The iconic 'Up' chair has sparked conversation around both feminism and design for more than 50 years now | Source: Gaetano Pesce

The Story of Gaetano Pesce’s Iconic ‘Up’ Armchair

Made from expanded polyurethane foam and synthetic jersey, Gaetano Pesce’s self-inflating armchair named ‘Up’ proved to be more than just an eye-catching armchair. Resembling the female form attached to a ball, akin to a prisoner, the Up chair has sparked conversation and debate since its inception in 1969.

The man behind the chair

Born in 1939 in La Spezia, Italy, Gaetano Pesce architectural and design career spans 40 years. Guided by the principle that “modernism is less a style than a method for interpreting the present and hinting at the future”, Pesce pushes the boundaries between art and design to deliver controversial and thought-provoking pieces.

Although Pesce’s varied work is featured in more than 30 permanent museum collections across the world, it is undoubtedly his Up armchair that gained the designer and architect global recognition, and it all supposedly started with a sponge.

While in the shower, Pesce found himself inspired by a sponge’s ability to shrink upon pressure and to expand to its original volume once released. In 1969, the Italian designer created a rather bulbous armchair with the ability to expand from its packaging alongside manufacturer, B&B Italia (then known as C&B). However, it wasn’t just Up’s ability to rise like magic out of a vacuum-sealed bag that caught people’s attention; it was his rationale for his design that sparked conversation.

At that time, I was seeking to tell a personal story about my concept of women: I believe that women have always unwittingly been their own jailer. This is why I decided to give this armchair the shape of a woman with a ball and chain, reflecting the traditional image of a prisoner.

Pesce told B&B Italia.

Environmental implications

After producing the instantly iconic Up armchair for just four years, B&B Italia was forced to cease production in 1973; discovering that Freon, an ingredient used in the chair’s manufacture process, was harmful to the environment. Fortunately for Pesce, Up had already established itself as a unique and conversation-starting piece of furniture, earning nicknames like ‘La Mamma and ‘Donna’ in relation to the chair’s feminine silhouette.

More than 50 years on, Up remains a visually striking and relevant piece that seems to be evolving without compromising on its original design. While red continues to be a popular choice for the armchair, Up comes in a range of colourways as well as a junior versions for children. Most recently, Pesce’s latest instalment of the iconic armchair was unveiled at Milan Design Week 2021. The latest Up5_6 was made with cork from recycled bottles instead of plastic.

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