appy birthday to the 699 chair by Cassina, in other words the iconic Superleggera which has just turned 60. Gio Ponti used to refer to it as the “chair-chair, without adjectives”, as if to say it was an ordinary chair like any other, so simple that it became known as the archetypal chair. However, there’s nothing ordinary about 699 Superleggera, designed in 1957 by iconic Gio Ponti and Amedeo Cassina’s children.
Bare in mind that even if it’s over half a century old, its design is still so fresh it could have very well been designed yesterday. And it’s assembled using neither nails nor bolts. In fact, Superleggera is built by slotting different parts together; this is what makes it extremely lightweight (1,7 kg which you can lift up with a finger) as well as extremely durable.
We may consider it ordinary, because such a simple and beautiful chair has always been around, suitable for any room and type of decor. So much so that since 1957 it has never gone out of production.
As a matter of fact, Superleggera is a real design icon, more to the point a real “case study”. Witnesses swear to have seen it been thrown out of a fourth-floor window, bouncing on the ground without shattering to pieces. In fact, Superleggera is considered to be the rightful heir of the Chiavarina chair by a designer nicknamed “il Campanino”, who famously tested it by throwing it from his window.
Gio Ponti successfully turned the handmade Chiavarina chair into a contemporary mass-produced piece: triangular-sectioned frame, gently curved backrest, and a seat in Indian shot padded in leather or fabric. The same brilliant concept, but with added industrial knowledge; this is why he also tested Superleggera by throwing it out of a window.
Currently, Superleggera is still being manufactured in Cassina’s joinery, bringing together mass-production and traditional manufacturing techniques like gluing, sanding and assembly.
Throughout the years, Superleggera has been brought out in a variety of different styles, example of this is a version with an optical two-tone lacquer frame, which have never made it to production. On the occasion of its birthday, Superleggera comes out in a new version in red: in 60 limited edition pieces with seat upholstered in the Boxblocks fabric by Dutch artist Bertjan Pot.
And this is precisely why we like this “really simple” chair. And with other two works of art (the Pirelli tower in Milan and the Concattedrale in Taranto), it has earned its rightful place in Italian design history.