Patterns à la Prouvé
von Sandra Hofmeister | Jun 28, 2011

There was hardly any denim in sight. Anyone who had been expecting a fashion show with furniture and Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess genius and G-Star Raw endorser, was disappointed. Instead it is design enthusiasts who get their money's worth from the current collaboration between the Dutch jeans label and Vitra all the more: Never before has there been so much wonderful Jean Prouvé, carefully reinterpreted and with only a few adaptations. Seventeen individual pieces – including seating, tables, luminaires, screens, and storage furniture – make up a small but select collection, in which the characteristic aesthetics of Prouvé's furniture is impressively concentrated.

"This is basically an homage to Jean Prouvé", says Eckart Maise, Head of Design Management at Vitra. The development departments of both companies spent a total of two years reinterpreting designs by the architect and designer, who died in 1984. The results of this collaboration are now on show on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. The special edition "Prouvé Raw" brings the self-taught designer and constructor's furniture universe to life. To quote a fashion phrase, it gives Prouvé's furniture a new look, without, however, distorting the original designs too much. Rather, the reinterpretation emphasizes the furniture's structure and construction, revealing its aesthetic stringency, in which an overarching architectural principle –Prouvé's pre-fabricated houses spring to mind – becomes visible.

New features of the furniture presented include several materials, colors, and fabrics, with which, for example, the "Fauteuil de Salon" and the "Lit Flavigny" recliner become sober everyday objects: Light fabric covers, smoked and oiled oak, as well as gray lacquered shaped sheet metal underscore the contrasts and emphasize the skilful interplay of shapes – derived from the forces produced in use – even more than was the case with the red lacquered sheet metal of the originals. The shell of the "Tabouret No. 307" stool resembles a tractor seat and for this edition was made not of sheet metal but of plastic – an alteration, which, befitting the material, employs cutting-edge standards. A brushed stainless steel plate is enthroned on the "Table S.A.M. Tropique" and, in contrast with the lacquered sheet metal of the Prouvé original, displays a straightforward raw character.

All in all, thanks to the unspectacular changes, which are based on the original plans, the reinterpretation realizes a clever design, which neither G-Star nor Vitra highlights, but which quite openly recognizes Jean Prouvé as playing the main role: He is the real star of this collaboration between two disparate partners. For G-Star this is just one of several crossover projects over the past few years, while for Vitra it is a daring venture into new territory. The Prouvé Special Edition reveals how fashion and furniture can harmonize superbly if the focus is on the product itself rather than on brands and marketing.

With so much Prouvé, the question ultimately remains as to the benefit of the collaboration for both companies. As far as G-Star is concerned this could well be its design team's proclaimed new energy, with which the company repeatedly ventures into areas above and beyond fashion, honing its expertise in jeans in completely new fields. For Vitra – the Swiss company owns the general license for all Prouvé furniture – the re-edition, which came about with the collaboration of the Prouvé family, offers clear perspectives, as if anything, the attractive furniture by the Frenchman that featured in the Vitra range, for example the "Standard" chair, has proved to be an insider tip for connoisseurs rather than a best-seller. Though there are no plans for the edition to go into mass production, Prouvé's work ought to be seen as a collection rather than individual pieces. A total of nine of the 17 products in the Prouvé Raw Special Edition will be on sale in limited numbers and for a clearly defined period of time, until the middle of next year. This ought to extend the circle of Prouvé enthusiasts. And the Paris galleries, which sell the rare originals at extremely high prices, will have to get used to competition.

Bahut , 1951
Potence, 1947
Lit Flavigny, 1945
Banc Marcoule, 1955
Table S.A.M. Tropique, 1950
Compas Direction, 1953
Rayonnage Mural, 1936
Fauteuil de Salon, 1939
Table S.A.M. Tropique, 1950
Jean Prouvé
Fauteuil Direction, 1951, all photos: Vitra
Ecran, 1955
Cité, 1930
Standard, 1934/50
Tabouret Solvay, 1941
Rampe Lumineuse, 1954
Tabouret No. 307, 1951
Dactylo, 1944
Guéridon Cafétéria, 1950
Cathérine Prouvé with Eckart Maise