Since they were first introduced onto the market over 60 years ago, the Eames’ Plastic Chairs have become a classic of the design world, and have become increasingly well known even to people outside of the little design world bubble. The chairs were born as a groundbreaking proposal for a furniture design contest held by New York’s MoMA, which happily resulted in the first industrially produced plastic chair. But the one that most of us know best as the Eames’ chair model is far from the one that Charles and Ray Eames conceived of using the production methods available back in their day. During its 30 first years of life and up until the 90s, the Plastic Side Chair was made of glass fibre, but under the Vitra emporium this original essence was lost and the chair began to be made of Polypropylene (PP), which I personally find a bit too lacking in flavour and character. Furthermore, this change in material has only allowed for the price appreciation and revalorisation of the original glass fibre chairs, that come in a much more interesting variation of colours, in a fluctuating second hand market. What was born from the low-cost spirit and through mass production controlled by the Eames’ has been transformed in an object that, at this pace, will eventually just become something vulgar. Because the owner of a 40-year-old plastic chair bought at a hipster flea market in Berlin for twice the price of a new one from a Vitra showroom won’t appreciate finding the same model of chair at the local McDonald’s, in auditoriums, hotels, restaurants, or in waiting rooms – what for him is supposed to be a unique chair will become a commonplace and cheap amenity. This can become somewhat discomforting, especially after one may easily make a fool of oneself speculating over whether a chair is really made of Vitra or not to then find that it is, disappointingly, just a 33€ replica.
For he who really considers himself to be the qualified owner of such an iconic item, one as valuable and as expensive as an original Eames’ chair, it is not the same to acquire a perfectly wrapped and unused product, chosen from a catalogue and renovated, as it is to venture into the world of vintage furniture galleries, to actively search on ebay or to be actively aware of all the old furniture that is left out on the street until the day that, finally, the chair that is to be his is eventually found. To have an original piece makes you someone with enough interest in the matter to value the actual significance of its original design.
And its not that I don’t like the new Vitra Plastic Chair, but it’s just that when something really good is made into a simple product for the masses, it stops being that good. Its omnipresence in apartments and blogs and the fact that it has also become a sort of banal prop found in any big chain store makes it resemble an Ikea product. The comments that my adored Konstantin Grcic made in an interview for the German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” in February of 2012 were heavily criticised, specifically because he asked why one, “still could see all those stupid Eames’ chairs in all of those apartments.” Grcic was referring to the fact that recently the chairs have become more of a object than an symbol.
Now that even the Eames’ chairs have gone out of style and that to be able to buy an old piece of furniture one must become a collector, the hipsters will have to figure out a way of renewing themselves and finding a new icon.
Text: Enrique Romero
- Enrique Romero