Style IQ: Design Icon
LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN
Local Furniture Connoisseur Acquires “Mini Design Museum” with Purchase of Designer Chairs.
It was the afternoon of May 23, 2006, and Kim Nielsen was intensely watching his computer screen. He had ten Internet windows open as he placed bids with Denmark’s biggest auction house, Bruun Rasmusses. The auction was the result of furniture maker Fritz Hansen’s call to some of today’s top design brands to reinterpret the design of Arne Jacobsen’s Series Seven Chair. Nielsen, CEO and president of Sarasota’s dkVogue furniture store, was bidding on ten of the designer chairs—part of a series of 13 chairs in all—created by designers such as Louis Vuitton and Hugo Boss.
As he was tracking the prices of ten chairs, Nielsen had two coveted designs he wanted the most—the Paul Smith and Louis Vuitton pieces—but so did everyone else. As the auction timer approached the close, and the prices for these two pieces approached $20,000 each, Nielsen had to make a choice. “A lot of the bidding happened in the last few minutes,” Nielsen says. “It was a pretty frantic thing.” In the end, he was forced to choose between his two favorites. “We decided to go with the Paul Smith chair (for a final price of $20,000), because I had seen that chair in the flesh [at the Danish factory],” he says. He also managed to outbid competitors for six other chairs that left the auction block for $4,000 to $9,000 a piece, walking away with seven chairs in all—more than half of the collection. “In the end, we figured seven is a good number, because it’s the Series Seven chair,” he says.
In 2005, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Series Seven and to raise money for the Danish Aids Foundation, furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen asked 13 designers to recreate the chair in the designer’s own image. The auction raised $100,000 for the foundation from the sale of all 13 chairs, with $58,000 from Nielsen’s purchases alone.
If you think you don’t know what the Series Seven chair is, odds are they have surrounded you all your life. In addition to selling 6 million pieces in the past 50 years, the chair is also the most copied in the world, with knock-off versions sold by Ikea and Target worldwide.
Although most knockoff versions are unwanted—Fritz Hansen has exclusive rights to the chair’s reproductions—the designer series has produced some of the most elegant and radical imitations.
With a masculine touch, Hugo Boss designers gave their chair a wool pinstripe pattern to resemble the brand’s suits. For an elegant accent, Danish Jeweler Georg Jensen encrusted the legs of his chair with diamonds. And in the radical vein, shoe designer Camper turned its Series Seven into a swing. “I think our expectations were rather marginal at first,” says Glenn Hardwig, vice president for Fritz Hansen Inc., of the contest’s initial goals. “We were pleasantly surprised and happy that everybody took the designs so seriously.”
Hardwig adds Fritz Hansen sells between 150,000 and 200,000 of the Series Seven model each year. From the original brown wood version with arms, to the barstool style to an office chair with wheels, the chair comes in a wide variety of colors, materials and versions, but the original style stays intact. “I think that if you look at it, it has one of the most sexy curves of a chair that’s out in the market,” he says. “It holds its shape, it’s three dimensional, it’s quite amazing that it’s as comfortable and durable as it is.”
Nielsen doesn’t need convincing of the Series Seven’s quality. As the proud owner of seven of the designer series, he now has his own “mini design museum,” he says. Nielsen was born in Denmark and remembers growing up with the Arne Jacobsen chair around his childhood dining room table. His father was trained as a Danish furniture maker, and in a country where it takes as long to get your furniture accreditation as it does to become a medical doctor in the U.S. (12 years), an avid appreciation of design and quality is a byproduct of his heritage.
Of the 13 finished designs, Nielsen is the only collector to have more than one, much less seven, and Hardwig adds Nielsen’s devotion is “incredibly inspiring—not only because he has invested in the design, but he is following the common cause as well.”
To celebrate that heritage, and to raise money for the Sarasota Community AIDS Network Benefit, dkVogue, along with Fritz Hansen and the State of the Arts Gallery will hold an event on March 19 to showcase the designer chairs and raffle donated prizes from both dkVogue and State of the Arts Gallery.
But don’t expect to take home one of the Series Seven chairs—Nielsen isn’t taking bids on those anytime soon.
History of the Series Seven Chair:
Arne Jacobsen designed the first skyscraper in Copenhagen and the Denmark National Bank, but his trademark is the small and sleek Series Seven chair. The Danish designer debuted the chair in 1955, and in the past 50 years, more than 6 million remakes have been sold. As the most copied chair in the world, the Series Seven, originally known as the Model 3107 Chair, carved out the future of furniture when it hit the market. Jacobsen used an innovative technique at the time: He bent thin layers of wood into two directions and created a curved chair that featured nine layers of veneer and two layers of cotton textile to rest on the mirror chromed legs.
Proving versatility is the key to a long life, the chair entered pop culture status when photographer Lewis Morley used a knockoff version of the chair to cover a naked Christine Keeler in his 1963 portrait of the model. Appropriately, this photograph—just like the Jacobsen chair—has been imitated in the world of photography ever since.
When not used as a cover-up, the chair has also been modified to act as an office chair (add five wheels) and a barstool (lengthen the legs). As the only company to manufacture the authentic Jacobsen design, Fritz Hansen also recreates the original with a variety of modifications—from welt leather to cherry wood—and it even sells a children’s chair version.
Jacobsen said he drew his ideas from American designers Charles and Ray Eames, a couple who created a molded plywood and veneer chair for Herman Miller in 1946. Now that imitation has come full circle with Fritz Hansen’s call for contemporary designers to recreate Jacobsen’s design, the Series Seven has perhaps proved one of the oldest clichés to be true: Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
By Ricci Shryock.