In 1935, Spanish artist Salvador Dal noticed something unusual in movie star Mae West’s face: an apartment. He painted her golden locks as portieres, her eyes as the paintings, her nose as a fireplace, and her lips as a divan in watercolor. The penultimate was a controversial piece of furniture that prompted Edward James, a patron of the British arts, to see a three-dimensional replica.
Dal got right to work. His initial attempt, wrapped in pink satin, was judged “too flashy” by the client. The following two, created in 1938 by London designers Green & Abbott in red and green felt with black fringes, were James’ favorites. The pair were created for Monkton House in West Sussex, a classical Edwin Lutyens home that James reimagined as a Surrealist fantasia. One is at the V&A, while the other failed to sell much at Christie’s in June.
Around that same time, Dal’s ode to West’s mouth influenced an upholstery project on the other side of the Atlantic: Paris interior designer Jean-Michel Frank’s lips-shaped couch for fellow designer Elsa Schiaparelli, which was colorfully coated to match her label’s “shocking” pink. Visitors of the 1930 Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme at the Galerie Beaux-Arts saw the cire satin seat showcased in Frank’s shop next door, according to Vogue. Schiaparelli, on the other hand, dismissed the design, which wounded up in the cinema-ballroom at Baron Roland de l’Espee, who was also one of Frank’s clients at the time.
James then ordered five Dal lips couches, but there was no accurate count as to the spin-offs, both vetted and unvetted. The seat was reimagined in 1970 by Italian radical business Studio 65, who collaborated with Gufram to develop a polyurethane riff. Dal then created another polyethylene example, partnering up with Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets two years afterward, wherein BD Barcelona began producing as well in 2004.
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