Designing Women

WORDS Robyn Alexander

We’ve rounded up five fabulous books about female designers, artists and architects to get your hands on.

Zaha Hadid: Complete Works 1979 – Today

By Philip Jodidio (Taschen, 2020)


Zaha Hadid’s unexpected passing in 2016, at the age of just 65, deprived the world too soon of one of the most remarkably talented architects of the first decades of the 21st century. So, viewing the spectacular projects showcased in this beautiful coffee-table volume, one feels a tinge of sadness as well as sheer awe for the visionary scale and boldness that she brought to her work. Authored by the highly regarded architecture critic Philip Jodidio – who has written many Taschen titles over the course of the past two decades – and exquisitely produced, this comprehensive book is a must-have for architecture fans, and in particular for those who admire the discipline’s more futuristic and avant-garde aspects, at which Hadid absolutely excelled.

Shocking: The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli

ByMarie-SophieCarrondelaCarrière, Valérie Belin, Johannes Huth, Olivier Gabet, Dilys Blum, Emmanuelle de l’Écotais, Jean-Louis Gaillemin, Patrick Mauriès, Marie-Pierre Ribère and Hanya Yanagihara (Thames & Hudson, 2022)


The accompaniment to a retrospective exhibition of the remarkable life’s work of Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) that was held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris last year, this gorgeous book is visually inspiring, and also makes a clear argument for seeing the designer’s output as part of the Surrealist art movement of the early 20th century. “Schiap” worked alongside such luminaries as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí, sometimes in direct collaboration, and unapologetically saw herself as an artist. Lavishly illustrated and comprehensive in its coverage of her entire oeuvre, this book is likely to stand the test of time as the definitive history of Schiaparelli’s life and work.

Irma Stern: African in Europe, European in Africa

By Sean O’Toole (Prestel, 2021)


“Myth attaches itself like vine to Stern’s biography,” writes South African art critic Sean O’Toole in his meticulously researched book, which is a much-needed general introduction to Irma Stern’s art and life. Divided into six chapters that deal largely chronologically with the artist’s output and experiences, Irma Stern is also beautifully designed and printed – the colour plates are gorgeous! – making it very visually appealing in spite of its handy, readable size. And you needn’t have a degree in art history to enjoy the text: O’Toole’s lucid prose is both informative and illuminating, and he assesses Stern’s work and her place in South African art history astutely, exploring multiple viewpoints on her aesthetics with care and clarity.

Woman Made: Great Women Designers

By Jane Hall (Phaidon, 2022)


Brilliant new reference book Woman Made includes more than 200 female designers from more than 50 countries, making it a must-have for students of design as well as amateur enthusiasts. Plenty of iconic creatives are featured – Ray Eames, Ilse Crawford and Eileen Grey, for example – but author Jane Hall has also taken care to include a multitude of lesser-known designers whose work nevertheless impresses. The book only showcases those who have created functional product designs for the home, which keeps it sharply focused – don’t expect to find fashion designers or artists here. Woman Made’s alphabetical format also provides many intriguing juxtapositions that suggest a range of connections between the ground-breaking work of women designers throughout the 20th century.

Lina Bo Bardi 100: Brazil’s Alternative Path to Modernism

By Anna Carboncini, Gabriella Cianciolo Cosentino, Sabine von Fischer, Steffen Lehmann, Andres Lepik, Zeuler RM de A Lima, Olivia de Oliveira, Cathrine Veikos, Renato Anelli, Vera Simone Bader, Guilherme Wisnik (Hatje Cantz, 2020)


A decade or so ago, it was difficult to find any information at all about Lina Bo Bardi, who is now recognised as one of Brazil’s foremost Modernist architects. Born in Italy in 1914, she moved to São Paulo in her 30s, and during a lengthy design career, created buildings, stage sets, fashion and furniture – including her iconic Bowl chair, which must surely feature on every serious Mid-century design collector’s wish list. One of her best-known buildings (showcased beautifully here) is her own São Paulo home, the Casa de Vidro (Glass House), and as this book demonstrates, Bo Bardi’s lifelong engagement with her adopted country was both multifaceted and deeply thoughtful.

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