Press > Archive 20th Century Legends Introduction by Tom Dixon June 1999 ‘These extraordinary designers have shaped the interiors we live in and 30 years on their designs remain as revolutionary as the day they were created.’ ‘20th Century Legends’ is a collection of designs, re-edited by Habitat at a price accessible for all, from seven legendary designers — Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Verner Panton, Pierre Paulin, Alan Fletcher, Robin Day, Lucienne Day and Achille Castiglioni. These are the ‘must-have’ pieces that will take us from this century into the next. We believe that this collection makes the point that good design is timeless, visionary and fundamental to Habitat’s philosophy. These are the designers who in their time dared to be different. They changed the way people thought about their homes and left behind an incredible design legacy. They were mostly working in the 60s, a time when an explosion of creativity took place — new shapes, new materials and new ways of living were being conceived. Flexibility, multi-functional and modular were their buzz words. Ideas that are equally, if not more so, applicable today. In being ahead of their time, they produced work that is completely appropriate for now. In other words, far from being fleetingly fashionable, 30 years on these pieces retain the freshness of the day they were first made. For example, Pierre Paulin’s ‘Osaka’ sofa, originally designed for the French pavilion at the1968 World Expo in Japan, reflects a very contemporary relaxed approach to furnishing. Sold by the metre, it’s designed to curve in all directions and thus fit any awkward space. Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s signature stacking storage units for Kartell have not been bettered to this day. And Alan Fletcher, famous for having founded the Pentagram agency, finally gets proper recogniton for his Clam ashtray/box (now exclusive to Habitat). Verner Panton, who sadly died last year, wanted to bring colour and excitement to the everyday. His curvy space-age style ‘Pantopop’ plastic stacking chair and one of his last carpet designs, a geometric extravaganza, look poised to leap into the next millennium and do just that. Robin Day, Britain’s most productive designer having sold over 40 million of his Polyprop range since 1963 (the armchair version now available exclusively through Habitat) wanted to help people furnish their homes with restraint. His leather sofa and armchair show this lesser known ‘modernist’ side of his personality. Some pieces, although iconic, have through the course of time faded into the background. Habitat raids the vaults to re-issue products that deserve a second sitting. Textile designer Lucienne Day’s ‘Leaf’ from 1960 and ‘Graphica’ from 1958, give a small inkling of her influence. Achille Castiglioni’s Tubino lamp, designed in the 50s, was considered too advanced for its day with its slim-line fluorescent bulb. With the help of the original manufacturer FLOS, the problems that halted its production have been resolved and 40 years on the lamp can be appreciated for the classic that it is. Each of the designers contributing to this collection has their own story to tell. And yet, each are linked by a common philosophy of democratic design — the desire to create beautiful, and above all, affordable designs for everyone. 35 years ago, when Habitat opened its first store in Brompton Cross, it caused a sensation in retailing due in part to its clever selection of modern international design. It stocked pieces that had previously been unavailable or unaffordable to all but the very rich. As we approach the new millennium, the ‘20th Century Legends’ collection is similarly innovative. 20th Century Legends. The Furniture Designers Verner Panton ‘More comfort, increased eventfulness, more colour’ was the maxim of this Danish architect turned designer. Verner Panton swept into the modern world as a prime exponent of what was to become the plastic and Pop-fuelled 60s and heady Halstonesque 70s. He championed fun, colour and furniture-as-fantasy saying ‘the purpose of my work is to provoke people into using their imagination’. Beige, neutrals and Press > Archive siting in a line on a sensible sofa were anathema to him. Panton wanted us to swing from the ceiling, lanquish on curvy chaise longues and dream in technicolour. He died in 1998 and left a legacy, two pieces of which are now available from Habitat – the Panto Pop, a stackable plastic bucket seat completed shortly before his death and a trippy Op art style rug designed to challenge the eye. Panton didn’t want to just make furniture, he wanted to change the world. Left to him everyone would be living in discobright sparkly spaces like gloriously overblown adult play pens. He was unique in the true sense of the word, an utterly liberated lateral thinker. As he puts it, he was continually striving to ‘look for and reveal new ideas and ways of living.’ In being ahead of his time, he is eternally contemporary. Pierre Paulin That Pierre Paulin trained as a sculptor is obvious from his work. His furniture is fluid form given function. A Parisian, Paulin had an artist’s eye for the form of the body and the way in which it moved. A design language of constriction or tradition was therefore not for him. Instead, ribbons of foam covered with stretchy fabric are the basis of many of his most popular designs. Sofas could be ordered by the metre and the humble mushroom would inspire a chair designed in 1963. Sinuous, neo-organic and undulating, his furniture presaged the late 60s trend for louche lounging and easy living. His pieces were also incredibly comfortable. Paulin was one of the most important designers to emerge from France following the Second World War because he dared to challenge the prevailing notion of the artiste décorateur. He wanted to be radical not reassuring. And in daring to be different he brought the avant garde to the mainstream. He even helped furnish and decorate Georges Pompidou’s apartments at the Elysée Palace in 