Fans love Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as much for the furniture, as the intense action. This 1968 film, written as a joint venture with Arthur C. Clarke, used strategic product placement to raise funds, inviting huge brands of the time including IBM, DuPont, Nikon and Kodak to sign up.
Inspired by a living room that changed colour at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Kubrick instructed his team to commission the top interior and furniture designers of the sixties to create vision boards showing how they imagined their products might look in the year 2001 in return for exposure in the film.
The hottest designers of the time, Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen and George Nelson, were selected but nothing stands out quite as much in the film as the low-slung red chairs designed by a relative unknown.
Twenty-four year old Olivier Mourgue’s organic chairs, inspired by Islamic mythological ‘genie’ spirits, create an impressive silhouette along the corridor of the stark white Hilton Space Station as scientists discuss unusual goings on at US-occupied Clavius Base, the largest outpost on the moon.
You can imagine these organic one-piece chairs morphing into something else given a change in room temperature or scene. Created from polyurethane foam-covered tubular steel with rubber webbing from Pirelli, and zips and stretch red jersey covers by Bernard Joliet.
Kubrick wanted them to reflect the more relaxed meeting codes of the future. Even though others at the time, such as Verner Panton, Geoffrey Harcourt and surrealist painter Roberto Matta, were creating interesting seating systems out of similar fabrics.
Pierre Paulin was particularly peeved at Mourgue for copying the techniques employed on his Mushroom and Orange Slice Chairs. But even though he got the idea of stretching fabric over foam from the French designer, the shapes were all Mourgue’s own.
Early productions can still be found, but if you want a true Mourgue collectable make sure the foam and fabric have not been replaced for safety reasons. And be wary of anyone touting original Djinn Chairs from the film.
Afraid they might fall into the hands of lesser directors and devalue his sci-fi masterpiece, Kubrick destroyed the lot.