To those who think the best success comes early and simply, let the life and work of the legendary Andrée Putman be a weighty antidote.
The French interior designer, who died this past Saturday in Paris at age 87, came to prominence only in her fifties, after a series of long and varied careers spanning design, journalism and art.
Her ‘break out’ project came in 1984, with the design of Morgans Hotel in New York City. An ode to understated luxury, it eschewed what Putman saw as ‘vulgar’ excesses. It's popular and critical success is often marked as the birthplace of the modern ‘boutique hotel’, and launched the career of a woman who, just a few years earlier, faced divorce and the bankruptcy of her former company.
Born into a wealthy and eccentric Parisian family, Putman’s artistic exposure as a child channelled itself early into a career as a pianist. But at age 20, after studying composition at the Paris Conservatory, she rejected a secluded life of practice and took a job as a messenger at a women’s magazine.
She rose to posts as editor and design columnist at Elle and L’Oeil, while her marriage to the art critic and collector Jacques Putman exposed her to the flourishing art scene of '50s and '60s Paris. Careers in styling and publicity followed, leading to a near-decade steering Créateurs & Industriels until it’s bankruptcy in the late '70s.
A shift in Putman’s fortunes arrived when she launched a new company, Ecart, to reissue her favourite modernist French furniture, putting 1930s designers back in vogue. And after Morgans, the work was constant.
Putman's characteristic style emphasized simplicity and smooth lines, blending high and low and mixing the modern with the understated classics of decades past. Her vision found countless hosts – in hotels from New York to Paris to Tokyo; stores for Balenciaga, Bally and Lagerfeld; in bags, skyscrapers, furniture and perfume.
Her daughter Olivia took over the art direction for Studio Putman in 2007, but a year later, already into her eighties, Andrée Putman remained prolific. That year alone, she showed furniture at the Salone del Mobile and designed a glittering flagship store for Guerlain on the Champs Elysées.
In 2010, her status as the Grand Dame of French design long established, Paris’ City Hall honoured her with a wildly popular retrospective, titled Andrée Putman, Ambassador of Style.
Years later, looking back on the success of Ecart and the renewed popularity of the designers she so admired, she said, ‘my only concern was to interest at least 10 persons, and I would have accomplished something which would carry me for all my life.’
She succeeded in interesting far more than 10, and, we can only hope, this knowledge carries her still.
Images courtesy Studio Putman.