There is an extraordinary transnational story to be told of women studying abroad, travelling for work, and then returning home or settling in another country. Design is an increasingly global cultural story, which is why it’s important to look beyond the West,” she says.
The book contains so many subtextual themes, all fundamental, tying one name to another through loose associations. With rigour and honour, we start with Aino Alto, who graduated in 1920 from Helsinki University, in a country where women were already active in the industry’s production system. Browsing through the pages we come across Ann Pamintuan, a Filipina who co-founded Movement 8 in 1999, at last propagating the notion of design in her homeland, where until then only pieces designed in and destined for foreign countries had been made. We find the Wiener Werkstatte and Bauhaus, which for the first time gave women the chance to get involved in design; we also happen upon the misfortunes of war, truncating lives like Otti Berger’s, the first woman to obtain a diploma in textile design at the Bauhaus, a Jew who was an Auschwitz victim.
The post-war economic boom saw household utensils come down to accessible prices, a process that accelerated with the advent of plastics in the 1960s. In 1954, Elite magazine defined Freda Diamond as the “Designer of everybody” because practically every American home had one of her pieces. Born in New York in 1905, she studied at the Women’s Art School at Cooper Union, another fine example of the importance of access to education to foster emancipation. On the other side of the Atlantic, Vienna-born Margarete Schutte-Lithozy designed the bestselling Frankfurt Kitchen in 1926. This symbol of female emancipation was actually designed by someone who did not cook very much, but who scientifically observed women’s movements and needs, putting them at the centre of the space. Nowadays, we’d call that data collecting.