A reaction to the modernist ideal of functionality, the UP5 armchair by Gaetano Pesce became a symbol of the 1960s, upsetting the functional orthodoxy and with it harnessing a fascination with science and the space-age. Salvador Dalì famously posed in the chair, the James Bond classic ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ featured it inside architect John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palms Springs, and, three years later in 1972, Francesco Binfaré, Gaetano Pesce and C&B were invited to take part in ‘Italy: The New Domestic Landscape’, the pioneering exhibition at MoMA in New York. The UP Series was suddenly more than just a new piece of furniture, it had come to represent a whole new generation of designers.
In the 1960s pushing design boundaries involved broad reaching collaborations, sometimes in fashion and art, but most remarkably with industrialists including the Swiss group Bayer. For manufacturers it was a golden opportunity to embrace the capabilities of new processes and materials – rubbers, plastics, foam, inflatables – never before used in furniture making, and for inquisitive designers and entrepreneurial manufacturers it was the beginning of a new way of seeing design.
In the early days, B&B Italia was known as C&B. The company born in 1966 was the partnership of Cesare Cassina and Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, and they became major players in Italian design at a time of huge innovation. Like today, their research and development centre equipped with specialised technologies and machinery was at the heart of operations, allowing the collection and new collaborations to blossom. With legendary designer Francesco Binfaré (now at Edra) as creative director, the landscape for design freedom was set for Gaetano Pesce and his UP Series.
According to B&B Italia, the idea for UP came to Gaetano Pesce in the shower. “Observing how an ordinary sponge is pressed, compressed and takes back its original shape, just how babas are tested in Naples to check if they are cooked, the idea to use these new foams for seats using nothing but this material as their structure came to him”.
It was at the 1969 Milan Furniture Fair that the UP Series made headlines internationally. Exploring the capabilities of air-sensitive foam with Bayer, the first UP5 armchair was vacuum-packed flat and when unwrapped slowly expanded to the delight of the audience. So successful was the design that B&B Italia relaunched the now permanently expanded model in 2000, and then added the miniaturised UP Junior range in 2014.
It was Francesco Binfaré who once described UP as “a reaction to the official design of the time, a scathing jibe intended to cast aside everything that was being done in the right, precise and objective way”. It was a collection that was also fun and politically poised, and for Binfaré and his research team it became a huge international success.
“Strewn over the vast area of a purpose-built stand, hundreds of massive flat galettes took on the shape of a spectacular seat in front of the eyes of the public, as if self-inflated by magic. It was more than a presentation. It was a performance”, remarked Binfaré. “Pierre Cardin wanted to meet us. Foreign firms asked for licences. UP was in fact a magnificent vehicle of internationalisation for C&B, and also a tremendous advertising tool for the firm’s technology,”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, B&B Italia has expanded the range with solid colours – orange red, navy blue, petrol green, emerald green, and cardamom, and included a 50th Anniversary Special Edition in striped beige/petrol green that references Pesce’s original colour palette developed in 1969.