1970. Robin Day Robin Day is often called the Charles Eames of England because they shared a desire to bring the-most-of-the-best-to-the-greatest-numberof-people-for-the-least. Day also wanted ‘to make furniture like mini architecture, to make furnishing a room disciplined’. He experimented with simple forms, new technology and materials like plastic at a time when Utility furniture and Queen Anne repro were the norm. His big break came at the age of 33 when he won the1948 New York Museum of Modern Art’s Low Cost Furniture Competition. It gave him the recognition he needed and together with his wife Lucienne, a textile designer, he was fêted as the epitome of the 50s New Look. The couple’s home was photographed for glossy magazines and their appearance in a 1955 Smirnoff ad confirmed their celebrity status. The Polyprop chair (you probably sat on one at school) and the leather sofa and armchair (re-editioned by Habitat) that looked so modern in those photos forty years ago are still in use at Day’s home today. The point is, his work, radical in its time, is universally timeless. Visit London’s Royal Festival Hall and check out his seating. It still looks brilliant. Anna Castelli Ferrieri On designing products Anna Castelli Ferrieri once said, ‘It is not true that useful is beautiful. It is beautiful that it is useful. Why? Because it changes the world’. When Castelli Ferrieri graduated in architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1943, one of the first women to do so, she wanted to make a difference through buildings. ‘I began my career fighting for the Modern Movement’. Later she came to the conclusion that ‘the world is changeable only by power, money and violence...’ and so she started to create objects, because ‘they are everywhere almost instantaneously... The fact that they can be industrially manufactured in tens of thousands is very stimulating, it puts you in touch with the whole world.’ It was her desire and ability to design for people rather than museums that made her an iconic designer. Castelli Ferrieri instinctively knew what everyone needed when she launched her stacking storage units for the plastics company Kartell in 1969 (produced for Habitat in an exclusive range of colours). Afterall, as she might well have said, we don’t need more products, we need better ones. To make such things was Castelli Ferrieri’s mission in life. Press > Archive 20th Century Legends. The Home Accessory Designers Alan Fletcher ‘Unless ideas are massaged into reality they evaporate’ says British art director and graphic designer extraordinaire, Alan Fletcher. The inspiration to design the Clam ashtray came as he sat atop a bus one evening in the late 60s. Images of Dutch Edam cheeses, two identical halves made from one mould, serrated teeth to grip a cigarette or hold the halves together formed in his mind. It wa probably designed in full by the time he got home. That’s what’s great about Fletcher, he’s intuitive. There are no rules. Graphic game playing ought to be his mantra. He takes his cues from the everyday, an odd scribble here and an astute observation there, but always infused with a healthy dose of wit. Quirky, simple, straightforward yet abstract might also sum up his approach. Some of his best known work has had the simplest execution — the logos for the Victoria and Albert Museum and the news agency Reuters are good examples. His ashtray — an everyday object oft overlooked in the design stakes — still looks smart today because, in his own words, ‘if you have a solid concept, it has the potential to be timeless because it’s not fixed to what’s hot this month.’ Achille Castiglioni Achille Castiglioni, undoubtedly the grand old man of Italian Design, is at 83, on 60 cigarettes a day, still furiously designing. In the Oscars of the Italian design world, the Comapasso d’Oro, he has won top honours seven times. And alongside his older brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, he was a powerful force in the Modern Italian design movement that emerged after World War Two. Meticulous attention to detail, simple styling and quality materials differentiate a Castiglioni product — from furniture and lights to radios and televisions — from the rest. He felt it was his duty to question everything (the way things worked, the way they were put together) and accept nothing but the best. Sometimes existing objects fulfilled the criteria — plastic tractor seats and bicycle saddles were used à la Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ to make stools! Such pieces proved he wasn’t strait-laced and uptight, rather experimental and original with a wry sense of humour. ‘My approach to design, and every step from planning through production, is characterised by the same method’ he says, ‘the desire to create something innovative, be it in function or form.’ His Tubino Table Lamp, designed in 1950, is being reissued by Habitat precisely for that reason. Lucienne Day Lucienne Day brought about a revolution in textiles taste. In her influence, she was the William Morris of the 50s. When conservative beige-backed sprigs were de rigeur, Day put twigs, triangles and abstract foilage against lime-yellow and vermillion backgrounds. As she puts it, ‘It is not enough to choose a motif, nor to have ideas... There must also be the ability to weld the single units into a homogeneous whole, so that the pattern seems to be part of the cloth rather than printed upon it.’ Her debut at the 1951 Festival of Britain with a print called Calyx, a riot of Joan Miró and Paul Klee-inspired kite shapes, led to international recognition and a long collaboration with Heal’s. It also meant her work became available on the highstreet. ‘I’m a practical person. I wanted what I was doing to be useful to people’. For Habitat, the graphically simple Black Leaf, originally a 1960 design for a teacloth, is used today on a bedlinen set; Graphica a rigorously modern confection of spindly lines from 1953 will reappear as curtains. Modern back then, they look fresher than ever today.