Romanian-born, naturalized Brazilian Jean Gillon was an architect-designer best known for his design company Italma WoodArt, for which he designed a range of furniture collections crafted from Brazilian rosewood, or jacaranda, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Born 1919 in Iași, Gillon fluttered between a variety of European residences amid early adulthood. After graduating from Iasi’s George Enescu National University of Arts, Gillon moved to Paris, where he studied tapestry concurrent to practical work both as a Le Monde cartoonist and a set designer for the Paris Opera Ballet. In 1949, he relocated to Vienna to study architecture at the Kunstgewerbschule (formerly, the School of Industrial Arts; today, the University of Applied Arts), before heading on to London the following year to become a visiting lecturer at Central Arts & Crafts.
While in London, he met his wife Edith, with whom he had two daughters, Gabriela and Laura. Ever the jet-setters, the couple moved to São Paulo in 1956, attracted by the burgeoning Brazilian architecture scene and the work of José Caldas and Lina Bo Bardi, among others. Though his early work in Brazil focused on architecture, Gillon shifted to furniture design in 1961, when he founded Fábrica de Móveis Cidam, the original name for what would later become Italma WoodArt.
By the mid-1960s, Gillon’s WoodArt designs—mostly lounge chairs and sofas, often framed in rosewood and upholstered in Brazilian leather—could be found all around Brazil; in 1964, however, Gillon’s focus turned global, and he began expanding into the international market, exporting his products to twenty-two different countries.
As his company matured, so did Gillon’s designs’ appeal; particularly decorated was his Jangada Chair (1968), a lounge chair and ottoman upholstered in leather and supported by nylon nets. So named for the shape of a traditional Brazilian fishing boat, the chair received worldwide recognition for its originality and received many awards, even decades after its production.
Gillon continued to produce furniture, alongside numerous bespoke tapestries, until he retired in 2003. He passed away in 2007.