Andrée Putman

The interior designer Andrée Putman (1925-2013) had an outlook of radical simplicity that made her seem perpetually modern. "I am interested," she once said, "in that family of things that will never date." Putman's own work, which included the first boutique hotel, Morgans, in New York (1984), and the Guerlain flagship store in Paris (2005), was certainly timeless.

She was born Andrée Aynard in Paris into a family whose wealth came from banking. She grew up in the city, but spent her summers at her family's country place, Fontenay Abbey, in Burgundy, built for the Cistercian monastic order. Its worn stone surfaces and ever-changing light were luxurious in their plainness, and they formed her aesthetic. In 1940, as part of her youthful rebellion, she emptied her room in the family's Left Bank apartment, leaving little and only of the best: a bed, and a chair by Mies van der Rohe under a Noguchi lamp. She was studying the piano, then composition, very successfully, at the Paris Conservatoire, but at the age of 19 decided against the dedication a career in music demanded.

She slipped into design through magazines, joining Femina in 1950 at messenger level, moving to Elle in 1952, and to the art magazine l'Oeil as interiors editor in 1960. She also worked as an art director for the Prisunic department store chain. In 1958, she married Jacques Putman, a collector and critic with a deep knowledge of modernism and a wide circle of artistic acquaintance, and the couple provided Prisunic with cheap editions of prints by contemporary artists: "beautiful for the price of ugly" was the slogan. Andrée became artistic director in 1971 of a new textile-based company, Créateurs et Industriels, but it, and her marriage, failed a few years later, leaving her alone in a room even more deliberately ascetic than her girlhood cell, "in total austerity, because I no longer knew what I liked".

By the late 1970s, however, Putman had found what she liked, and starts giving life again to classic but then forgotten French modernist furniture of the 1930s; she rescued pieces from flea markets and sold them through her company, Ecart, founded in 1978. Purchasers asked her to create contexts for them – a room to surround a screen, say – and she was then commissioned by Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, among others, to design shop interiors of modern luxury, quite different from traditional gilt or the kooky boutiques of the 60s.

Modern luxury was also the brief from Ian Schrager for his Morgans hotel in Manhattan in the early 80s. Putman thought the faux-Versailles cliches of grand hotels vulgar – ("too much Louis and too many flowers," she decreed) – and put together Morgans, which opened in 1984, on a strict budget and with firm discipline. You might call her look minimal, but minimalism was just another trend, and she was beyond that.
Morgans was much imitated all over the world, although not by Putnam in her subsequent hotel designs, for the Hotel Le Lac, in Kawaguchi, Japan (1989); the Hotel Im Wasserturm, in Cologne, Germany (1990), and the Pershing Hall, Paris (2001). She provided interiors in 1985 for the office in Paris of the French minister of culture, with its half-moon desk, still in service and loved; in 1990 for Bordeaux's contemporary art museum; and in 1994 for a revamp of the cabin of Concorde. She also designed the sets for Peter Greenaway's 1996 film The Pillow Book.

In 1997, she set up her own studio - where her daughter, Olivia, took over as art director in 2007. Besides more designs for shop interiors in Paris, New York and Tokyo, and a Hong Kong skyscraper that bears her name, Putman also worked on small domestic objects, including table ceramics, cutlery and jewellery: plain, with a twist of wit. In 2010, she was celebrated with an exhibition, Andrée Putman, Ambassador of Style, at the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, curated by her daughter.

Putman's bold personal style was based on her imperfections ("Life is made of imperfections"). Her strong features, awry smile and modern dancer's gestures were theoretically all wrong for the camera, but she photographed superbly, like sculpture; while her tailored, dramatic clothes – usually Parisian couture, often from designers she had discovered at the start of their careers – were simply the best, of the family of things that will never date.

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