This article is by Frederic SOFIA, the designer of LUXEMBOURG for FERMOB
Romantic yet practical, discreet yet world famous, this chair, the epitomy of French cultural heritage and a treasure from the heart of the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, has, over time, become a true icon of French style. Full of charms and mysteries, this icon has pushed boundaries since its creation by the Ateliers de la Ville de Paris in 1923. Through summer and winter, this poetic object has been a part of the Parisian landscape for nearly a century – a character in search of its author. Originally named SENAT, this famous chair has now been let out of the gates of the “Luco” and conquered the world, ever since its celebrated reinvention into the LUXEMBOURG chair: a reinvention executed by Frédéric Sofia in 2003 for the French company Fermob.
THE GENESIS OF THE LEGEND
“It was like a garden forgotten in another time, a pretty garden resembling the sweet smile of an old woman. Bushy hedges separated the narrow and regular paths – quiet lanes between two walls of carefully sculpted foliage… Here and there, we met with flowerbeds, small trees arranged like walking schoolboys, beautiful swathes of rosebushes and lines of fruit trees.”
Guy De Maupassant
As this quotation demonstrates, Parisian gardens are as much a part of the collective imagination as the quintessentially French word “flâner” – to stroll. In them, people chat and set the world to rights, but above all they amble and relax. As early as the eighteenth century, in order to satisfy the enthusiasm of Parisian walkers for rurality, the idea of replacing park benches with more comfortable chairs slowly gained popularity. Rented by private companies, this new arrival began to shape the Parisian landscape. In the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Senate encountered problems as many people were a little reticent to pay out of their own pocket for a break in the gardens. So, in addition to lowering rental rates and fixing an annual rate for the lease, the French Republic decided, in 1843, to purchase 1500 chairs that were made available to rent to a supportive public. During the troubled period preceding the 3rd Republic, the return of the Senate to Paris sealed a new regime for the leasing contracts. From 1872, the right to produce the chairs was sold at public auctions by the candle.
Produced piecemeal during the 1920s, the SENAT chairs eventually took their place in the garden. Freshly painted in green, they spread like ivy along walkways and around the ponds. Moved between the sun and the shade, according to the days and seasons, they gradually became emblems of Parisian garden furniture.
Alerted to the damage sustained by the chairs due to the passage of time, the Senate launched a call to tender in 1990. The winner was the French company Fermob who became the official supplier of the SENAT chairs to the Luxembourg, Tuilleries and Palais-Royal gardens. Overnight, about 2000 chairs and armchairs in all came and populated the green “lungs” of the city. As Bernard Reybier, the CEO of Fermob, reflected, “We make them in Thoissey, exact replicas, in steel, with their green color RAL 6013 and their wooden armrests. On top of everything, they are made in an ironworks that I bought in 1989 and which was one of the historical manufacturers of the chairs.”
AN INVITATION TO SIT DOWN
Even though no technical drawings can be found in the national archives, the SENAT chair remains nevertheless a fine example of French craftsmanship. Produced on an ad hoc basis since 1923 in the organized chaos of the Paris gardens’ ironworks, it is not until 2002, after eighty years of loyal service, that the designer Frédéric Sofia embarked on the chair’s reinvention.
Frédéric Sofia is unstoppable when it comes to talking about his first “child” for Fermob. “In 2001, when Bernard Reybier approached me to create a range of accessories inspired by the SENAT Chair, I went and covered the length and breadth of the Jardin du Luxembourg. I then photographed all the different models, took their measurements and sketched on paper all the seats in the garden: the chair, the bridge chair and the low armchair. It was a real pleasure. It was also an opportunity to discover their secrets of fabrication. Some chairs were very narrow, with strange steel ball feet, while others had large log-like armrests – some were higher, others wider, with slats of varying dimensions and placed at various heights. I saw design errors and an obvious lack of ergonomics. After a year of consideration, it became clear to me that, for a collection destined for private gardens, the chairs themselves needed to be redesigned and reconsidered.” It became obvious that greater comfort was required. Focusing on new armrests and new curved sections for the slats, Frédéric Sofia reinvented the famous SENAT chair. A chair that is now thoroughly re-conceived; it is more welcoming and generous and no longer slices into your thighs and arms. With a new piece that acts as an interface between the seat and its front edge, the chair truly invites us to sit down. From this conviction was born the originality of a whole range of contemporary furniture. A range of furniture based on a transformation of a rustic garden chair into a designer chair and naturally prompting Bernard Reybier and Frédéric Sofia to name the new range LUXEMBOURG.
After 10 successful years, this style icon made of aluminum is now available in 24 colors. Smooth, refined, warm and sexy, the LUXEMBOURG chair remains a symbol of a typically French spirit. A symbol that immediately resonates with the general public and with professionals. Rapidly finding its way into private gardens, terraces, restaurants, hotel pool-sides, parks, universities and fast-food chains, this icon has been adopted and venerated by many. Before it was first launched, the chair and an accompanying footstool were featured in the exhibition “Placenta”, organized in Paris by the BETC Euro RSCG agency. Exhibited in a candy pink, it created a storm of interest – a new and subversive entry into the world of garden furniture. This dazzling apparition even encouraged Fermob to integrate several shades of pink into its own range of colors. In the wake of this success, this redesigned classic won a VIA prize in 2004, which rewards the relevance and originality of innovative products for their materials, technology, function and style. To top it all, the LUXEMBOURG range was acquired in 2008 by the FNAC (National Fund for Contemporary Art).
Never short on ideas, Frédéric Sofia and Fermob have since developed a whole range of products and accessories, enlarging the range and creating a whole LUXEMBOURG family for all occasions. Emblematic of the City of Light, the range was selected to equip La Place de la République in Paris as well as the banks of the River Seine for Paris Plage. Beyond French borders, this example of French industrial design is the embodiment of a subtle blend: a piece of furniture which is as classic as it is modern, romantic yet urban, discreet yet stylish, all the while remaining friendly, timeless and extremely sophisticated. True to the tradition of conversation pieces, the LUXEMBOURG chair is the ultimate illustration of what’s best in French furniture design. From the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakesh to the Amsterdam Zoo and from the outdoor areas of Harvard University to the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, the LUXEMBOURG phenomenon has again been enriched in 2013 with a high table with matching stools, a rocking-chair and a miniature of the standard chair, an exact replica at a scale of 1/7. From New York to the place de la République of Paris, nothing seems capable of stopping the endurance and narrative of a legend that is in constant reinvention.
– 1923 : SENAT chairs – Created anonymously for the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.
– 2003 : LUXEMBOURG chairs – Designed by Frederic SOFIA and inspired by the SENAT chairs. The LUXEMBOURG chairs are intended for sale to the general public. However Fermob continues to supply the SENAT chairs exclusively for the French Senate.
SENAT VS LUXEMBOURG
This article is published with the permission of Frederic SOFIA, the designer of LUXEMBOURG for FERMOB