Panton’s trailblazing S-chair not only overhauled aesthetic conventions, it also elevated furniture design to a new technical standard. “It especially showed that a chair doesn’t need to be made of four legs, which opened a range of possibilities for new designers,” said Ana Milena Hernández Palacios, of the Valencia, Spain–based firm Masquespacio. “Panton was not afraid to take a risk in his designs, creating products that provoke a bunch of emotion.”
The S-chair was first cut from a single piece of plywood for its prototype form during the 1950s. Its earliest manifestations were produced in 1965 by Austrian-German manufacturer Thonet, and a select lineup was completed in fiberglass-reinforced polyester by 1967. With his reputation fully solidified on the global stage, Panton officially debuted the S-chair at the Cologne furniture fair the following year to superlative reception—though despite the favorable attention, numerous distributors initially rejected the design. It was Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra that finally invested in Panton’s chair, which soon became the shimmering jewel of Danish design.
Although lauded with the distinction as the first chair manufactured in molded plastic, the S-chair with not without its warts. It was heavy, and it was a challenge to manufacture due to the need for sanding and lacquering to be done by hand. Efforts to save costs and eliminate hand-finishing led to a steep decline in quality, but prayers were answered in 1971 in the form of a material known as thermoplastic polystyrene, or Luran S. The new, lighter chair design, which was injection-molded from pulverized colored plastic and required no finishing, was cheaper and easier to produce. It also boasted new ribs installed at the point of transition from base to seat to further solidify its structural integrity.