If we asked you to name a chair from the 1960s, chances are you’d pick Vitra’s Panton Chair. Designed by Verner Panton, the chair perfectly encapsulates everything that’s great about the mid-century era - it’s bold, bright, fun and exceptionally innovative. As Vitra celebrates its 50th anniversary, we revisit the history of this iconic design.
Who designed the Panton Chair?
There’s only one designer who could have created a chair as extraordinary as the Panton Chair, and that man is Verner Panton.
He had a passion for colour and pattern and was one of the first designers to really see the potential of plastic in furniture design. It was this forward-thinking approach that allowed him to create some of the most revolutionary designs of the last century, including the FlowerPot Pendant Light, named after the 1960s Flower Power movement, innovative seating system Living Tower, and of course his eponymous Panton Chair.
Three of Panton's most sculptural designs; The Panton Chair, The Flower Pot Pendant and the Living Tower
What makes the Panton Chair so special?
Though Panton designed dozens of products during his lifetime, it is arguably the Panton Chair that was his most influential, and there are many reasons for this.
Firstly, the design was way ahead of its time when it was released, let alone when it was first conceptualised back in the 1950s. Made from a single, continuous piece of plastic and with no legs to speak of, there was nothing like it on the market at the time. It was a true first. It was exciting. And it still is today.
Original sketches and 1965 prototype for the Panton Chair. Image 1 credit: verner-panton.com. Image 2 credit: Jessica Alldridge.
Many manufacturers turned down Panton when he was looking to put the chair into production in the early 1960s. The process of producing something like this was simply too problematic. It wasn’t until Panton met with Vitra’s Willi Fehlbaum in the mid-1960s that things started to progress. Vitra eventually launched the first Panton Chair in 1967, and haven’t looked back since.
Production methods have changed over the years but the quality remains intact
Over the years, the unique S-shaped chair has been modified to reflect the advancements in plastics technology. The original was made from a fibreglass-reinforced polymer, a second version was created out of rigid polyurethane foam, a third from injection-moulded Luran S, and finally a fourth from polypropylene, which the chair is still made from today.
The Panton's organic shape has developed over the years. Image credit: verner-panton.com
Bold and unusual, the chair received a lot of media attention and became a symbol of the progressive Sixties era. It was even featured on the front cover of Vogue, in a now-legendary shoot with British model Kate Moss.
Two icons grace the cover of Vogue Magazine. Image credit: Pinterest
How is the Panton Chair made?
All authentic Panton Chairs are made at the Vitra factory. They’re made by injecting fibreglass-reinforced polypropylene into a specially created mould which is left to cool and dry. The chairs are then finished by hand by expert craftsmen, before being individually wrapped for transportation.
Panton Chair vs Panton Chair Classic
The Panton Chair has been made from various types of plastic through the years. This is the reason we now have two versions of the same design: the Standard Panton Chair and the Panton Classic.
The Panton Classic vs the Panton Chair
The Panton Classic stays true to the material used to make the design back in the 1980s - rigid polyurethane foam. It is exceptionally sturdy, has a glossy lacquer finish and comes in the original colours of black, white and red.
The standard Panton Chair is made from polypropylene, a more advanced form of plastic that became available in 1999. It’s lightweight, has a matte finish and is available in a wider range of colours. Polypropylene is easier to produce too, so the standard Panton Chair is cheaper than the Panton Classic.
How to tell if a Panton Chair is real
Unfortunately, a lot of imitation Panton Chairs are produced worldwide, but a replica is relatively easy to spot. After all, you can’t fake quality.
One of the key tell-tale signs of an imitation piece is the presence of ‘fins’ on the underside of the chair. These are a series of plastic strips that all lesser quality chairs need for stability. They are immediately visible from the rear side, as seen below.
Another thing to look out for is the presence of a signature. All original Panton Chairs have Verner Panton’s signature clearly marked on them, imitation ones do not. On the Classic, this is positioned on the base of the chair and it is indented and embossed. On the standard Panton Chair, this is on the back of the chair and is raised.
Other things to look out for is a shiny finish on the standard Panton Chair - authentic chairs are made from polypropylene and therefore have a matte finish. Any scratch that reveals a different colour is also a warning sign as polypropylene is dyed through and holds a continuous colour throughout.
50th Anniversary Limited Edition Panton Chair
The new Panton Chair in Chrome, by Vitra. As shown at Milan Design Week 2018. Image credit: Max Hawley
To mark the chair’s 50th anniversary, Vitra is releasing a special Limited Edition of the Panton Chair in chrome.
It may look futuristic, but this is exactly what Panton himself envisioned when he first designed the chair back in the 1960s. Limited by technology at the time he was never able to see his vision come to life. Fast forward 50 years and, with a little help from a new metallisation process and some highly specialised hand craftsmanship, his dream has finally become a reality. And a spectacular one at that.
To get your hands on your very own Panton Chrome, be sure to visit Nest.co.uk on 1st July when they’re released for sale. They’re strictly Limited Edition, so you’ll need to be quick if you want your very own piece of design history.