Collection: Unit 3

Context with Paul Rennie

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Semiotique de Luxe : le sofa chesterfield…

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I’ve allowed myself a slightly Frenchified title for this post; it’s about luxury; and all luxury is derived from Versailles (that is the source-code for the modern fashion system and food economy) and it is understood, in its most sophisticated and elvated forms, as French.

But the chesterfield is an English style of sofa…

My books about old antique furniture are not clear about the chesterfield. They describe the evolution of the sofa, or settee, in terms of salon furniture. But, the chesterfiekd is more salloon… than salon. 

The chesterfield sofa is historically associated with, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl  Chesterfield. Chesterfield had a very grand London townhouse in the palladian. The house, in Mayfair, was elaborated in the the 1740s and 1750s.

Nowadays, Chesterfield is remembered for a volume of letters to his son, drafted as wordly advice about mores, morals, and manners, of polite 18C society.

The chesterfield sofa is a leather and button-down upholstered low sofa with a roll-shaped back and with arm rests. The back and arms are the same height right across the sofa.

I think that the chesterfield began as a hall sofa…somewhere to wait. It’s a public sofa, not a private one. The sofa is relatively low…which may indicate that it was expected to be used by men…indeed, the chesterfield is recognised as a form of seating that allows for comfort…

The seating posture is relaxed, without it becomming a bed. The quilting style of upholstery is, in its different forms, associated with the country club, grill-room, saloon bar, gambling den, and the boudoir…in fashion semiotics, quilting is definitely indicative of luxury…and carries an evident association with pleasure.

Perhaps it is the tension in meanings, implicit in this sofa, that make it appealing; a combination of public space and luxury, exemplified through both formality and sensuality…

The button-down style is also associated with the luxury modern style promoted by Knoll and Vitra…see the Barcelona chair (1929), by Mies van der Rohe.

The chesterfield should always be over-stuffed, and the buttons should be deep…aspiring to the embonpoint of furniture. 

Jeff Koons understands all this…and Salvador Dali too, with his Mae West sofa.

 

I recall that Chesterfield was a classic brand of US cigarettes…with an entirely appropriate old-school package design. A little bit end-of-the-19C and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Definitely mahogany and brass-bound.

The soft-pack is always cooler…

 

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The brand has more-or-less disappeared from the US market…frozen out in the global brand wars. 

Here is an advertising image from the old days…and with the endorsement of Rita Hayworth no less…

 

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I love the ABC…Always Buy Chesterfield, and Always Milder, Better, Cooler…brilliant.

I noticed that they tried, I guess in the 1960s, to modernise the look. But, it just looks like a bit of political ephemera. It’s JFK, but niot in a good way.

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NB Supplemental - March 2016

The semitics of the sofa have gone mainstream. An argument has braken out about the position of female presentars on breakfast TV…I always knew this would be useful.

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