Fashion and furniture

Pierre Paulin Ribbon chair and ottoman, 1966, made possible by the bathing suit...

Spandex (an anagram of ‘expands’) was co-invented in 1959 by chemists C. L. Sandquist and Joseph Shivers at DuPont’s laboratory in Virgina as a replacement for rubber in corsetry. Also known as lycra, the super stretchy synthetic fabric was being used for bathing suits in the early 1960s when it caught the eye of French furniture designer Pierre Paulin. His sculptural designs were difficult to upholster section by section in the traditional method because of the curves. Paulin got the idea of ‘dressing’ his furniture in spandex and tested the idea by cutting up his wife’s bathing suits to cover miniature models of his designs. Fitting the pre-sewn bag over the chair was “like a woman shimmying into a bathing suit” he said. Paulin’s 1966 ‘Ribbon’ chair and ottoman design was the first to feature the new bathing suit material inspired upholstery. For the complete story of Pierre Paulin see Modernism magazine, summer 2008.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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