example a colorful street market full of outrageously beautiful objects that you cannot even exist in Paris, sold by merchants who don’t know the source of their wares. I think it is impossible to dissect the reasons of inspiration, because it is the result of one’s point of view, determined by all the aspects of one’s personality, both conscious and unconscious. All of the achieved work sounded as far away as a dream before they became reality.
DDS: What is on your iPod?
AP: Philip Glass, Alban Berg, Billie Holiday
DDS: Books on your bedside table?
AP: “La route des Flandres” from Claude Simon
DDS: Diana Vreeland said, "Style is consistency". How do you define style?
AP: For me, style is relative concept. I am against design that can seem “too much” or attached to a concept of good taste. Style has nothing to do with money. It’s a question of freedom and harmony. Finally, what I care about most is the person, the individual, his or her needs and the way he or she expresses an individual personality.
DDS: Where do you travel to clear your head?
AP: London and New York are the two cities where I am totally happy. I don’t have a residence anywhere else than France but my life is still a continuous big travel. I spent a lot of energy criticizing my own country but the great way of reconciliation has arrived. Small trips are very rewarding but be careful about leaving your country forever, I suggest.
DDS: You were been appointed the 'chef' of a new design committee for Paris. What is your burning desire and your first priority?
AP: I am President of the first Paris design committee. Sometimes, courage is needed to make a decision which could shock some, but which turns out to be the right one. After all, it comes down to one simple idea: harmony. So we will try to bring new ideas to beautify the city.
DDS: What is your greatest contribution to design?
AP: A nonconformist idea. I like the idea of being irreverent and free. I believe in eclecticism, mixing, by intuition and sincerity, images that include yesterday, today and sometimes tomorrow. I love objects totally pure from any effort of design and as well design that is free of arrogance and pretension.
DDS: Everything you have designed has been elegant, useful, practical, timeless and identifiably your design. How do you achieve this distinction? Is it a process of editing? You design with focus and rigor.
AP: Places that survive time and age well, are full of attention and respect for people. They are opened to life, emotions, improvements. Conceptualize places, private or public, implies to listen carefully to other people, with attention and love.
A Spritz of StyleA report I wrote in 2002, published in WWD
PARIS: Style fans went into olfactory overdrive recently when Andrée Putman, launched her signature perfume, Preparation Parfumee Andrée Putman.
Tantalizing hints of coriander leaves, waterlily, driftwood, cucumber, and grapefruit floated in the air as the French style icon introduced her first fragrance. The chic new Putman-designed hotel, Pershing Hall, was the setting for her glamorous fragrance fete.
Putman’s new scent, hints mysteriously of pepper, exotic fruits, jasmine, and even vodka and rainwater.
“I was inspired by the tropical forests of South-East Asia,” said Putman, who worked with top perfume “nose” Olivia Giacobetti on the concept. “I wanted to evoke a junk floating along a stream in a green tunnel of vegetation.”
Giacobetti, who calls perfume “the poetry of memory”, took Putman’s abstract idea, and created a provocative, personal and non-cloying scent, which is certain to become a cult classic.
An Impressive Body of WorkAfter working with various publicity agencies and designer groups from 1968 until the 1970s, she founded her own furnishings and interior design business, Écart, in 1978. Although she had turned her back on a career in music, her training informed her design practice—she reinterpreted the balance, harmony, and rhythm of musical composition in her designs through the restraint of simple lines, monochromatic colors, and unique combinations of materials. Through Écart, Putman reissued classic Modernist furnishings from 1930s designers such as Eileen Gray, Mariano Fortuny, and Pierre Chareau. She also began creating boutiques for well-known fashion designers such as Thierry Mugler, Yves Saint Laurent, and Karl Lagerfeld.
|Andree with Serge and Tatiana Sorokko and Donna Karan|
Never published drawings and plans for a New York City penthouse
EXLUSIVE TO THE STYLE SALONISTE: Never published drawings, plans, fabric selections and designs for the Greene Street, New York City, penthouse for Serge and Tatiana Sorokko. It was under construction on September 11, 2001. When six inches of ash blanketed the terrace, the project was halted. It was never completed.
Below is the complete work, including all drawings, fabric swatches.
I interviewed Tatiana and Serge this week about the project. Below are notes from out conversations.
Thanks, Serge and Tatiana. I’m honored to present your beautiful penthouse on THE STYLE SALONISTE.
