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The statement chair is a trend now

Scarlett Conlon
April 15, 2024
7.5 min

It started in 2019, when The Row put two designs by Michel Buffet cen­tre stage in their new London flag­ship. By 2021, they had popped up at Dior, with the French fashion house inviting 17 prominent artists and ar­chitects – including Martino Gamper and India Mahdavi – to give the la­bel’s signature style a makeover. And as recently as last year, Celine’s artistic director Hedi Slimane de­signed his own collection of them for his brand’s new Paris boutique.

At the renewed invitation of Dior, Philippe Starck reinterpreted the iconic Médaillon chair

It may be logical to assume such headlines are regarding the lat­est bag du jour, or hyped sneaker – but these are the fashion indus­try’s recent, and increasing, projects around the humble chair.

And if the centuries-old object’s hold on fashion had been gaining steady momentum, then 2023 was the year that it truly took off. In February, fashion’s favourite new wunderkind, Matthieu Blazy, made a point of choosing Gio Ponti’s icon­ic 1957 Superleggera wood chairs as seating for guests at his au­tumn/winter 2023 fashion show for Bottega Veneta. The seats swirled around the room atop a sea of Stracciatella rugs, circling three re­splendent bronze statues (including an Umberto Boccioni from 1913.)

Loewe’s limited-edition chair collection, designed by Jonathan Anderson, transformed with decoration by weavers and artisans from around the world — from £19,000

Meanwhile, at 2022’s Salone del Mobile – the first since the pandem­ic – the industry’s chair obsession reached its peak. Dior appointed the French industrial architect and de­signer Philippe Starck to reimagine its founder’s favourite Medallion chair and Loewe’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson, revealed his personal affection for Welsh stick chairs in his headlining installation for the house. Transformed with decoration by weavers and artisans from around the world, Loewe’s lim­ited-edition collection went on sale starting at a mere £19,000.

“There’s something emotion­al when you sit on something and you use it,” said the typically craft­sy Anderson of his favourite piece of furniture on the opening night. “Obsessed by their incredible de­sign”, he is a longtime collector of original Welsh stick chairs, of which the best versions were once made by skilled local craftsmen using in­digenous timbers.

For luxury brands like Loewe, The Row, and Bottega Veneta, each famous for interrogating and scru­tinising every detail of their image, the subtext of seemingly subtle de­cisions – like the inclusion of a chair in a campaign, or placing it as the first décor a customer sees when they enter a flagship’s threshold – is a deliberate power move. As ever, the power of association is everything, and the chair is right in the middle of a cultural vibe shift.

Matthieu Blazy’s selection of Gio Ponti’s 1957 Superleggera wood chairs as seating for guests at his Autumn/Winter 2023 fashion show for Bottega Veneta

“The chair has become a sym­bol of aspiration and desire for the fashion industry because it repre­sents a fusion of form and function that resonates with fashion’s de­sire to create beautiful and prac­tical products,” says fashion psy­chologist and author Carolyn Mair. Citing the ubiquitous Charles and Ray Eames Lounge and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s upholstered leather Barcelona chairs as examples, these seats have become “status sym­bols associated with luxury, refine­ment and sophistication,” she adds. “From a psychological perspective, these attributes appeal to custom­ers because they can enhance their sense of social status, self-esteem and personal identity.”

Although propelled in popular­ity by the pandemic and the new lens on our interiors which it neces­sitated, the chair – along with other statement pieces of furniture like mirrors or rugs – was already gar­nering main-character credentials pre-2020. That’s because, says the trend forecaster and strategist Lucie Greene, there are bigger things at play, which are coming to a head here.

“I think there’s an element to which (the chair) sits with a shift in luxury brands generally,” says Greene. “We’re in an era where they’re all trying to become cultural polymaths – not constrained to one vertical or product. Look at Saint Laurent, which recently announced it was going into feature films, or Pharrell Williams being appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear. Being connected to the design world is a part of this shift.”

No wonder, then, that the chair has become the symbolic protago­nist of the moment. “It’s extremely Instagrammable, easy to sell to mul­tiple environments and very identifi­able,” adds Greene.

As zeitgeist objects go, this is not the chair’s first rodeo. “The chair is the most common, varied and es­sential piece of furniture in our en­vironment,” wrote Patricia Bueno in her comprehensive 2003 deep dive into the history of the chair, Sedie, Sedie, Sedie (Gribaudo). “For this reason, it is also the most interest­ing, given its ability to convey infor­mation on the culture of different eras and countries.”

Bueno notes that “the differenc­es in the design of this piece of fur­niture have been motivated by rea­sons that go beyond its purely prac­tical function”. In a serendipitous parallel with fashion itself, “the chair has evolved with political, eco­nomic and religious power, with art, with knowledge, with aesthetic iden­tity and, finally, with industry.”

It stands to reason, then, that specific chairs that marked a pivotal moment in design history are find­ing their way into fashion shows, campaigns and boutiques of brands increasingly challenged with carving out a niche identity – and who are al­ways concerned with those elusive ‘firsts’. Associating their own de­signs with ground-breaking works that play with textile innovation, complex construction, and fresh aes­thetic ideals, creates an affinity with them in people's minds; an affinity that, one hopes, may start to rub off.

“The design world offers versa­tility, innovation, branding and sto­rytelling to the fashion industry,” says Mair. “Having a strong identi­ty and DNA like this can help make a brand instantly recognisable, in­creasing brand awareness and building a deeper, emotional con­nection with customers.”

Consider Harry Bertoia’s 1952 cage-cocoon Diamond chair, Eero Saarinen’s 1948 Womb chair, and Pierre Jeanneret’s 1955 Easy arm­chair: all marked a major moment in the combination of function and art, and all have also popped up in fashion houses’ imagery in the last few years.

On Instagram, recently, I spotted a well-heeled editor who can usual­ly be more frequently seen posting an item of jewellery or a new pair of shoes posting her birthday pres­ent, Marcel Breuer’s 1925 tubular steel Wassily chair. Meanwhile, orig­inal fashion influencers have start­ed sharing pictures of chairs by Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, Ettore Sottsass, and Arne Jacobsen alongside their fashion projects.

“There’s a sense of the ‘if you know you know’ about design and interiors, which really feeds into lux­ury codes,” muses Greene. “When you look at what’s happening with luxury at the moment, there’s a lot of focus on private spaces, private residences and members-only din­ing, but also design and interiors in these spaces being quietly luxuri­ous.” Classic chairs, in an age where luxury is ringing out a little quieter, may just be the kind of status sym­bol that truly outlasts the season. Just make sure they can fit through your doorframe on delivery.