After her early passion for all things associated with the machine age, by the early 1930s Perriand’s views on design had developed far greater breadth. She had also become political engaged, joining the AEAR (Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists), making two exploratory trips to Moscow and forging links with a number of different left-wing thinkers who were united in their fight against the rise of Fascism in Europe. In 1936, she presented a large political photomontage entitled “La grande misère de Paris” (The Great Poverty of Paris) in which she denounced the standard of housing and living conditions that many Parisians still endured. After travelling widely around Europe during the 1930s, she also became more interest in vernacular forms of architecture and design, while simultaneously cultivating her interest in everyday things and naturally eroded objects, which she called “art brut” (raw art).
She left Le Corbusier’s studio in 1937, possibly on political grounds, but certainly her increasingly collaborative and humanist approach seemed slightly out of step with Le Corbusier, who was more of an authoritarian in style. In 1938, perhaps with a foreboding sense of the great upheaval Europe’s citizens were about to experience, Perriand, who was now working as an independent architect, collaborated again with Jeanneret to design the Refuge Tonneau; a temporary mountain shelter intended to house either skiers or mountaineers for a night or so. It was one of a number of prefabricated architecture projects she worked on in this period and is particularly cherished for its clever use of geometry, which makes the interior seem relatively spacious. Perriand was a lover of the great outdoors, particularly of the mountains, where she would enjoy both mountaineering and skiing from the mid-1920s onwards. Professing her love of the mountains, she said, “I love them because they are vital to my well-being. They have always been the barometer of my physical and moral equilibrium.” Soon, Europe was in flames and its physical and moral equilibrium was in a state of total crisis.
"I have a profound love of the mountains. I love them because they are vital to my well-being. They have always been the barometer of my physical and moral equilibrium."
In early 1940, during the “phoney war” in Europe, Perriand received a telegram from Junzo Sakakura, an architect with whom she had worked at Le Corbusier’s studio. He invited her to travel to Japan to work as the Decorative Arts advisory designer for the Japanese Ministry of Commerce. Although initially reluctant to leave France on the eve of war, she was encouraged by friends to take the opportunity. Her time there on this assignment was cut short due to the bombing of Pearl Harbour and Japan’s entry into the war in late 1941, but Perriand had immersed herself in the culture of design, craft and industry in the country, forging links and relationships that would have a significant impact on her subsequent work. This period particularly influenced her use of materials and furthered her interest in a more rounded approach to architecture, which understood and utilised traditional building methods as well as modern ones. After moving to Vietnam in 1942, Perriand was given a role similar to the one she had taken on in Japan, by her soon to be husband Jacques Martin, the Director of Economic Affairs of the General Government of Indochina. However, as described by Martine Dancer-Mourés, in the article concerning Perriand’s time in Japan, “after Hồ Chi Minh’s declaration of independence, she, along with Martin and their baby Pernette, had several brushes with death.”