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

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

© Karin Goyer and Don S. Shoemaker Furniture, 2010-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karin Goyer and Don S. Shoemaker Furniture with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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