Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #11

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Italian furniture manufacturer Arflex was founded in 1947 (a division of the Pirelli Corporation otherwise known for rubber tire manufacturing). The company’s initial purpose was to develop materials for the furniture industry, notably polyurethane foam and Pirelli webbing. By 1948, Pirelli commissioned Marco Zanuso, one of the very first Italian architects involved with the systems of product industrialization to investigate the potential of latex foam as an upholstery material together with a team of technicians. In 1951, after 2 years of intense experimentation, Arflex was presented to the public for the first time at the IX Triennale in Milano, hitting the designer-furniture scene with avant-garde, artistic panache, featuring the elegant “Lady” armchair designed by Marco Zanuso which was awarded with the IX Triennale Gold medal.

Arflex´s attention was focused on cultural experimentation, imposing new technological products, very uncommon for that time. Very soon other Arflex design icons followed the “Lady” armchair: the Fiorenza armchair (Franco Albini, 1952), the Martingala armchair (Marco Zanuso, 1952 first example of removable cover), the Delfino armchair (Erberto Carboni, 1954 among first experiments of animal-design), just to name a few. Marco Zanuso became a symbol of the developing design culture in post-war Italy, a generation of designers whose social commitment was colored by the ideological heritage of the Modern Movement. The Arflex product collection was first and foremost an overview of the fruitful collaboration of manufacturer and designer.

Between 1951 and 1954 Arflex also produced various models of car seat designed by Carlo Barassi. These could be fitted into the vehicle instead of standard production seats and offered outstanding comfort, thanks to the use of foam rubber and elastic tape. The covers could be removed and the seat-backs were adjustable. Arflex strove to make its contribution to the comfort of those Italians who were beginning to travel just after the war. The most successful of those car seats were the “MilleMiglia” and the “Sedile Lettino”, a seat that could be turned into a makeshift bed. Both were designed for the Fiat Topolino.

The style of Arflex in the years to follow was defined by Alberto Rosselli, through his line of furniture for management offices, by Carlo Bartoli, through Bicia, produced with an innovative material, fiberglass, but above all by Cini Boeri and Mario Marenco. The “Serpentone” Sofa (1971) by Cini Boeri was conceived by the designer as an endless length seat, with flexible forms, straight and curved, produced with a cheap but extremely pliable material.

The list of designers who have contributed through the decades and/or are still working with Arflex is endless: Franco Albini, De Carlo, Studio B.B.P.R., Belgiojoso, Peressutti, Roger, Erberto Carboni, Pulitzer, Menghi, Joe Colombo, Casati, Spadolini, Tito Agnoli, Carlo Colombo, Cristof Pilelt, Vincent Van Duysen, Michele De Lucchi, Marco Piva, and many others. Arflex also collaborates with international architects such as: Studio Cerri, Studio Sottsass, Michele De Lucchi, Isao Hosoe, Hannes Wettstein, Prospero Rasulo, Christophe Pillet, Carlo Ferrando, Mauro Lipparini, Burkard Vogtherr, Claesson Koivisto Rune and young designers like Monica Graffeo, producing the Mints chair (Young & Design Award 2004).

Pirelli´s vision to experiment with foam rubber upholstery and nylon cord for the design of innovative seating models and the engagement of Marco Zanuso, who was pioneering the use of different materials and new technologies, was the perfect match. Zanuso’s early experiments with bent metal had already brought him international recognition at the Low-Cost Furniture competition sponsored by the MoMa, New York in 1948; his breakthrough came with his designs made for Arflex. Marco Zanuso (as a designer) and Arflex (as a manufacturer) started out together; the only such case in the history of furnishings in Italy, the outcome of this joint adventure marked the Italian Style of the 1950’s and that of following years. Zanuso designed many iconic furniture pieces not only for Arflex, but also for Zanotta and Kartell between 1947 to the late 1970´s. Arflex is today one of the most experienced furniture manufacturers in the use of foam rubber upholstery.

…to be continued in part # 12

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #10

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Established in 1954, Zanotta SpA is one of the leaders in modern and contemporary Italian furniture design and production. Guided by the insight and entrepreneurship abilities of its founder Aureilio Zanotta, the company flourished in the 60’s and 70’s working with internationally respected architects and designers such as Carlo Mollino, Achille Castiglioni, Marco Zanuso and Bruno Munari. Many of Zanotta’s iconic creations are mentioned in design history books and are displayed in world’s museums. Key designs include the “Mezzadro” Tractor Seat by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, the legendary “Sacco” by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini & Franco Teodoro, the “Leonardo” Work Table created by the Castiglioni’s, and most recently the “Bigwire” Table by Arik Levy in 2007.

