Fleshing out the idea of celebrating its 80th birthday appropriately was a real challenge. “Chaise A”—how to do justice to such an icon? Should it be treated as an 80-year-old dignitary, with reverence and a lot of gloss? Or should the anniversary be marked by challenging the design anew? After many trips to Tolix in Autun I knew that the solution had to be to do both.
I wanted to expose the soul of this legend. To approach this prototype of Modernism like an archaeologist. To recover artefacts in order to stick them back together again as a whole. To study things empirically, dissect them with curiosity, voice assumptions and make assertions. Put forward hypotheses. But not on my own.
You need support for such a project. Decisive troops. Eight designers were asked to explore, review and interpret from their own perspective the features of “Chaise A” I had uncovered. It was important to me to choose the right composition for this expeditionary team. What I needed were designers who each had their own strong unmistakable style. Experts, each experienced and sensitive enough to tangibly sketch for us one particular facet of the design. With a highly detailed overall picture then being the final product. A portrait of a chair with a strong character which on its four sheet steel legs has unerringly strode through the century almost unchanged, defying all fashionable oscillations along the way.
As soon as I had salvaged the eight elements, formulated the associated hypotheses, I contacted the relevant experts. The best in their respective fields. The tasks were swiftly assigned—eight chapters started, each with blank pages. In workshops and studios throughout Europe, designers’ creativity and expertise was brought head on to bear on “Chaise A”. Despite the eight different topics, there was only one specification: Their designs had to speak for themselves and tell the 80-year story in a new way.
The expedition began and we set out. Each day I received reports from the design labs, opened mail attachments with sketches, ideas and proposals. I answered questions as best I could and organized research grants and trips wherever needed. Gradually, the first results flowed in. The one more daring and stunning than the next.
In his chapter on IMPACT Konstantin Grcic describes a retro-futurist object. By virtue of merely iterating and reconfiguring some of the original’s striking parts, the object mimes a masterfully unwieldy protagonist. In the process, a projection screen to be interpreted at will constantly generates new characters.
The balances that Formafantasma dished up under the slogan GENESIS are as sensuously poetic as they are matter of fact. A stack of untreated sheet steel functions as the perfect counterweight to a likewise untreated “Chaise A”. A mobile with an archaic feel to it. A floating experiment that extracts the chair from the sphere of useful objects and thus definitively asserts it is a symbol. The statement by the youngest designer in the team of experts likewise hinges on a question of style. In her chapter, entitled PERCEPTI ON, Julie Richoz leisurely drapes the chair in an idiosyncratic colourful dress. Using powerful naïve markings emphasizing the details she confidently re-codes the legibility of the birthday item. By contrast, for his ZEIT GEIST piece Giulio Ridolfo covers the classic with an unusual decor. The otherwise somewhat stoic “Chaise A” suddenly seems bereft of a body, light, pulsating. The past master of colors replaces the same with micro-patterns and thus through associations with tablecloth patterns or fabric for ties whisks us away to French street cafés, bringing to our minds the past chic-ness of the Cote d’Azur. In his chapter on ALTE RATI ON, Lex Pott, the materials expert and tireless champion of liberating surfaces of some flawless perfection, concerns himself with how sheet steel appeals to the senses. The Dutchman combines patina and high-gloss to create an exciting mixture. Perhaps he’s alluding to the many traces of use on Tolix chairs that defy the elements day in day out on the sidewalks and boulevards outside street cafés? That don’t complain about being stacked up each night, thrown around, scraped around, year in year out? To my mind, this strange collage of materials is a poetic take on precisely that. The chapter on VALUE involved a very unique form of collaboration. Headed by Julien Ceder the creative department at Veuve Clicquot focused on the chair. A friendly service by one French icon on behalf of another, as it were. The result: we were shown a chair that truly cries out to be triumphantly soaked in champagne! Cheeky, liberating itself of the burden of an inheritance, enjoying the refreshing moment.
One can probably recognize a perfect design, a legend, by the fact it is always inspiring, and never fully reveals its mysteries. Which is why I was especially looking forward to the results of Sebastian Herkner’s study, that was intended to examine the sources of inspiration behind Chair “A” and its radiance—under the title of PARADIGM. To this end, he went back to the historical role model for “Chaise A”, bistro chairs made of wickerwork and wood. With an intelligent mix of materials typical of his work, in this case perforated sheet metal and thin leather bands, Herkner makes a statement that reflects on both the top-seller’s product history and his own design roots. It is astonishing how many new approaches a single chair can go through—and how powerfully inspiring it can be. This also applies to a special extent to the extravagant piece by Bethan Laura Wood, who transforms the silent contemporary of industrialization into an ingenious artwork. Flamboyant and capricious, properties that have not necessarily been associated with the “Chaise A” hitherto, but do it proud. Very fitting—for a chapter entitled AURA & UNI QUENESS.
So today I’m happy and relieved. An illustrious number of birthday guests have gathered. The messages presenting the results of the eight different research projects are each limited to ten specimen copies, and they all tell of how the “Chaise A” came about and what its future is. It is a group of refined, intellectual, fine and funny guests who applaud it here.
Guests you really need for a perfect birthday party.