Here we are! Women in design at the Vitra Design Museum


Today, almost half of design students are women, yet even today, books on the history of design often fail to mention them.
The exhibition “Here we are! Women in Design 1900 – Today” – to Vitra Design Museum of From September 23, 2021 to March 6, 2022 traces the work and working conditions of women in design from the beginning of modernism to the present day, showcasing a wide range of works and contributions. It sets a clear stance on a key social issue and presents modern design in a new light. The exhibition consists of four parts and takes visitors on a journey through the last 120 years of design history.

cover image: GM’s “Damsels of Design”, photographed c. 1955. From left to right: S. Vanderbilt, R. Glennie, M. Ford Pohlman, H. Earl, J. Linder, S. Logyear, P. Sauer. Courtesy of General Motors Design Archives & Special collections.

The first part deals with the development of design in Europe and the United States around 1900., when design became a profession in its own right. It was also a time of intensified struggle for women’s suffrage, and the attempt at emancipation is reflected in the design produced, for example, by social reformers such as Jane Addams and Louise Brigham, whose works are reported today. ‘hui described as “Social Design”. . In New York, Elsie de Wolfe helped shape the new professional field of interior design, and women designers were trained or taught at the Bauhaus, Russian VKhUTEMAS, and Deutsche Werkstätten in Dresden-Hellerau.
A whole world still unknown in the history of design can be found at the Loheland School, which, like the Bauhaus, was founded in 1919, but only admitted women.
The Bauhaus accepted both male and female students, but many women who enrolled found themselves studying trades like textiles or ceramics. By presenting their activities, the exhibition demonstrates that while improving education may have meant increased professionalism, women were still encouraged to take on traditional roles.

The Daily Mirror, April 27

Newspaper article on suffragists who demonstrated in the House of Commons, in: The Daily Mirror, London, April 27, 1906 © The British Library Board.

The second part of the exhibition focuses on the 1920s to 1950s, an era in which female designers like Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray and Clara Porset began to make names for themselves internationally even though the models patriarchal have endured. In the Parisian luxury industry, Cartier’s artistic director, Jeanne Toussaint, has defined the style of jewelry designs for many decades. She led the “S Department” with its products for the modern woman and promoted ornaments and accessories projecting a progressive and confident image. Some of the creative women described in this section have worked closely with their partners: Ray Eames with her husband Charles, Aino Aalto with Alvar Aalto. Although often overshadowed by their male counterparts, they often contributed much more substantially to joint work than previously assumed. The best-known example in this context is that of Charlotte Perriand, whose part in the furniture designs she created with her famous colleague Le Corbusier has been widely publicized in recent years, leading to a complete reassessment of her work. The exhibition also features designers who have worked independently all their lives, such as ceramicist Eva Zeisel, who had her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, and reminds us of those who deserve much more attention than ‘they haven’t been. given in the past, as Trude Petri.


Life at the Bauhaus: Group portrait of the weavers behind their loom in the weaving workshop, Bauhaus Dessau, 1928. © Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.


Loheland Photo Workshop: Jump (Editing) c. 1930. Photo: Loheland-Archiv, Künzell.


Left: Berenice Abbott, portrait of Eileen Gray, 1927, © National Museum of Ireland.
Right: Eileen Gray, Untitled / Dressing room for Tempe a Pailla, 1932-34
© Vitra Design Museum, photo: Jürgen Hans.

The third part of the exhibition covers the period from 1950 to the end of the 1980s.
The second wave of feminism emerged in the 1960s to obviously oppose the post-war conservative mentality, for example, at the Swiss Exhibition on Women’s Work held in 1958. The Work des femmes was still defined as domestic work, the home as women’s own sphere, but despite this limited view of their activities, many women were extraordinarily creative and productive. As patterns and opportunities continued to change and evolve, the ambivalences and upheavals of those turbulent decades are evident both in the brightly colored Marimekko design of the 1970s and in some of the spectacular postmodern objects created by designers. Italians such as Nanda Vigo, Gae Aulenti, and Cini Boeri. Not many people know that the futuristic interiors of the orbital modules of the Russian space program were also designed by a woman, Galina Balashova, whose work is gradually being discovered.


Charlotte Perriand, Untitled / Library Tunisia, 1952. © Vitra Design Museum, photo: Jürgen
Hans, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021.


Ray Eames working on a model, 1950 © Eames Office LLC


Galina Balashova, Interior sketch of the orbital (living) compartment of the Soyuz spacecraft. Variant 1, 1963, © The Museum of Cosmonautic, Moscow.


Advertisement for the Karelia lounge chair by Liisi Beckmann, 1969. Courtesy of Zanotta SpA – Italy


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

The fourth part of the exhibition brings us to the present day. The works of renowned international designers such as Matali Crasset, Patricia Urquiola, Inga Sempé, Ilse Crawford or Hella Jongerius prove that today, a successful career in design is also possible for men and women. Some women designers have pushed the boundaries of their discipline and made a crucial contribution to redefining the meaning of design itself. These include Julia Lohmann, whose seaweed research promises to produce new sustainable materials, as well as Christien Meindertsma with his critical examination of production processes. This part of the exhibition also features a number of recent initiatives demonstrating how feminist discourse challenges models of fatherhood, education and recognition in design and architecture in light of concepts such as diversity. and intersectionality. In “Weaving identity constellations”, for example, the Matri-Archi (tecture) collective addresses the personal experience of African and black designers in a work created especially for this exhibition, while numerous networks and publications are setting up established design narratives and structures. to discuss. The workshops and community platform offered by the Futuress collective, for example, outline a striking alternative to academic education with its many limitations.


Julia Lohmann at the Department of Seaweed Studio, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2013, photo: Petr Krejci.


Christien Meindertsma with the Flax chair, 2015 © Studio Aandacht

People gather for the Women's March in Washington

People gather for the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21, 2017 picture alliance / Reuters | Shannon Stapleton.

Here we are! Women in Design 1900 – Today
September 23, 2021 / March 6, 2022
Vitra Design Museum
Charles-Eames-Straße 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany


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