In a New York auction of Phillips in 2014 this chair designed in 1959 for Carlo Mollino’s office at the Facoltà di Architettura, Politecnico di Torino and Produced by Apelli & Varesio, was sold for a whopping $758,500.
What makes this object so special?
It is necessary to clarify that Mollino was not an industrial designer; he was not interested in designing objects for industrial production, which would require compromising the object in order to keep down production costs, to allow for mass production, for packaging, and so forth. Mollino’s furniture is unique and was expensively handmade by extraordinarily talented cabinetmakers with a very specific method, described by one of his students:
“Mollino used to shape an idea and make a technical drawing, specifying the construction method and adding notes on various aspects. I used to pick up these drawings from his studio and with Apelli convert it on a 1:1 scale on spolvero paper. Mollino used to come (running like a fawn), to check, review, amend, and then approve or redesign with a graphite pencil. Production was next. Hard times for the craftsman…”1
As illustrated in the Polaroids which appear here, Mollino makes visible, with an immediate photographic representation, how he intends the chair to be a synthesis of the female body’s perfection of beauty and sensuality, represented by the chair’s physiognomy, which alludes to the female form. On the other hand this chair is formally perfect: it is well-planted to the ground; the back is segmented to account for the human backbone; and the seat, modeled to be as comfortable as possible, is functional and ergonomic.
This chair embodies and testifies to the history of human tradition. Mollino had a strong knowledge of ancient history and culture and was able to penetrate to the essence of objects. It is from the Alps tradition that Mollino deduced the structure of his chair: comparing this example with a traditional 19th-century Alpine chair, from which Mollino took his inspiration, it is clear that the two share the same height, the same inclination to back and legs, the same simple and perfect technique used to mount the back, the same seat and legs that give this chair an incredible structure. It is a refined and functional elegance, the work of an engineer.