Wunnen Luxembourg
Published on thursday july 20th 2023

The Up armchair by Gaetano Pesce

An ode to femininity

The Up armchair, created in 1969 by the famous Italian designer Gaetano Pesce for the B&B Italia furniture company, is much more than just a piece of furniture.

Let's discover the fascinating history of this iconic armchair and the powerful message it conveys.

Born in 1939 in La Spezia, Italy, Gaetano Pesce is one of the world's last remaining masters of international design. After graduating in architecture from the University of Venice in 1965, Pesce worked alongside eminent Italian architects such as Carlo Scarpa and Franco Albini, who greatly influenced his career. Drawing on these experiences, he began working as a freelance architect and designer, quickly making a name for himself with his innovative and experimental creations, using unconventional materials and manufacturing techniques.

The birth of the Up armchair

In 1969, Pesce created his major work, the Up armchair, for the B&B Italia furniture company. The story of its conception is quite unusual: the idea came to him while he was in the shower, handling a sponge. Like the sponge, Pesce's self-inflating armchair returns to its original shape after each use.

A powerful, avant-garde message

Backed by the publisher Cesare Cassina, the Up armchair was launched on the market in 1969, establishing itself as an avant-garde manifesto, both in terms of technology and design and in terms of its symbolism. For the first time, an object with a joyful design, both in terms of its colours and its shapes, carried a strong, committed message. Pesce wanted to highlight the sexism and prejudice against women that prevailed at the time. The chair's rounded back and armrests symbolise women's breasts and hips. Because of its characteristic shape, Gaetano Pesce's Up armchair is nicknamed "La Mamma" or "Donna".

Design and feminism

With his work entitled "La Mamma", Pesce goes far beyond the simple design of an armchair. His aim is to create a striking metaphor for the imprisonment of women by men. To this end, he cleverly combines the armchair with a ball-shaped footrest, held in place by a chain, symbolising the weight of centuries of macho prejudice to which women are subjected. Gaetano Pesce eloquently explains: "This design allowed me to express my vision of women. Always sedentary, she remains a prisoner of herself in spite of herself. The shape of this armchair, evoking the generous curves of a woman, constrained by a ball and chain attached to her foot, allowed me to return to the traditional image of the prisoner".

In this way, the armchair transcends its status as a utilitarian object to become a powerful political symbol, comparable to the militant posters that sprang up all over Europe in the spring of 1968. This work testifies to the architect's sensitivity to social issues and his desire to denounce the constraints imposed on women. By combining elegant aesthetics with profound meaning, Gaetano Pesce reveals the transformative power of design, capable of opening minds and awakening consciences.

Innovative materials

The Up armchair is made from flexible polyurethane foam, whose ingenious cells allow it to return to its original shape each time, thanks to the air inlet. Gaetano Pesce opted for an injection moulding technique to create this chair in a single piece. This approach enabled him to create a one-piece structure that was both solid and comfortable, while allowing considerable freedom of form. The chair was then upholstered in a stretch jersey fabric, adding a touch of softness to its appearance.

Despite its generous dimensions (1.03 m high, 1.20 m wide and 1.30 m deep), the Up armchair can be vacuum compressed into an airtight package. This makes it easy to transport and store. When unfolded, the armchair reveals its generous shapes, thanks to the fascinating action of the honeycomb cells. This ingenious compression process offers a practical solution while preserving the generous, welcoming aesthetics of the Up armchair.

A piece of furniture designed outside the box

The Up armchair made its debut in 1969 at the prestigious Milan Furniture Fair, immediately attracting the attention of the design industry. Its bold, innovative style, combined with exceptional comfort, won over customers.

The resounding success of the Up armchair prompted Gaetano Pesce to explore this injection moulding technique further. He created a series of chairs and armchairs with similar organic shapes, all made in a single piece. His innovative vision has won him numerous awards and distinctions, including the prestigious Compasso d'Oro Prize in 1987 and the famous Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in 2009.

Today, the Up armchair is an undisputed icon of modern design, the pride of many art and design museums around the world. Its harmonious combination of organic forms, injection moulding technique and symbolic meaning make it a remarkable example of innovation in design furniture.

An armchair dedicated to children

To celebrate its forty-fifth anniversary, B&B Italia has unveiled a new version of the famous Up armchair, specially designed for children aged three and over. This model will delight the youngest with its design and lines, which are identical to those of its predecessor, on a scale adapted to their size. The only notable difference is its smaller size.

Children will be able to sit comfortably in this playful armchair, which has been upholstered in a red elastic fabric that's easy to remove for convenient care. It's both functional and fun, offering youngsters a unique experience that's just right for them.


The Up armchair was photographed in the Sichel Home Howald showroom.

We would like to thank Mr Jonas Satos for his kind collaboration.

Text : Davide Galluccio

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