The German modernist designer and visual artist Lilly Reich was the first woman elected to the governing board of the Deutscher Werkbund. She is best known for the famous Barcelona Chair.
Who was Lily Reich?
Lily Reich was born in 1885 in Berlin. When she was 26 years old, she started to design furniture and clothing. She also worked as a shop window decorator. In 1920, Lilly became the first woman elected to the governing board of the Deutscher Werkbund. During one of trade fairs, Reich met Ludwig Mies Van der Roche who became her close collaborator for more than ten years. In collaboration with him, she created famous furniture pieces such as Barcelona chair and table. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Reich never reached popularity as her famous male collaborator. In 1932, she started teaching at the Bauhaus as head instructor of interior design workshop but the Bauhaus school closed the following year by Nazis. At the end of the war, Reich started teaching at another school but she died a few years later, in 1947.
Info source: http://www.lilly-reich.com/
Image source: https://www.moma.org/artists/8059
What Made Her Famous?
Like several European modernists working in 1920s, Reich had a strong interest in using new industrial production techniques and materials. This led her to be considered the only woman at that time to design a full series of furniture made from tubular steel. Since her early age, she was interested in the art of embroidery but she started applying her knowledge and skills related to Bauhaus furniture only in 1908. Together with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, she designed the famous Barcelona chair. Although Van der Rohe has taken the claim to fame, many believe that the design was strongly influenced by Lilly Reich. The exclusive rights to manufacture and sale of the Barcelona Chair were granted to Knoll in 1953 and, like many other iconic design pieces, today there are many replicas in circulation.
Info source: https://www.houseandleisure.co.za/tag/lilly-reich/
Lilly Reich designed a cooking cupboard for the 1931 German Building Exhibition, The Dwelling in our Time, in Berlin. This Reich’s work shows how much functionality can be both beautiful and powerful. From the drawing we can see that when it is closed, this structure appears to be like a closet. However, when it is opened you can see a sink, some shelves, drawers and several kitchen tools. Today, this drawing can be seen at MOMA – Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
Image source: https://www.pinterest.it/pin/166422148702662395/?lp=true
How can we identify Reich’s style?
The Reich’s specialty was fabrics and clothes. Between 1916 and 1917, during the war, he had opened a small tailor shop where he sold models designed by her. One of the most important aspect of Lilly Reich’s style is simplicity that never gets old. She used to adopt what she perceived as an essential design never giving up a minimalist and elegant taste. In 1922, she published a writing on fashion appeared on Die Form in which he proposed to launch a new way of dressing, sober and free of adjectives “The clothes are objects of use and not works of art […] they must form a unitary whole with the woman who wears them, expressing their spirit and contributing to the enrichment of her soul and the way of feeling life”. The famous Barcelona chair that Lilly Reich designed together with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is still one of the most recognizable lounge chairs in the world both in private and public environments. This is an evidence of Reich’s strong talent and innovative approach that is praised even a century later.
Info source: https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/lilly-reich/