Considered to be one of Italy’s most prestigious furniture brands thanks to its emblematic products and technological innovations, Zanotta is known for the use of experimental metals like (aluminum alloy, stainless steel, brass, bronze, etc.), plastics, glass, marble, granite, wood, fabrics and leather to create unique designs. The “Zanotta Edizioni” collection was created in 1989 as a special collection of furnishing items verging on art and design. Freed from the constraints of mass-production, the claim to fame of the furniture pieces included in this collection is that to a great extent they are handmade, reviving and reworking disused techniques, like mosaic, inlay and painted decorations.

Through the decades many internationally famed architects and designers have collaborated with Zanotta like Achille Castiglioni, Gae Aulenti, Marco Zanuso, Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, Giuseppe Terragni, Carlo Mollino, De Pas-D’Urbino-Lomazzi, Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, Alfredo Häberli, Werner Asslinger, Todd Bracher, Arik Levy, Noé Duchaufour Lawrance, Roberto Barbieri, Ross Lovegrove, among others. Strategically, Zanotta has also managed to obtain the licenses to produce iconic furniture pieces created early in the 20th century, like Bernard Marstaller´s “Moretta Chair” from 1917 and the “Genni Lounge Chair” designed by Gabriele Mucchi in 1935.


Emblematic products, avant-garde designs, always open to unusual new ideas and ready to experiment with technological innovations, that´s the name of the game. Zanotta is one of Italy’s most prestigious furniture brands. Many of Zanotta´s creations are displayed in major museums (New York’s MOMA and Metropolitan Museum, the Paris Centre George Pompidou, the London Design Museum, Berlin’s Arts and Crafts Museum, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, etc.), Zanotta has also received legions of prizes for its  achievements, all together key elements to build up a premium brand. Bravo!

…to be continued in part # 11

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.


Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #4

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In 2005 the leading group in the high-end furniture sector Poltrona Frau Group comprising Poltrona Frau, Cassina and Cappellini, as well as Gebrüder Thonet Vienna, Gufram and Nemo was established. Poltrona Frau Group, an international furniture manufacturing conglomerate which has a history that goes back to 1912 with the foundation of Poltrona Frau, followed by Cassina in 1927 and Cappellini in 1946.

With almost 100 years of history Poltrona Frau represents the design, elegance and perfection of Italian-made furniture. Among the designers represented we have Marco Zanuso, Gio Ponti, Andrèe Putman, Paolo Pininfarina, Paolo Rizzatto, Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Gehry and Partners Gehry and Partners, Piero Lissoni, Roberto Lazzeroni and many others. Poltrona Frau´s furniture designs are elegant, functional and classy.



In 2001 Poltrona Frau acquires Gebrüder Thonet Vienna. THONET has been producing furniture for more than 190 years. Design classics made of bentwood such as the legendary “Viennese café chair”, tubular steel furniture from the Bauhaus era including the “Cantilever Chair” and others have made this furniture manufacturer well known. I already discussed Thonet separately in my first post about these series. (“Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #1”)

In 2004 the contemporary Cappellini (founded in 1946) was sold to the more conservative brand Poltrona Frau, creating a fusion between modern and traditional furniture design companies. Cappellini might be most famous for its eye for emerging talent. It is common that once designers start working with Cappellini, they quickly become very successful and internationally recognized. Cappellini is synonymous for anything new, innovative and avant-garde in the furnishing industry. Cappellini works with designers from all over the world, different temperaments that do not create a real “Cappellini’s style”, but that compete to form a balanced and convincing collection. Today, its collections include the “Collezione”, “Sistemi” and “Progetto Oggetto”.


GUFRAM, a small Italian company based in Turin, Italy was acquired as well by Poltrona Frau in 2004. Founded in 1952 as an artisan firm and specialized in chair production under the direction of the Gugliermetto brothers Gufram took on its current name in 1966 and began producing design furnishings. Gufram is the antithesis of the Bauhaus philosophy which holds functionalism at its core. With an emphasis on creative freedom over the functional demands imposed by production, Gufram took part of the radical movements of ground breaking design with new materials. Gufram’s modern design objects show the many influences of pop art, conceptual art, illusionism, naturalism and modern art. The quality of Gufram’s history is epitomized by the “I Multipli” Collection: a series of modern sculptural pieces made from polyurethane foam. These modern sculptures capture the creative journey that started in the late 1960’s. Nowadays, Gufram continues to offer these furniture pieces under the “I Multipli” label.

The widely known Italian Cassina S.p.A. was acquired by Poltrona Frau in 2005. Established in 1927 in Meda (Milan) by Cesare & Umberto Cassina, this company has been designing furniture for over 80 years. Towards the end of the 1940’s Cassina opened up to collaboration with designers operating outside the firm. Cassina’s identity lies in an innovative fusion that closely links technological skill with traditional craftsmanship. Impartial experimentation on new materials and the development of new structural technology freed the company from the typical formal paradigms of furniture. In the mid-1950’s Cassina engaged the talents of architects such as Gio Ponti, Afra & Tobia Scarpa, Mario Bellini and Vico Magistretti for design collaboration. Cassina’s activity was firmly bound up with the creative genius of Gio Ponti. His model 646 chair, called the “Leggera”, represents the intermediary moment of that design process on the theme of a modern mass-produced chair which led  to the 699, the “Superleggera”, one of Italian design archetypes.

