It all started with a sponge. Italian design pioneer Gaetano Pesce wanted to create a chair that acted like his shower sponge – shrinking as he squeezed it, regaining volume when released.
His resulting creation, Up, was first released from C&B (now B&B Italia) in 1969 as a vacuum-packed chair that expanded when released from its package. The unorthodox style of the Up5_6 –round, bulbous and curvy, yet sleek – was meant to symbolize ‘70s femininity. And the accompanying ottoman resembled a ball and chain.
Serie Upfrom 1969, photographed by Klaus Zaugg
“The issue of male violence towards women had only just started being talked about at the time,” Pesce has said. “Back then, I thought that this serious sign of incivility, which was happening all over the world, would have lessened with time. Unfortunately, however, that was not the case.”
The collection quickly made its way through the throngs of popular culture. Salvador Dalì once posed on the Up5_6, the series’ most iconic piece. In the seventh James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, the Up5 can be seen in villain Blofeld’s lair.
“All these facts underscore the importance of Serie Up in history not only as an organic design object, but also as a combination of pop culture and social comment,” says Silvia Rebuli, global communication director for B&B Italia.
More recently, a 25-foot sculpture of the chair was erected in Milan in April 2019 to celebrate Milan Furniture Fair and it quickly drew criticism. Rather than challenging sexism, protesters have claimed, it is instead a monument to women’s oppression.
"I believe these feminists have not read nor understood the meaning of my work in Milan," Pesce recently told architecture and design magazine Dezeen. "Generally speaking, when two entities fight for the same objective, they cooperate."
No longer vacuum packed, the innovative collection, Serie Up, now celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019. B&B Italia commemorates the occasion by releasing the famed Up5_6 chair in a special edition with beige and petrol green lines – part of the original 1969 color chart – as well as six new colors for the 7-piece collection.
B&B Italia's showroom in Milan. Courtesy of B&B Italia.
“Serie Up has surpassed its function and is now a true contemporary icon which is so disruptive that it is still modern,” Rebuli says.
You can find Serie Up included in the catalogs and permanent collections of many museums, including the Milan Triennale, MoMA in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Montréal and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
A Timeline of B&B Italia
Italian designer Gaetano Pesce dreams a chair that can contract and expand like a sponge. Serie Up launches as a vacuum-packed product that regains its shape, as well as elasticity and comfort, upon contact with the air when opening the package.
The Up ad campaign relays the message that the sleek, curvy appeal is the look of the future. “They created a series of pictures that projected Up into a provocative and sexy, futuristic-lunar dimension, somewhere between Barbarella and the Amazons of space,” says Rebuli.
C&B becomes B&B Italia. Serie Up is removed from the catalogue due to a ban on Freon gas, which was used to help the products expand once released from the package. But by then, the collection was all the rage.
B&B Italia reissues Serie Up without Freon gas. The collection is no longer vacuum-packed but made of flexible cold shaped polyurethane foam – the pieces produced in their final shape. Covers are still made of elastic fabric and available in a wide range of colors. The series consists of seven pieces, as it was originally in 1969.
The Serie Up collection turns 50. B&B Italia celebrates by reissuing the Up5_6 in beige and petrol green lines, from the original color palette. It’s also available in six new colors: orange, red, navy blue, petrol green, emerald green and cardamom.
We know you'll love these...