Cultured Magazine

April/May 2015

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188 CULTURED Furniture of a certain age, from the late 1950s through the 1970s, can look simultaneously vintage, modern and contemporary. As the '50s moved into the '60s, austere bent plywood morphed into colorful padded furniture made of plastic, foam, laminate, bent steel tubing and stretch fabric. It was a cultural turning point, from serious to playful, from poetry-spouting beatnik to pot-smoking hippie. By the mid-1960s modern furniture was casual, low to the ground and often soft. Some of it, like the 1969 beanbag chair, would not previously been considered furniture at all. It was meant for the young and modern: Cloé Pitiot, curator of an exhibit of Pierre Paulin design that will open at the Centre Pompidou in October, said the '60s were a time when young people "wanted to lie on the floor." Suzanne Demisch, of the Demisch Danant Gallery, which will have an exhibit of furniture by Paulin in May, is focusing on the designer's greater oeuvre, beyond the furniture that "wasn't for 80 year olds," she says. "Our survey shows the other side of Paulin. It's an attempt to dispel what people think: the '60s pop image." Paulin, who died in 2009, was also a traditional industrial designer. His work began in the 1950s, when he made spare wooden shelves and furniture, influenced by Scandinavian design. A modest man—he preferred to number his designs and saw himself as not so much an inventor as a part of an evolving style—he was particularly taken with an upholstered Eero Saarinen side chair, a precursor to his Tulip chairs. "It made me want to design something extremely comfortable and pleasant, with a big cushion so that small animals as well as people could sit on it," Paulin told Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist in an event at the Milan furniture fair in 2008. That chair, CM190, made in 1955 for Thonet Fréres, the French branch of the bentwood company, began his romance with Pirelli foam rubber and stretch jersey. His most familiar designs were made for the Dutch manufacturer Artifort. Holland and the Scandinavian countries were not as devastated by World War II and thus were better prepared to look ahead. "The genius was for him to work with Artifort," says Petiot. "The possibility to create with another company in another country. In France in the '50s it was impossible." In the mid-1960s, he was in his 30s, handsome and raffish—he had abandoned an earlier career as an artist when he injured his left hand by putting it through a window during a fight. But he didn't do the romantic thing and die young. He continued working for another 40 years: commissions for the Élysée Palace for both Pompidou and Mitterrand, and industrial design, from home appliances for Calor to interiors for the French Airbus aircraft. In the 1990s, he settled in the south of France near Avignon with his second The work of French designer Pierre Paulin is collected by Tom Ford and Azzedine Alaïa and celebrated by Louis Vuitton. Writer Linda Lee explores what made Paulin—the subject of a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou and a solo show at Demisch Danant this month—so prolific. MAN OF THE YEAR "Our survey shows the other side of Paulin." —Suzanne Demisch

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