Friday

Mad Men kinda sucks...

I told myself that I wouldn't become one of those annoying Mad Men fans that analyzes every scene for mistakes, and I have been pretty good about not being like that, but this season is really disappointing.

With regard to production design, the first season was extremely cautious about not having an office that looked like a 1960 magazine ad for office furniture.  Because of this attention to detail, many elements of the first office seemed a bit old fashioned.  This is the way most offices are though, even nice new ones are not opened and furnished with all the latest in design and fashion.  The exception to this rule in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s were huge companies that commissioned companies to dress their entire office.  Knoll, Herman Miller, Steelcase, they all made their way in the world by designing furniture especially for a particular company which is even where you get some of the names for the pieces (like the Herman Miller Time Life chair that Don used in season 1).

So imagine my excitement/dismay when season 4 opens with a tour of the new office.  The walk through is anything but subtle, and you get to see all of the wonderful colors of 1963 in vivid detail.  The front waiting area is furnished by Knoll and it is all brand new, the lovely secretaries all sit in brand new Herman Miller task chairs, the walls are white and colored glass with modern draperies throughout.  The conference room is nice, but DOESN'T HAVE A CONFERENCE TABLE.  Kind of funny and ironic, but this is an ad agency and most of season 1 took place in the board room and showed the teams impeccable attention to detail.  So they branched out on their own, with very little capital, a few accounts, and were able to put themselves up in an office that is even more modern then their old one?  Please.

Then, we get to see Roger's new office.  I could actually hear the collective furniture-gasm experienced by many watching that first episode, and I thought they were pretty cool digs myself but it does not fit.  Roger Sterling is old fashioned enough that he still calls them Nips, and Japs, so why would he opt for a pop art office?  Furthermore, he doesn't exactly love the Brits, yet he has a Bridget Riley painting adorning his walls.  The lack of a desk is ridiculous, for him, and the Nesso lamp sitting on his desk wasn't even marketed until 1965, even though it was designed in 1964.  Perhaps Roger has a special deal with Artimide.



Having just made an office transition/merger of my own I can tell you that it doesn't go this way.  I was very excited at the prospect of watching these guys make that difficult transition and then pull out of it with grace, I was excited to be inspired by it.  Instead I feel worse about my own situation, that perhaps the key to my own success would have been to buy nicer furniture....

In addition, the season is not as edge-of-your-seat interesting as it was in years past.  I have found the cadence slower, and not as interesting.  All of the characters seem less interesting, we have no idea what they are going to do next, and the use of constant one liners is horrible, oh and I hate Peggy.  I really really hope that they figure it out and make it better because I would love nothing more than to see Mad Men show the evolution of characters through the leisure suit 70s all the way until the 80s when Don is a washed up old man living in Florida in a mobile home.

Thursday

The Model B3 Chair

If you have ever been to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, then you have most likely seen this chair.  If you are like me, then you probably saw this chair and thought to yourself, "this is an ugly chair, and it looks uncomfortable, but I can appreciate it for its forward thinking design."  or something like that.

It was indeed forward thinking.  The design came from Marcel Breuer who, along with many of the designers to come out of the Bauhaus in Germany, sought to design furniture that could be easily produced in large quantity, be broken down easily for shipping, and that was simple yet striking.  At the time (the turn of the century through the 1930s) furniture, especially in Europe, was gawdy and bulky and as people began to move around they found it difficult to take with them.  Aside from that, the furniture was pretentious and Bauhaus designers wanted to change that so that even the common man could have a chair that was comfortable, and elegant, that he could take with him wherever he goes.
Marcel Breuer in his chair -c. 1927

Enter, the model B3 or Wassily Chair (Pronounced: Va-silly).  Breuer had admired the process of bending tubing for the construction of bicycles, specifically their handlebars, and wanted to use that technique to construct a chair.  When you sit in an overstuffed club chair, it is comfortable, but hideous.  It's lumpy bulges certainly do not lend themselves to much more than watching television, but if you take that form and strip it down to it's bare bones you can start to see this chair emerge.  The name Wassily was given to the chair much later because Breuer apparently gave one of these chairs to his colleague at the Bauhaus, Wassily Kandinsky the famous painter.
Picture taken by Bauhaus alumni Erich Consemüller c.1926

The original chairs that were made before World War II used canvas straps and seats. During the war, production on many things ceased and the B3 was no exception.  After the war, the new consumer economy took over and there became a need for easily mass produced furniture so the design for the B3 was purchased by Gavina in Italy who began mass producing the chair.  Those Gavina chairs were distributed all over the world by Stendig, an international import/export company from the 1940s until 1968 when the design for the chair was purchased by Knoll.  The myth currently is that the only true original B3 chairs are made by Knoll, but that is because since 1968 they have been able to tell people that they are originals.  In actuality, if you have a B3 marked Stendig, or Gavina you have a "more original, original".  Furthermore, the chair that is in the permanant collection at MoMA is indeed a Stendig by Gavina.

Anyways, here is my Stendig B3.  Picked it up at a thrift store for $20, and while it is in mint condition and properly marked, it is a mass produced chair and meant to be used.  It is extremely comfortable to sit in and while it is the most copied chair design in history, having an 'original' makes me appreciate the design a whole lot more.