It takes 77 steps to make an Emeco 1006 chair. It’s made from 12 different sections by 50 people and they need 8 hours to do it. At each step along the way, the chair is ground to smooth out the welds and create a seamless look. The end product is nearly indestructible and built to last for 150 years.
Once found on destroyers and submarines in the 1940s, this article in Metropolis talks about how the chair has become a favorite of designers. In fact, Philipe Starck agreed to offer updated designs for no fee.
“I was worried that Philippe would want a huge fee to design for us, but he didn’t even discuss money until I told him that I couldn’t afford to pay him anything. I offered him a stake in the company. He said he didn’t want one.” Instead Emeco will pay Starck an undisclosed royalty. “He could’ve taken his designs to Steelcase and made a big, fat fee.”
Starck chose to design for Emeco for a simple reason. “I have always admired the way the Emeco chair is put together,” he says. “I thought if I could design a line of furniture that becomes a classic like that chair, then I would be doing something great. I have designed a great number of things I am not proud of, and they are no longer around. I want to design things that are here forever. I think it’s time to stop wasting what’s on the planet.”
There’s more on the Starck collaboration at the Emeco site. He writes, “It is a chair you never own, you just use it for a while until it is the next person’s turn. A great chair never should have to be recycled. This is good consideration of nature and mankind.”
The site also offers a neat documentary on the company and its design process. It talks about the “ping ponging” between designers and manufacturers and how the company builds dozens of actual chairs as prototypes before finalizing a design. One designer says, “Sometimes you don’t get around to doing the final drawings. Sometimes the chair is the drawing.”
Also revealed in the doc (though perhaps just legend): The 1006’s seat was molded after Betty Grable’s bottom.
Going back to the Metropolis article, it mentions seven ads Emeco ran in Fortune back in the 1950s.
Each one depicted a different sculpture by Rodin; above the bronzes, in large letters, the ads read: “Sculpted Masterworks.” The name Emeco was in small letters at the bottom. “A lot of people called, asking, “What do you make?’” recalls Emeco’s chief operating officer at the time.
Sounds like a forerunner to Apple’s Think Different campaign.