During the 1960’s Cassina discovered the capabilities of plastics and injected materials. In the second half of the 1960’s, radical design made its appearance in Cassina with the BracciodiFerro collection, a workshop of ideas in furniture design which gave substance to new instances and provocation from such designers as Alessandro Mendini and Gaetano Pesce. The introduction of new production technology was the occasion for the abandonment of traditional shapes and forms.

Also, in 1964, with the acquisition of reproduction rights of 4 items designed by Le Corbusier (who was still alive at this date) together with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand – the LC1, the LC2 and LC3 armchairs and the LC4 chaise longue – saw the beginning of the collection called “Cassina I Maestri”, which evolved on the following years to gather together furniture by the most important names of 20th century design. The “Cassina I Maestri” collection profited with the acquisition from Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin of reproduction rights of some of the Bauhaus objects in 1968, of Gerrit T. Rietveld in 1971 (licensing agreement stipulated with the daughter Elisabeth Eskes-Rietveld) and of Charles R. Mackintosh in 1972 (licensing agreement undersigned with the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow). The “I Maestri” collection continues to grow with the re-issue in 1983 of furniture by E. Gunnar Asplund (among others, the Göteborg armchair designed in 1934-37), with the acquisition from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation of rights of reproduction (1986) of furniture by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the “Barrel” chair designed in 1937, and finally, in 2004 furniture by Charlotte Perriand (exclusive licensing agreement undersigned with her daughter Pernette Perriand Barsac).


Cassina´s “I Contemporanei Collection” reads like a brief history of design. From the pioneering work of Gio Ponti to the conceptually flamboyant designs of Philippe Starck. From sculptural shapes of Vico Magistretti and the humanistic industrial style of Mario Bellini to the innovative forms of Toshiyuki Kita and the artistic expression of Gaetano Pesce. Other designers like Francesco Binfaré, Andrea Branzi, Paolo Deganello, Piero Lissoni, Jorge Pensi, Hannes Wettstein, Patrick Jouin and Jean Marie Massaud epitomize Cassina’s commitment to the Italian design ideals of craftsmanship and quality.

With Gaetano Pesce, Cassina tried out the idea of the “individual unit in mass production”. Polyurethane foam gets used in a simpler way to make various pieces of a series, similar but not identical. Research into new materials and new technology leads on to “I Feltri” (1987) in which Pesce uses thick, heavy felt stiffened with thermo-setting resin. Today, a selected group of contemporary architects and designers continue the company’s commitment to produce new attractive models of modern furniture design.

Also part of the Poltrona Frau Group is Nemo Divisione Luci di Cassina S.p.A., founded in 1993, which produces lighting appliances. Designers from across the globe create sleek, modern designs for the company, with an eye to making light fixtures that are works of art. The team work with leading international architects, such as Carlo Forcolini, Markus Jehs and Jürgen Laub, Ilaria Marelli, Ikaru Mori, Karim Rashid and the pursuit of engineering excellence make Nemo’s products unique. Nemo is today the “official lighting provider” within the Poltrona Frau Group. NEMO´s catalog matches the “I Contemporanei Collection” with some 60’s and 70’s design icons

Furniture for every Lifestyle. The giant conglomerate Poltrona Frau Group has been able as of today to have under their umbrella almost every single style of furniture going from the beginnings of mass produced famous pieces like the “Viennese café chair”, to the acquisition of licenses and rights for the mass production of Charles R. Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gerrit T. Rietveld designs, Bauhaus inspired tubular steel furniture of Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand; Gio Ponti´s iconic “Superleggera”, and an homage to Salvador Dalí with the “Bocca” Sofa. Also, in the group we should underline the great eye to follow the trends of the avant-garde de la mode using new materials like polyurethane foam, resin and others which are overwhelmingly innovative for the furniture industry and are the basis for the production of the designs of Piero Gilardi, Gaetano Pesce, Ron Arad, Phillipe Starck, or Marc Newson, and as we list these names there is no other thought that can fill our minds than the great success that Poltrona Frau Group has achieved to mass produce furniture of almost every single style of design that has been available through the last 150 years. We should remark that scouting new talents like Tom Dixon, Paolo Rizzatto and Roberto Lazzeroti prove the effort of this group to keep the pace of the time.

As a result of this formula we can say that this Furniture Group epitomizes the mass-production era. No matter that we could find oxymoronic a mass produced Rennie Mackintosh “Hill House Chair” or a bespoke mass produced Gaetano Pesce “I Feltri”, but that is what it is all about in this business.

…to be continued in part # 5

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.