Sitting Pretty: Would You Buy a Sneaker-Inspired Chair?
Vans + Modernica = maximum hypebeast comfort.
Photo via Instagram.
If you pay even a nanosecond of attention to the world of fashion, you probably know that sneakers currently reign supreme. (AirPods and fanny packs, too—but let’s focus on the sneaker thing for now.) Over the past few years, the once-humble sneaker has risen from niche interest to attention-grabbing powerhouse. So, then, the timing seems just right that California furniture company Modernica has gone and teamed up with Vans on a small capsule of sneaker-inspired chairs.
The collaboration includes three versions of Modernica’s fiberglass shell chair. (Plus, the exclusive sneakers, of course.) Each of the limited-edition chairs reference classic prints within the Vans catalog: black-and-white checkerboard, tropical Hawaiian flowers, and minimalist palm leaves. There is also a unique graphic marked on the chairs, the same motif found on the heels of Vans sneakers. The actual design of the chair’s is timeless and easy to like; it is based on the famous shell chair design, a staple of interior design since the global boom of mid-century design. By injecting the DNA of a beloved sneaker company like Vans, the collab is almost certain to woo a mix of brand loyalists, sneakerheads, surfers, and design nerds alike. The chairs retails for $500 each, a much pricier number than the $50 it costs to pick up a pair of Vans’ famous checkerboard slip-ons.
There is but only one dark spot on the collaboration. In all the marketing materials, Modernica touts a “limited-run of [our] iconic fiberglass shell chair" as if the design is the brand’s own. That’s not entirely true—and the company certainly knows this. Charles and Ray Eames originally designed the shell chair in 1939, and it was later put into production during the 1950s. In fact, furniture maker Herman Miller, which possesses the Eames trademark, sued Modernica for trademark infringement back in 2014. A quick scroll of an older version of Modernica’s website reveals multiple mentions of how the Fiberglass Shell Chair was originally designed by Eames; you won’t find a single mention of Charles or Ray Eames on the brand’s website these days.
To be fair to Modernica, this practice of producing iconic chairs is unfortunately quite common in the world of furniture design. Protecting the intellectual property of furniture design is much tougher than that of fashion or sneakers, as furniture is technically considered a functional item. (There are no grounds for registering designs which shape is strictly tied to the product’s function.) That means companies can legally reproduce similar-looking styles, just as long as they don’t infringe on the branded origin of the design, like calling out “Eames” by name as Modernica previously did. However, as far as companies producing replicas of famous chairs, Modernica appears to be doing things the right way.
The company has been making furniture out of its five-acre Los Angeles headquarters for nearly three decades, not some overseas factory. On top of that, the company has worked to revitalize the almost-lost art of high-pressure fiberglass molding. Modernica feels like younger and a bit more approachable than a legacy juggernaut like Herman Miller. The company brings a bit of a streetwear-like mentality to the décor game. Over the past few years, Modernica has partnered up with a variety of collaborators: Parisian retailer colette, clothing label The Hundreds, and celebrity tattoo artist Dr. Woo, just to name a few.
This particular collaboration is a bit of a perfect pairing though: Modernica and Vans, each with exacting California-inspired aesthetics and a deep love for the always-sunny state. It also seems fitting that the true designers of this chair—the Eames Studio—both spent the majority of their lives working and living in Los Angeles, where their design style would eventually become as synonymous with California as palm trees and freeway traffic.