When it comes to 20th-century design, the most well-known works are usually created by men, with only a few exceptions. Maria Pergay’s works is high among those exceptions, having dominated the male-centric design scene in the 1970’s by essentially rebranding stainless steel and pioneering its use in modern design. David Gill Gallery in London is holding a retrospective exhibition for the Romania-born, France-based designer and it is appropriately named Iconic.
Pergay migrated from Moldova to France at a very young age and attended Paris’s Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques where she studied costume and set design. She started her career making metallic pieces for window displays, which was when she began experimenting with different metals. Excited by the new possibilities she discovered, Pergay’s first piece of furniture in stainless steel was the Flying Carpet Daybed, a curvaceous form that was put on the world map by Brigitte Bardot, who was photographed on the bed in a film shoot.
Pergay maintained great momentum following the daybed with her now-signature Ring Chair, a chair made of three stainless steel circles. This led to an entire collection of stainless steel furniture that was exhibited in 1968 at Galerie Maison et Jardin in Paris. Her ability to almost rebrand stainless steel created almost an overnight sensation and the entire exhibition was reportedly purchased on opening night by fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
Pergay does not necessarily belong in a specific design movement and has no formal training in furniture design. “Stainless steel does not forgive, it has authority, and it helps me not to make errors. But it also shines and glows; it hints at greater things,” Pergay has said regarding her material of choice. Unhappy with the term designer, she prefers to call herself a “laborer of ideas” and at 87, she has rightfully earned the title. She most recently worked on a furniture collaboration with Fendi for their Fendi Casa Icons series, boldly combining leopard print with stainless steel furnishing.
When asked about her fascination with steel, Pergay broke it down simply, “Copper is too fragile, aluminum too light, gold too symbolic, silver too weak, bronze is out of fashion, and platinum inaccessible. Nothing is more beautiful than steel.”
Over time, Pergay continues to create, exhibit and sell to an impressive list of clients. She has attracted major interest for private commissions from the likes of Givenchy, Fendi, the Shah of Iran and Jacques Heim. Today, her work is permanently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in private collections globally. David Gill hopes that the retrospective will give Pergay the recognition she deserves in the UK as most of her works have gone on display in the US. The exhibition is running until the 21st of December.