La Chaise 75th Anniversary Edition
Charles & Ray Eames designed La Chaise in 1948 as their entry into a competition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, sponsored by a group of American retailers, named the 'International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design'. It stemmed from an urgent need for low-cost housing and furniture in the postwar years - overcrowding in small spaces meant that furnishings had to be efficiently planned and trimly scaled. The entrants comprised six teams, each granted $5,000 and each paired the designers with technological laboratories - the Eames office worked with engineers from UCLA. The competition aroused huge interest internationally and attracted entries from now well-known names such as Robin Day and Ernest Race. The jury included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Gordon Russell.
La Chaise did not win the competition but it did receive special recognition. The juror's stated:
"Although specialised in use, this lounge chair was admired for its elegant shape and most interesting construction. Two extremely thin moulded plies meet in a feather edge but are separated by as much as an inch of space in the central portions of the form. The cavity is filled by heat-expanded vermiculite which gives great rigidity and strength, yet preserves an exceptional lack of weight."
The Eames' entry that won second prize in the seating category was an iteration of the Shell chair - now known as the DAX chair - and the similarities with La Chaise in the shape of the organically moulded form are inescapable. Initially conceived in the early Forties in plywood, Charles and Ray capitalised on the rapid development of fibreglass. Mass production of glass strands had been accidentally discovered in 1932 when Games Slayter, a researcher at glass manufacturer Owens-Illinois, directed a jet of compressed air at a stream of molten glass thus producing fibres, and a suitable resin for combining the fibreglass with a plastic to produce a composite material was developed in 1936 by American chemical company DuPont. These advances allowed the Eames office team to produce the two thin and light fibreglass sheets that form La Chaise.
The name La Chaise is a play on words. It not only describes the design's function - literally 'The Chair' in French - but also alludes to the sculptor Gaston Lachaise who created his 'Floating Figure' in 1927, thought to be modelled on his American wife, Isabel. Charles and Ray felt that, whilst the voluptuous figure appears to float in space or upon water, the pose is a perfect evocation of reclining upon a chaise longue; thus the outline of La Chaise was born.
La Chaise proved too costly to produce during the Eames' lifetime. It was not until 1996 that Vitra began to produce the chair in response to public interest and demand, manufacturing it from white lacquered polyester resin with an oak base.
This autumn, to celebrate the sculptural chair's 75th anniversary, Vitra has launched a special edition of La Chaise in fibreglass in 'Parchment', a colour from the Eames' original palette, with an oiled walnut cruciform base and chrome rods. It is limited to seventy-five pieces worldwide with just three available in the UK, available exclusively from Aram, only for purchase in store, not online. The special edition forms the centrepiece of the Eames Special Collection 2023 - six pieces updated with a carefully chosen assortment of new finishes, fabrics and colours.
Historical images of Charles and Ray Eames courtesy of Eames Office LLC © Eames Office LLC. Gaston Lachaise Floating Figure in the courtyard of the Society Hill Townhouses, Philadelphia, in 1963, photo courtesy Temple University Special Collections Research Center.