Lilly Reich (June 16th 1885 – December 14th 1947) was a German modernist designer. She was a close collaborator of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Lilly Reich was born in Berlin. Her career started as a designer of textiles and women's clothes. This experience was to be formative for her - giving her a particular interest in contrasting textures and materials, and specific skills with regard to the use of textiles in furniture.
Early professional career
In 1908, after training to become an industrial embroiderer, Reich began working at the Viennese workshop of Josef Hoffmann. In 1911, she returned to Berlin and met Anna and Hermann Muthesius. In 1912, she became a member of the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation). In 1920, she became the first female member of its board of directors. She was also a member of the Freie Gruppe für Farbkunst (independent group for colour art) in the same organisation. In 1914, she collaborated on the interior design of the Haus der Frau (woman’s house) at the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in Cologne. She managed a studio for interior design, decorative art and fashion in Berlin until 1924. In the same year, she travelled to England and Holland with Ferdinand Kramer to view modern housing estates. Until 1926, she managed a studio for exhibition design and fashion in Frankfurt am Main and worked in the Frankfurt trade fair office as an exhibition designer.
Collaboration with Mies van der Rohe
It was at the Trade Fair Office that she met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who was vice president of the Deutscher Werkbund. This sparked a period of involvement with furniture design for van der Rohe as the two collaborated on many projects together. She was van der Rohe's personal and professional partner for 13 years from 1925 until his emigration to the US in 1938. It is said that they were constant companions, working together on curating and implementing exhibitions for the Werkbund, as well as designing modern furniture as part of larger architectural commissions such as the Barcelona Pavilion in 1929 and the Tugendhat House in Brno.
The Barcelona chair
Two of van der Rohe's and Reich's best known modern furniture designs are the Barcelona chair and Brno Chair. In 1927 the two worked on “Die Wohnung” in Stuttgart for the Werkbund. She designed many interiors for this exhibition including “Wohnraum in Spiegelglas.” During her career she designed store windows, exhibition displays, and fashion. In 1929 she became the artistic director who was to be responsible for the German contribution to the Barcelona World Exposition. This is where the famous Barcelona chair made its first appearance. However, Lilly Reich is rarely mentioned in textbooks nor given proper credit for her contributions. Albert Pheiffer, Vice President of Design and Management at Knoll, has been researching and lecturing on Reich for some time. He points out that: "It became more than a coincidence that Mies's involvement and success in exhibition design began at the same time as his personal relationship with Reich."
In 1932 Lilly was asked by van der Rohe to teach at the Bauhaus and direct the interior design workshop. At the school she was one of the first female teachers. Unfortunately for Reich, the Bauhaus was closed shortly after in 1933 by the Nazis. This cut her career short. In 1938, just before the Second World War, Mies emigrated to the U.S. Reich continued to manage his affairs in Germany, until her death. She eventually visited him in America in September 1939, but did not stay, returning instead to Berlin.
Her studio was bombed in 1943, and she was sent to a forced labour organization where she remained until 1945. After her release at the end of the war, she was instrumental in the revival of the Deutsche Werkbund, but died in Berlin before its formal re-establishment in 1950. she also started to teach again at the Hochschule für bildende Künste but not for long because she became ill and had to resign. She died a few years later in 1947 in Berlin.
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