Plia, Museo del Design Italiano, 2021 © Triennale Milano

The Plia chair, the lamp Dollaro $ and the Moon Boots. How were these objects born? Their designers tell us about it

November 12, 2021

Giancarlo Piretti tells how the project for the Plia chair was developed

About fifty years ago I designed a folding chair that was named Plia. I made this design on my own, without being commissioned to do so. Actually, once the prototype was ready, I had a hard time convincing the com- pany for which I worked to manufacture it.

It’s a lightweight chair, which is not meant to be like a fixed chair around a table; it’s a chair that you go get from some other room when you need it for your guests. I used very thin tubes because, on first impact, it was also supposed to be visually light and in no way intrusive. And not just that: I understood that I needed to make a seat and a back that were transparent to make it look even lighter. Furthermore, it wasn’t supposed to be a problem if it needed to be placed next to other furniture already there in the house, so I went searching for see- through plastic. The problem was that that kind of plastic didn’t exist. I was lucky because at Bayer in Germany, which I had gone to visit, at that very same time they were working on a transparent material that could be used to make a chair.

At first, they’d studied it so that it could be used to make sunglasses, but then they perfected it, reinforcing it. So I was very happy to have a transparent material for the first time, and I used it for this chair!

Plia was unveiled at the Furniture Trade Fair in Milan. As a prototype it was highly successful because it was unquestionably “new.” The chair was very successful because its first customers were fashion designers: Mila Schön, for example, saw the chairs and when she told us the number of them she needed to buy she spoke of 2/3000 of them! In those days, we never even considered such high numbers! Later, it was seen in fashion magazines and for Castelli, which produced it, it was a very important thing because the magazines generated “free” advertising: the ladies would go to the Castelli store holding the magazine itself to ask for that specific chair. It was a great success throughout Europe. But when Castelli asked me to take it to the United States, where they were searching for a distributor, they ran up against an unpleasant surprise in the marketing, which would not accept the fact that it was see-through. The problem was that their clients weren’t used to seeing that type of chair, which didn’t exist... so they rejected it! From that day forwards I have always felt that marketing is the enemy of designers, at least it is so for me. Only many years later did the chair begin to spread in the United States and rather successfully so, much more than what we could have imagined.

I’m very fond of telling an anecdote that hap- pened about thirty years ago. The Plia wasn’t all that comfortable for the person who used it, it was meant to be used for one, two hours at most: I had put everything into the aes- thetics! In London a company that displayed it wanted to try a fun test: it took nine chairs, in addition to mine, and invited ten people, who were blindfolded, to try them, offering their opinion on how comfortable each of them was. In terms of comfort Plia was in fourth or fifth place. When they took the blindfolds off, they invited the same people to express their preference in terms of aes- thetics, and Plia was number one! I really liked this: every object is generally chosen for its aesthetic impact. First you consider appearance, then whether or not it’s com- fortable. In the end, people choose with their eyes, not with their... bottoms. Even now I find this aspect something that needs to be taken into account: this is the principle my work is based on whenever I design a chair.

Chair Plia, Giancarlo Piretti, Anonima Castelli, 1967

Chair Plia, Giancarlo Piretti, Anonima Castelli, 1967

Lamp Dollaro $, UFO, 1968
Lamp Dollaro $, UFO, 1968

Lapo Binazzi, part of the UFO group, talks about what inspired them for the Dollaro $ lamp

The design for the Dollaro $ lamp by UFO was conceived for the restaurant “Sherwood,” which was open from 1969 to 1973. The lamp stood on one half of the King Arthur’s Knights round table, in a sort of castle courtyard with stone walls, and suspended over a faux Mackintosh tartan plastic tablecloth. There were seven originals. The first version of the Dollaro $ lamp included a Volkswagen – a Beetle from the 1950s – which looked like it had crashed up against a desert palm.

Walt Disney cartoons were what inspired the design, especially the lamp on Uncle Scrooge’s desk featuring a dollar sign: akin to the wealth that this work was going to bring us. It’s made out of metal and gilded wood, with a pietra serena base.

The lamp is also the expression of a discontinuity and a narrative. It’s shade, just like in the comic, is that of a government lamp from the 1930s. It evokes a place and an aesthetic that become an aesthetic of a discontinuous kind, in the sense that between the narrative concerning the shade, the body, and the lamp’s own shade, the discontinuity is clear to see.

The mechanism is that of the free association of ideas, that is, of connotation and denotation. It is a lamp with “a semiotic content.” It was an example, perhaps the first, of self-production that aimed at reaching out to and conversing with the world of industrial design, but opposing it somehow by break- ing away in terms of the level of craftsmanship, and the means of expression linked to our relationship with Umberto Eco who, in those days, was our mentor at the university, from whom we learned about semiotics.

Moon Boot, Zanatta, Tecnica, 1970
Moon Boot, Zanatta, Tecnica, 1970

Giancarlo Zanatta and the birth of Moon Boots

I attended vocational schools, I especially attended the model-making school at the Arsutoria in Milan. I am the son of an artist: in 1930 my father opened a shoemaking company which I then developed, founding Tecnica Spa in 1960 in Montebelluna.

This is how the story of the Moon Boot began: in September 1969 I was on a business trip to the United States. I was at Grand Central Station in New York when I saw a very large slide projected on the station wall showing Armstrong and the moon landing that had taken place. I saw a large footprint on the lunar surface, I saw those very large boots, wide ones, made of synthetic material, something I had never thought of for shoes before. I fell in love with that footprint and that vision, and I thought to myself: “Why not design some after-ski boots?” So we designed some after-ski boots made out of leather, fur, but not ones made out of synthetic material.

I kept thinking about it. A few weeks went by, then a few months, and one day I designed this type of footwear and had it developed inside our technical offices, following its evolution day after day.

Thus was born this shoe type in 1970, which I presented at the sector’s trade fair in Milan: it was an immediate success. It was new, and it still is: it can be worn on either foot, and the sizes are in multiples of three because it has a fabric insole that’s 20 millimeters thick so the foot adapts by pressing on the shoe.

We also designed a non-slip sole and used particularly thermal materials: the shoe is very warm and can be used in all sort of situations. The name we chose for it was logical: we joined the two words “moon” and “boot,” i.e. Moon Boot. The logo design is the work of a graphic design studio and a talented young man from the marketing department’s public relations office.

Moon Boot, Zanatta, Tecnica, 1970
Moon Boot, Zanatta, Tecnica, 1970

Come and discover Plia, Dollaro $ and the Moon Boots in Museo del Design Italiano!

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