Happy 125th birthday to the Bistro chair – Fermob’s finest – of Paris!

Have you ever come across a day-to-day object that is exactly the same as it was 100 years ago? The answer is. probably. very rarely. That’s what makes Fermob’s Bistro chair, which celebrates its 125th birthday in 2014, something of a cult item. What’s more, it shares its birthday with another flagship piece of industrial design heritage, the Eiffel Tower.

One stretches proudly up into the sky, while the other is firmly rooted to the ground. One is an iconic piece of history and an exceptional feat of engineering, while the other is an immutable day-to-day object that remains as practical as ever. Yet the Eiffel Tower and Fermob’s Bistro chair share much in common: both are made from steel, both are iconic examples of industrial know-how, and both celebrate their 125th birthday this year. 

Fermob has reproduced Paris’s famous landmark by creating its very own tower of Bistro chairs – 324 chairs to be exact, a nod to the height of the Eiffel Tower, which stands at 324 metres. The structure is 13 metres tall and is a colourful echo of its “big sister.” It is a creative and somewhat impertinent piece, reflecting the qualities that underpin Fermob’s collections. 

“We are creating a special event to mark the Bistro chair’s birthday. However, the most exceptional thing about the chair is its timeless quality,” says Bernard Reybier, MD of Fermob. “It has been a staple part of our daily lives for the last 125 years. It has become a truly cult object.”

The Eiffel Tower is the world’s most popular tourist destination and a prestigious sibling for the Bistro chair. Like Bistro, it is a symbol of industrial know-how and a piece of bold design that was well ahead of its time. “Our tower pays homage to the material that is our life-blood,” says Reybier. “I love the difference in scale between the imposing Eiffel Tower and our little chairs that have come together to create a brand new metal structure. I hope it will both surprise and delight the public.”

Why red? This is yet another deliberate decision, this time as a nod to the introduction of colourful garden furniture. With traditional white and racing green having dominated for three-quarters of a century, red made its appearance on the terraces of several bistros in the early 1960s. It was in the 1990s that Fermob truly brought colourful garden furniture to life.

What could be more common than a chair? It’s something we use all the time, but that goes largely unnoticed. “If you think about it, a chair is an object that helps to build relationships between people,” says Reybier. “From its beginnings in open-air cafés on the banks of the Marne in the early 20th century, to its arrival in our gardens as a family item and its debut in Times Square, the Bistro chair has always brought people together and offered an opportunity to relax and socialize.”

It’s an object that is constantly on the move, whether it’s café owners unfolding them and placing them on the terrace or home-owners arranging them around a table for dinner guests. It’s a good job that Bistro has nerves of steel.

Whenever pedestrians pass by these little chairs in the street, in Times Square, on the Manhattan High Line or in a public park, they tend to slow down. This is a phenomenon that Fermob has observed first-hand. The chair offers an opportunity to relax, even just for a few minutes. Once people sit down, they start talking to the people near them or simply enjoy the view of the city. In short, the little Bistro chair is a gateway to rest and relaxation.

“Never exactly the same, and never really different.” This quote about women, by French poet Paul Verlaine, can also equally be applied to the Bistro chair. In fact, Verlaine himself would have rubbed shoulders with this iconic little chair, with no inkling that it would have such a long and illustrious future ahead of it. It has been around for 125 years and, as Reybier himself puts it, has undergone a series of “silent revolutions.” Today’s version can support a weight of up to 300 kg, no longer needs to be repainted every season, and folds and unfolds in an instant. It is lighter, more resistant and more technically accomplished than its predecessor, as well as being more environmentally friendly. This centenarian has accomplished a lot in its lifetime and remains as lively and energetic as it has always been.

It has also kept its shape. The Bistro chair has retained the same simple, effective design and throughout the years and has become a staple fixture of both private spaces and prestigious public sites. “It’s both a popular and graceful object. I love this contrast,” says Reybier. “It has a real sense of meaning that spans all eras and generations.” Fermob’s chair also bears the hallmarks of its French identity, embodying both traditional craftsmanship and industrial design.

By transforming the Bistro chair into a metal object, Fermob opened a new chapter in its industrial history and gave rise to vast collections of garden furniture. This original metal, functional, designer range would go on to inspire a host of other collections. Dune, Bagatelle, Latitude and Coeur are also direct descendants of the little Bistro chair, each faithful to the brand’s core values.

As the sole heir of this historic, iconic French chair, Fermob is extremely proud to be able to promote Bistro and celebrate its 125th birthday in style. The Bistro tower will first stand proud on the Champ-de-Mars (until July 7) before making a special appearance outside Paris City Hall throughout the Paris Plage event (July 19 – Aug. 17 ).