DDS: How did it happen that you hired Andree
TS: In the mid 90s our friend, the fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, introduced us to Andrée at a dinner at his loft in Paris. She appeared, to me, to be a rather striking figure, dressed in a structured Thierry Mugler suit and wearing her signature silver necklace – very imposing for a woman of her age – she was over 70 at the time.
I connected immediately with her strong personal style. After many years of visiting with her in Paris or New York, we realized that we shared very similar tastes in art, such as the work of Antoni Tapies and Jannis Kounellis, and minimalism in design.
Also, she introduced us to her favorite artist, whom she collected for years, the Dutch painter Bram van Velde. We even had the same breed of cat – Russian Blue. When Serge and I acquired a new apartment in SoHo in the late 90s, there was no question in our minds that Andrée would be the first choice for interior design.
DDS: What was the project and what was she commissioned to do?
SS: In early 2000, Andrée was tasked to do a complete interior design for our Greene Street penthouse, including over 2,000 square feet of rooftop terrace. Stanley Saitowitz was the architect. She proposed the French landscape designer Louis Benech whom we also engaged.
DDS. How did it proceed?
TS: Beginning in February 2000 we met at least once a month for a year and a half – she was often in New York, and we in Paris – to go over renderings and review samples of the most exquisite fabrics, as well as glass, stone and wood.
Every element had to be the absolute best quality. She was sourcing granite from quarries in Italy and limestone from quarries in Spain.
One of her remarkable suggestions was to carve the tub for our master bathroom out of a single piece of limestone. To have it installed, we had to block off the entire street for half a day, and have it lifted by a crane up to our fifth floor terrace.
Her design for our closet was just as decadent – everything from the floor to the ceiling was to be covered in luscious silver-grey felt. Another example of her inventive genius was a screening room suggestion.
We wanted to be able to entertain our friends and the space, though it was over 6,000 square feet, just did not render itself for a formal screening room. So Andrée came up with an idea to design a moveable folding screen that could be railed along a recess in the hardwood floor from a pocket on the inside of the apartment out onto the terrace, and have the furniture arranged to create an outdoor movie theater.
She also consulted Serge on the interior of his New York gallery. The idea she came up with was to create a viewing room in the form of a glass cube that would sit in the middle of the gallery floor. The glass would go from transparent to completely opaque when a client wished to view a painting inside the cube.
DDS: What was most inspiring about working with her?
SS: Every meeting with Andrée was a learning experience. Collaborating with a master of her stature was in itself an honor. But, most importantly, her inventiveness, and the abundance of it, was unprecedented.
Andrée was extremely precise and knew exactly what she liked and what she disliked. The apartment became her vision – which made working with her very easy. She was quick to say either yes or no, and every decision was deliberate. For a woman she had a rather masculine point of view as far as design was concerned – and at the time her sense of minimalism with touches of Deco made for a perfect combination.
DDS: Why was it never photographer or published?
TS: The penthouse was never photographed, as we were waiting until the project was done to document the space. We were nearing completion on the project and looking forward to moving in when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. We decided to sell the penthouse “as is” with Andrée’s work in progress.
DDS: Thank you, Serge and Tatiana. Such a pleasure.
In 2009, Rizzoli published a superb volume, Andrée Putman Complete Works.
The book, which was edited by the highly esteemed Dung Ngo, has an introduction by Donald Albrecht and a charming preface by Jean Nouvel.
Her designs—from the very first—are presented with elegance and clarity. They are shown in chronological order; clear-eyed designers will perceive the development of her work. The images illustrate the scope, intelligence, linear purity, and understated chic of her work—and the humor she often applied to even the most serious projects.
Andrée felt that humor, wit and a little joke or two were essential to leaven the seriousness of design and architecture.
Andrée Putman Complete Works (edited by Dung Ngo) was published by Rizzoli. It’s an essential reference for interior designers, architects, product designers, hoteliers, museum curators, international real estate developers and restaurateurs.
Andrée Putman was lauded at a service of memorial in the elegant modern chapel (very Andrée) at the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Paris, on January 22.
She is now at rest at Pere Lachaise cemetery, joining Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Jean Seberg, Colette, Jim Morrison, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre in a never-ending colloquium.
I will visit her on my next trip to Paris. I’ll pay my homage and respect, and of course like many will admire the style of her tomb and lay flowers there. White, of course.
Images from ‘Andrée Putman Complete Works’ used with permission from Rizzoli.
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