Vitra / Marc Eggimann
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Vitra / Marc Eggimann
Vitra / Marc Eggimann

Regarded as one of the most important furniture designs of the 20th century, Charles and Ray Eames’ self-titled Chair has undergone countless enhancements, interpretations and transformations, all while remaining true to its iconic shell shape. Now, after more than half a century and countless reproductions, Vitra brings back the Eames chair in its original material: fiberglass.

The story of how the superstar design duo arrived on fiberglass is as interesting as the design itself.

Charles and Ray Eames first started exploring the idea of a one-piece seat shell moulded to fit the contours of the human body in the early 1940s. Using the technology they developed for the 3D molding of plywood, the designer couple created the Plywood Group of chairs, which were first presented in 1945. Just three years later, they entered a chair with a stamped steel shell into the International Competition for Low Cost Furniture Design, organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Their design won second prize. However, the metal version proved too complex and expensive to achieve successful mass production.

Charles and Ray Eames sitting on Fiberglass Chairs for the film Kaleidoscope Jazz chair (1960)
Eames Office LLC

The couple’s search for alternative materials led them to glass-fiber reinforced polyester resin, which had up until then been used mostly by the military. Charles and Ray recognized what the material was capable of: moldability, rigidity and suitability for industrial manufacturing methods. The rest is literally history. The Fiberglass Chair was born.

While it may be difficult to understand the impact of this design in 2019, its organically shaped, one-piece shell was considered a game-changer at a time when chairs primarily consisted of a separate seat and backrest.

Ray Eames study for chair shell colors. Pencil and collage on paper (undated).
Eames Office LLC

Although Charles and Ray are no longer alive to see how the return of the original Fiberglass Chair, Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles Eames, perhaps summarizes the importance of the design best: “It was the ultimate expression of their concept of designing the best, for the most, for the least. Instantly the chair was immensely popular and still brought a new kind of beauty into many people’s lives. And, for me, it shows the brilliance of their design process because this is a modern chair of a modern material and yet the form seems almost inevitable, like it has been with us forever.”

The Eames Fiberglass Chairs returns in nine original colors including elephant hide grey, parchment, sea foam green, raw umber, red orange and navy blue.

Available now from Vitra in Europe and the Middle East. For other regions including the U.S., please visit Herman Miller.

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Brock Cardiner is Highsnobiety's Director of Content Strategy. He oversees Highsnobiety's editorial approach across platforms & mediums. Brock splits his time between Berlin, Los Angeles and New York.

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