ICONIC STYLE: MARIA PERGAY

Half a cen­tury ago, in an era that was all about plas­tics, the Paris-based de­signer made a bold move to cre­ate sen­su­ous, shapely fur­ni­ture out of stain­less steel.

VOGUE Living Australia - - Contents - By Ja­son Mowen

Half a cen­tury ago, this de­signer cre­ated sen­su­ous fur­ni­ture out of stain­less steel

If it’s true that some­thing done with love is done par ex­cel­lence, then the work of Maria Pergay, the French artist-de­signer who made stain­less steel chic in the 1960s and ’70s, shines in the most won­der­ful way. From her early days as a self-taught sil­ver­smith craft­ing ex­quis­ite, one-off dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects, Pergay seems only to have fol­lowed her heart, and never the mar­ket, when it came to her de­signs. Many did not be­come fash­ion­able un­til years after they were cre­ated, but that’s not to say she didn’t at­tract a cul­ti­vated fol­low­ing of devo­tees along the way: her first col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture, for ex­am­ple, ex­hib­ited at Ga­lerie Mai­son et Jardin in Paris in 1968, was bought out­right by cou­turier Pierre Cardin. “You can’t re­ally cat­e­gorise her,” says Suzanne Demisch of Demisch Danant, Pergay’s New York gal­lerist. “That’s what has al­ways made her so in­ter­est­ing.” Born in 1930 to Rus­sian-Jew­ish par­ents in Chisinau, then in Ro­ma­nia, Pergay and her mother fled to Paris in 1937 to es­cape an ex­pected Soviet in­va­sion, only to have to go into hid­ing when the Nazis oc­cu­pied the city. After the war she stud­ied cos­tume and set de­sign at the In­sti­tut des Hautes Etudes Ciné­matograh­piques, also at­tend­ing sculp­ture classes with Rus­sian-French artist Os­sip Zad­kine in Mont­par­nasse. In 1954 she be­gan help­ing a dec­o­ra­tor friend dress shop win­dows in Paris, one of which was next to Her­mès. Her the­atri­cal ap­proach gar­nered much at­ten­tion and within a few years she was craft­ing small dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects, such as her trade­mark sil­ver boxes adorned with rib­bons and belt-buck­les for Her­mès as well as Chris­tian Dior, Jac­ques Heim and Givenchy. She made a sil­ver rooster vase for Pierre Cardin and a gold but­ter­fly set with semi-pre­cious stones for Sal­vador Dalí. Spurred by the in­ter­est in her work, she opened a shop on the Place de Vos­ges in 1960. Pergay’s wa­ter­shed ca­reer mo­ment was in 1967, when France’s largest steel­maker, Ugine Gueugnon,

ap­proached her to pro­pose she work in stain­less steel. At­tracted to what she would later de­scribe as the ma­te­rial’s “sa­mu­rai-like” qual­i­ties, Pergay went large and cre­ated her first col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture — the one snapped up by Cardin. It in­cluded two of the most mag­i­cal metal fur­nish­ings of the 20th cen­tury: the Lit Tapis Volant (Fly­ing Car­pet Daybed) and Chaise An­neaux (Ring Chair), the lat­ter in­spired by the spi­ralling form of an or­ange peel. “I was peel­ing an or­ange for my chil­dren, and thought how nice it looked,” Pergay told The New

York Times. “No one was do­ing stain­less steel fur­ni­ture then.”

Other ex­hi­bi­tions, both in France and abroad, were to fol­low. Mai­son Jansen, for whom Pergay had cre­ated the mas­ter baths of the Tu­nisian pres­i­den­tial palace in 1960, be­gan to sell her stain­less steel fur­ni­ture in their Paris show­room in 1969. The fol­low­ing year, she was com­mis­sioned, again by ››

Pergay seems only to have fol­lowed her heart, never the mar­ket, when it came to her de­signs

“I was peel­ing an or­ange for my chil­dren, and thought how nice it looked. No one was do­ing stain­less steel fur­ni­ture then” — maria pergay

‹‹ Jansen, to cre­ate the lux­u­ri­ous tent bed­room of Shah­banu Farah Pahlavi, wife of the Shah of Iran, for the 2500th an­niver­sary of the Ira­nian monar­chy. Whole in­te­ri­ors were to be­come her fo­cus from the late ’70s on­wards, first in the Mid­dle East for var­i­ous mem­bers of the Saudi royal fam­ily and later for Rus­sian oli­garchs in Moscow. Fol­low­ing a brief ‘re­tire­ment’ in Morocco in the early 2000s, Pergay re­turned to Paris to pro­duce new work after be­ing sought out by Demisch, her gal­lerist-to-be. It was to be her first ex­hi­bi­tion since the ’70s and by the time the col­lec­tion was shown with Demisch Danant and Lehman Maupin gal­leries in New York in 2006, in­ter­est in, and the value of, Pergay’s early de­signs had soared: her Ban­quet one-arm daybed (1967), for ex­am­ple, sold for US $421,000 with Phillips in New York the fol­low­ing year.

She now lives in Béziers in the south of France, and she has been pro­duc­ing around 5 to 10 pieces per year through var­i­ous work­shops in Paris. Her con­tem­po­rary work of­ten in­cor­po­rates cop­per, bronze and ex­otic woods, al­though her beloved stain­less steel is never far away. “It doesn’t even oc­cur to me to have bound­aries,” says Pergay. “The only thing I want is that the work not leave you in­dif­fer­ent, one way or an­other.” Maria Pergay by François Halard ($49, Demisch Da­mant); visit demis­chdanant.com

THIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Maria Pergay’s Chaise Léopard, 2009. Chaise An­neaux (Ring Chair), Chaise X chairs and Lit Tapis Volant (Fly­ing Car­pet Daybed), all de­signed in 1968. OP­PO­SITE PAGE the de­signer in Paris with her chaise and con­sole for Fendi Casa in 2013.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP RIGHT Bu­reau Bar, 1969; Pouf Ruban (Rib­bon Pouf ), 2007; Ta­ble Galet, from Pergay’s 2016 col­lec­tion for Demisch Danant; Pergay and Pierre Cardin with her Canapé Tortue (Tur­tle Sofa), a cus­tom piece com­mis­sioned by Cardin in 1977.

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