Bums on Seats: Ally Capellino x Rupert Blanchard

  • Chris Chasseaud looks closer at the chair collaboration celebrating London Design Week


    Words: Chris Chasseaud

    Bag maestro Ally Capellino and furniture designer Rupert Blanchard have joined forces to create a one-off project of tubular steel stacking chairs. The collaboration, entitled Bums on Seats, take a look at the way in which we position ourselves on chairs, blending Ally’s expertise in leather and Rupert’s passion for chairs.

  • Rupert, who openly claims he’s “quite into tubular steel”, is a collector of British-made tubular chairs produced by the likes of Cox and PEL (Practical Equipment Limited). They produce British interpretations of Bauhaus designs. It was, however, Thonet who first introduced the Marcel Breuer-designed chairs to the UK market, licensed by Bauhaus.

    The chair struggled to be accepted into a domestic setting as the UK had just gone through WWII and the general public weren’t ready for such bold modern designs and materials. It was, though, welcomed into the commercial sector where school halls, hospitals, cafes and restaurants accepted it for its commercial viability. It was cheap to produce and could be stacked away easily and available in hundreds of finishes.

    The tubular steel chair in the V&A’s permanent collection is attributed to Jackson Pollock, who was one of the designers working for Cox. Unfortunately there’s no actual link. “There’s an unknown quantity to the chairs’ stories. Most of the small companies who produced them don’t exist any more as they were bought up by PEL,” says Rupert. “And due to an office fire, the archives of Cox and PEL were destroyed. Within the UK and Europe, design dealers have made up stories and when people are told these stories enough times, they start to believe them.”AllyCapellino_LDF_BumsOnSeats_Detail1

  • AllyCapellino_LDF_BumsOnSeats_Detail-1Ally bought her own set a while ago, a Cox version with a canvas seat and back. They were already in a poor state when she acquired them. “The chairs were supposed to be re-covered, but we never got round to doing it.” But they now find themselves being resurrected.

    According to Rupert, “furniture is a different world for Ally, but she’s using her language as a leather accessories maker.” Naturally, Ally chose to use leather on the chairs as she felt it would get distinctively worn: “I like the aging process on any nice material. Leather, obviously with a bum on it, is going to get polished nicely.” Highlighting Ally’s interest in the way things are used, a few years ago she asked her customers to send in their bags to celebrate the unique ways each bag had accumulated personal wear and tear. That same curiosity in aging is a driving force behind Bums on Seats. The chairs are playfully named – Knees Up and Edge of Seat – giving them a bit of personality, similar to the Ally Capellino bags in that respect.

    Embossed areas of leather are carefully placed reflecting the positions of the legs or bum. If turned, to examine the underneath, you’ll find strapping almost akin to bondage. However, the lighthearted configuration on each east restores parity to a more innocent and playful atmosphere, one that is curious and willing to sit and allow the seat to direct you accordingly. “This doesn’t try and say I’m a furniture expert or anything. I think I wouldn’t really like to start by designing something like a chair – I feel unqualified to do that. But to re-appropriate one is perfect for me,” Ally says.

  • Rupert has created installations for both Ally Capellino shops in London that will serve as ideal backdrops to present the chairs. He tells me he’s adopting the Knolling method – named after the furniture brand Knoll – where items are laid out and ‘ready to use’ on a clean surface. Accompanying the installation, filmmaker Donald Christie produced a video – which, interestingly, has a Bauhaus feel to it – inspired by a 1957 movie called A Chairy Tale by Norman McLaren and Claude Jutra. It plays on the relationship between humans and the chair.

    There are two sets of chairs that are part of the Bums on Seats project – one set will be available to experience and sit on at the V&A from 19 September, while the other set will be shared between Ally’s two London shops during London Design Week.AllyCapellino_LDF_BumsOnSeats_KneesUp1