It was 1955 when the Italian designer Giò Ponti was ready to show the world one of his most renowned masterpieces: the Superleggera (Superlight), a chair that it was going to be manufactured by Cassina two years later. “A chair – simple as that, with no need for adjectives”, loved to say the Maestro about that item. And, indeed, the Superleggera was (and still is) a simple chair, with no frills, characterized by pure lines and strong angles. A chair that is still remembered as one of the most important projects in the history of industrial design of the 20th century and that is now permanently showcased at the Triennale Design Museum.
In reality, the history of the Superleggera starts way before 1955. Wanting to give a new interpretation of Chiavari’s chair, the ancestor of the typical Italian straw chairs, in 1949 Giò Ponti created the first prototype. He wanted to make a simple chair, light, with a low manufacturing price and, to achieve that, he focused on the seatback at first, curving it on the top part. However, in order to get today’s Superleggera, the world had to wait until 1955. That was the year its creator designed its final version, that was then marketed by Cassina in 1957- The legs and the struts, that at first were circular, were now characterized by a triangular section 18 mm thick; the materials were light, natural: the structure was made of ash wood, whilst the sitting of Indian canes, colored cellophane or – years later – stuffed. 1.7 Kg “heavy”, nowadays Giò Ponti’s Superleggera isn’t just a museum piece. With its identification number 699, Cassina keeps offering it: in the catalogue we find it made out of ash wood (natural, sprayed white or black) with an Indian cane seat; made of ash wood (natural, painted white or black) with a stuffed seat, or covered in leather or fabric; made of white/black bicolor ash wood and a stuffed seat, or covered in white or graphite leather.
The Superleggera is one of that design pieces that one should invest in, but it is also an item that represents a piece of history: when Giò Ponti designed it he wanted to create a furniture item for everyone, easily affordable by a nation that was facing an economic crisis. And to present his idea he bet everything – even for communication and advertising – on its main characteristic, that same one that it was called after: the lightness.
Emblem of Milan’s artisanal furniture culture and part of the most important design collections in the world, the Superleggera is now iconic because it represents the Italian design history and not because of its price.