“The streets of São Paulo are a sort of laboratory for our designs. Whenever we need inspiration, we rely on the chaos and beauty of the city we live in,” explained Fernando and Humberto Campana, brothers and design partners. The brothers are known for blurring the lines between art and design. The Vermelha chair is the perfect Design Lesson for our annual art issue and a tribute to Fernando Campana, who recently passed in November. The brothers always worked as one and were known for finishing each other’s sentences. Fernando was trained as an architect, and his brother Humberto in law. In 1983, they decided to forgo their professions, open their studio Estudio Campana in São Paulo, and create furniture.
The city provided inspiration for the brothers. One day while walking, they purchased a large bunch of rope from a street stall and brought it back to their studio. They carefully studied the chaotic shapes that the ropes formed when piled on a table. “At that moment, we both looked at each other and almost simultaneously remarked, ‘This is the chair we want to build,’” revealed the brothers in an interview.
The chair is a representation of Brazil’s beautiful chaos. Five hundred meters of red rope with an acrylic core and a cotton cover are used to make each Vermelha Chair. Aluminum is used for the legs and tubular steel for the frame. To form the first versions of the chair in 1993, the brothers spent over a week looping and winding rope around the frame to build up the seat, back, and arms. Although the woven loops that make up the Vermelha Chair look random, they are not. There is a structured method behind their chaotic appearance.
This art piece would eventually go into mass production. In 1997, one of the early designs was spotted in Domus magazine by Italian brand Edra’s creative director Massimo Morozzi. Morozzi contacted the brothers and said Edra would be interested in putting the chair into production. The brothers sent a video of themselves assembling the chair for the company to view. Edra started producing the chair in 1998 using their hand method. Prior to Edra’s line, the brothers only sold five versions of the Vermelha chair. Fernando and Humberto always credited Morozzi for their success: “Maybe we would have disappeared without him.”
The chair was the first of many pieces of furniture created by the Campana brothers using unconventional materials, including stuffed animals, scrap wood, plastic tubes, and cardboard. Their designs are not about functionality but about concepts, getting a reaction, and not following trends. Their pieces sell for tens of thousands of dollars and are included in the permanent collections of numerous museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; Chicago Art Institute, Chicago; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo; and Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein.