The Acapulco chair, the popular Mexican furniture that came to design museums

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The Acapulco chair is so ingrained among the Mexican population that it is almost part of the landscape. Your design has no owner and is not registered. This oval chair, with a blacksmith frame and woven with plastic threads that allow you to recline comfortably and freshly, is associated with the golden years of the city of Acapulco, when Elizabeth Taylor, John F. Kennedy or Elvis Presley vacationed in the 50 and 60, but does not have a documented date of birth. Those who continue the tradition of manufacturing it today agree that it has been present in the lives of Mexicans for more than half a century. So it could be that some Hollywood star came to take a nap in an Acapulco.

From being a common chair that anyone could find in the patio or garden of a house in Mexico, the chair that we know today as Acapulco ended up becoming a design staple that reached museums, stores and shop windows around the world. Tokyo, Copenhagen, Madrid, New York and Amsterdam embraced the trend and turned this model into a cult object. The fact that the design is not registered makes it so easy to reproduce: there are all kinds of prices, from 400 pesos ($ 20) to 11,000 ($ 500) and are sold by brands from all over the world.

“It is a very functional seat, extra comfortable and very typical in hot or tropical places in Mexico. Before it was not easy to get in the city, ”says Cecilia León de la Barra, designer, curator and researcher. Its history is closely linked to this piece of furniture as it ensures that before 2000 the Acapulco chair was not known, commonly, with that name. “When I traveled through Oaxaca and Mérida they called it a shell or armchair. We started to call him ‘Acapulco type’. We accidentally put it on, ”explains León de la Barra.

The designer tells in a telephone interview to Verne that the Mob store study that he developed with other colleagues promoted the name of the “Acapulco type” chair in the early 2000s and that the magazine Wallpaper, one of the most cutting-edge in trends, architecture, fashion, travel and international design, extended the name and made it popular. “Thanks to Wallpaper, the Acapulco chair had an important global diffusion ”, explains León de la Barra, who recalls that in the March 2001 issue, the magazine recommended that readers visiting Mexico City” make a hole in the suitcase “to take a of these chairs. “It became popular and we started to make them to measure with Jorge Akele,” says the designer. With this takeoff that took place in the early 2000s, Sebastián Ocampo, director of Industrial Design at the Mexican University CENTRO, agrees. Soon other design brands and galleries started selling the piece. In some parks and streets of the more affluent neighborhoods of Mexico City, such as the Condesa, artisans began to sell the Acapulco chair at a more affordable price.

“Before they called it an oval, egg-shaped, round chair …”, explains businessman Jorge Akele. His family with a long tradition in the plastics and pigments industry in Mexico knows the artisans who have made these chairs all their lives. Akele remembers that the chair was made in the 60s with polyethylene and not with PVC, as they did later. Currently, for higher quality, weavers use vinyl tensioned threads that are distributed in the form of spokes throughout the structure.

“The manufacturers that I know were from Guerrero, Veracruz, Oaxaca and even in towns in the State of Mexico, near Toluca. These chairs weren’t typical just from one part of the country. It was a product that was sold in the towns and on the coast. We call it Acapulco because artisans sold them with their truck in beach places like Acapulco ”, Akele points out.

The businessman says that the internationalization of the Acapulco model catapulted it to the top, getting to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMa), the George Pompidou Center in Paris or the Metropolitan Gallery in Japan. His family’s plastics company incorporated a branch dedicated to marketing furniture using this manufacturing technique. Currently, 40 people work in the production and sells around 1,000 Acapulco chairs per month. Its main markets are in Europe, Canada and Japan.

Clean and classic lines, style Mid Century, they turned the chair into something eclectic that everyone wanted to have, in the living room or bedroom. The beach chair that had gone unnoticed became the star piece of the terraces of many hotels and restaurants. Starting in 2008, León de la Barra, Ocampo and Akele point out that it was one of the design trends that burst with the greatest force in all spaces, catalogs and decoration magazines. Becoming an important ambassador of Mexican design.

“After imitating the styles of other countries, one searches for and begins to create a purely Mexican design. The Acapulco chair is an example of this, ”says Sebastián Ocampo, who believes that we must look more towards the country’s artisan tradition and incorporate generations of artisans into new designs.

It is not the first time that a Mexican model marks a milestone in international design, there are the models Butaque by Clara Porset, Lullaby by Oscar Haggerman, Silla-Mano by Pedro Friederberg or Miguelito by Luis Barragán “[Estos modelos] They are in vogue again but they are not produced because there is no license, there is no permission to reproduce them, there is no place to find or acquire them. The Acapulco chair is anonymous and anyone can sell, make and buy it. It is within everyone’s reach, ”says Cecilia León de la Barra.

From the Guerrero beaches to Berlin, the Acapulco chair came to stay in the house of millions of people, regardless of whether they paid hundreds of pesos or hundreds of dollars for it. This transversal presence of an object makes a design useful and durable in time.

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