James Bond and the UP5 Donna
Remember the fight scene in Diamonds Are Forever where a woman in hot pants called Bambi and her bikini clad associate Thumper, battle it out with Bond between Pierre Paulin’s Ribbon Chair and Gaetano Pesce’s Donna in the living room of John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Springs?
Or those Magnum agency photos of Sean Connery, seen relaxing between takes with his head nestled between the chair’s “breasts”?
You wonder whether the man who played one of movie history’s most celebrated womanisers knew that Pesce’s anthropomorphic chair was a clarion call to the world at large to take women’s rights seriously, or that its abstract female shape and elastic-linked ball as footstool symbolised the ball and chain of women’s subjugation.
Dressed in bold colours or a Bridget Riley stripe, Pesce’s Donna celebrated a more liberated woman as psychedelia and women’s lib started to inspire fashion and interiors.
The Italian designer and architect was originally looking to make a sofa cast from a car when he happened upon a machine used for building insulation that sprayed polyurethane foam in between the gaps in walls.
He started playing around with it and it gave him an idea. Taking the regrowth of squashed“cells” in a squeezed sponge as inspiration, Pesce oversaw the development of a new type of polyurethane with a different chemical formula that would allow him to squeeze his chairs down to a portable size.
So, once the moulded blocks of foam had been covered in nylon jersey and packaged in a special PVC invented for the purpose, they were decreased to ten per cent of their size in a vacuum chamber, perfect for retail storage and delivery from warehouse to store.
Described by Pesce as “transformation furniture”, UP5 was intended to make the owner feel very much a part of the design process, they would open a flat-pack and see their Donna, or any other of the UP pieces, swell and grow majestically in front of them.
“If you have something to say that is important, your opinion about a political event, etcetera, then through the object you express that. Your opinion goes immediately to a lot of people, and that is why design is important” says the chair’s designer, Gaetano Pesce.
The chair’s metamorphosis was not as instant as Pesce hoped since it took about an hour for it to fully resize, and the design itself was not without its problems.
Over time the lack of air made the foam deteriorate in the packaging, which was a terrible setback for Pesce, as buyers lost confidence.
You can now buy a non-inflatable version of the chair, relaunched by the manufacturer, renamed B&B Italia, for the millennium. A child’s version was also released in 2014.