The ICON | Up Series Chair

  • WORDS Stephen Crafti
  • We go back to 1969, the year Gaetano Pesce’s Up Series project was launched, to learn more about this head-turning armchair.

    The late 1960s was a time when designers often threw caution to the wind, pushing boundaries and going where others haven’t. This is certainly the case with Gaetano Pesce’s Up Series, Numbers Up 5 and Up 6, launched at the Milan Furniture Fair in 1969. Also referred to as ‘La Mamma’, ‘Big Mama’ and ‘Dona’, the bulbous-shaped chair, with its connected ottoman, loosely resembles a silhouette of a well-endowed woman.

    As with several furniture designs produced in the mid-to-late 1960s and into the early 1970s, the idea was to create a ‘happening’, something that allowed the user to interact. In the case of the Up Series, the idea started when Pesce was showering with a sponge in hand and observing how it expanded once released from his hand.

    This principle was then applied to a four-inch-thick skin of polyurethane foam compressed and vacuum-packed in a PVC wrapper. When the PVC wrapper was broken, the skin would automatically inflate and morph into a designer chair before one’s eyes. Initially produced in five colours and two bold striped patterns, the latter accentuating its form, it’s now available in more bold and punchy primary colours, including red, and is a dramatic highlight and sculptural piece in any room.

    Initially produced by C&B Italia (Cassina & Busnelli and from 2000 by B&B Italia), the gravity-defying chair was put on hold in 1973 as the freon gas combined with the polyurethane was considered harmful to the ozone layer. So, while there may no longer be a ‘happening’ for those purchasing Pesce’s Up Series, it has certainly been experiencing a strong revival the second time around. The bulbous chair certainly envelops the sitter, creating a nurturing effect with its curvaceous arms and backrest.

    Although now popular and of iconic status, this chair has not been without its critics. When an eight-metre-high version of the Up Series was installed in 2019 at the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, on the 50th anniversary of the design, there were protests from women who claimed the chair, with its connected ottoman, was symbolic of the ‘ball and chain’ women had suffered throughout history. Others thought the form of the chair was objectifying women and their servitude to men. 

    Hedy Ritterman, an artist and photographer, has two Up Series that belonged to her late parents. Purchased for their 1960s architect-designed house in a bayside suburb, they sat adjacent to the ‘conversation pit’ in the living room. A teenager at the time, Hedy and her friends immediately gravitated to these chairs. “Today, my grandchildren race to sit in them,” Hedy says, who has one chair in her studio and the other, complete with a connected ball, in her study/retreat upstairs in her home in inner-Melbourne. “I see these chairs as simply embracing. You get this wonderful cocoon-like feeling,” she says.

    Hedy is also fortunate to have two of the original Up Series that came in PVC wrappers and came to life when released from their packages. Both in black, but now a burgundy through fading from the sun, they also remind her of her parents. “I still remember seeing my father read the newspaper in one of the chairs every morning. Even now, I still see this design as being well ahead of its time. You could be sage in using the word ‘iconic’,” Hedy adds.

2 Responses

  1. Good afternoon. We are looking for a way to urgently deliver a Serie Up 2000 chair from B&B Italia to the United States, New York City. Perhaps you can tell us how to do this?

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