Culture

Curly wool furniture: a chic and timeless covering

For the past two years, curly wool fabric or bouclette fabric has been making a remarkable comeback in the collections of contemporary furniture editors. And for good reason, this covering which inspires comfort and cocooning is making a strong comeback in the current decorating trends. We tell you more about a style inherited from Scandinavian design and which has lost none of its appeal..

It’s a noticeable comeback: many contemporary furniture designers are bringing the curly fabric back into fashion. With the confinement and massification of teleworking, the French have rethought their relationship with their interior; interior design and decoration have (re)become refuge values. This is why many publishers have come up with a vision of a warm interior where the central piece is a curly fabric seat, preferably white and bright.

The publisher Roche Bobois proposes the Manta armchair, design: Antoine Fritsch & Vivien Durisotti. A very soft look with an upholstery with a sheep-like aspect.
Rico upholstered armchair in bouclé fabric by the Danish editor Ferm Living.
Rico upholstered armchair in bouclé fabric in an interior, by the Danish publisher Ferm Living.
The publisher Ligne Roset is surfing on the trend of a return to looped wool, for a warm interior. Mil cushion with one side in Mongolian lambskin with long curly hair. The back is in suede fabric (100% polyester).

Let’s go back to the origins of the success of curly wool. In the 1950s, Coco Chanel had the brilliant idea of using curly wool to design her “little black dress” and her “little black jacket”. But the famous fashion designer had already started working with coarse-textured fabrics: she was already using wool tweed in the 1930s. In 1954, Coco Chanel was successful and created two of her most popular pieces in bouclé fabric: it was a worldwide success!

Amongst Coco Chanel’s most famous clients, the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, popularised her famous pink bouclé Chanel suit, her husband’s favourite, amongst the younger generation. History will unfortunately remember that she wore her favourite suit on the day of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Jackie Kennedy in her pink Chanel curly wool suit with her husband on November 22, 1963 in Dallas.

From fashion to furniture, there is only one step. Bouclé fabric made its grand entrance into the world of the design industry when, in the late 1940s, Florence Knoll was thinking about designing an armchair for Knoll Associates in which she could curl up. The comforting aspect of the curly wool was a given. The Finnish-American designer Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) was responsible for the shape of the seat. In 1948, the Womb Chair was born, dressed in Knoll’s Classic loop. The piece quickly became an icon of interior design.

Womb Chair, designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll Associates, 1948. Solid steel frame, organically shaped fibreglass shell. Upholstered in foam or polyurethane foam with metal frame. The “Cato” upholstery is 14% viscose and 86% wool.
Womb™ Chair Medium, design Eero Saarinen for Knoll Associates, 1948. Eero Saarinen succeeded in designing a seat with an enveloping and protective look at the request of Florence Knoll, who wanted “a chair that looked like a basket full of pillows… something I could really curl up in.” The 4-legged chairs are now available from Knoll in Standard, Medium and Relax versions.

It is no coincidence that a Scandinavian designer designed this safe seat. There is a tradition in Scandinavian design to design warm and comfortable furniture for the long winter days… Scandinavian countries prefer a bright interior with wood as the centrepiece. This is what is known as “Hygge” design, or how to bring clarity, luminosity and comfort to an interior with a tender and comfortable atmosphere, cosy in short. The Nordic countries are masters in this field and curly wool, particularly lambswool, has long been used in Scandinavian furniture.

The lambswool seat of the Lamino armchair by Swedish designer Yngve Ekström (1913-1988) is a symbol of this “cosy” design. It embodies all aspects of “Hygghe” design, as do so many other pieces of Scandinavian design, including the lambskin armchairs of the Danish publisher Fritz Hansen.

Lamino chair in oak with footrest, upholstery in white sheepskin. Design: Yngve Ekström, 1952, for Swedese möbler. An inviting armchair with a sheepskin finish.
Pair of “TeVe” chairs, design: Alf Svensson for Ljungs Industrier AB Malmö, 1953. This classic chair has become an icon in Swedish homes, with a firm upholstered seat and backrest that are covered with a beautiful sand-coloured sheepskin.
Pair of “TeVe” chairs, design: Alf Svensson for Ljungs Industrier AB Malmö, 1953. Detail on the sheepskin covering which brings warmth and comfort..
Armchair model 1578 in lambskin published by Fritz Hansen, 1940s.

In France, the decorator Jean Royère (1902-1981) is known for his creations with woolly coverings. His Polar Bear Sofa, made in 1965, became a design classic with its mohair velvet fabric (wool velvet). A symbol of the post-war years, Teddy is a slightly absorbent and ultra-soft fabric.

Pair of “Egg” armchairs, design: Jean Royère, 1955. The seat is a type of shell upholstered in cream curly wool (on the outside) and black wool velvet on the inside. So cosy!
Polar Bear” sofa, design: Jean Royère, circa 1965. Original mohair velvet fabric.
Drawing by Jean Royère – Musée des Arts décoratifs

Across the Alps, the glamour and comfort of curly wool did not leave Italian designers indifferent. They, too, used looped fabric, which enjoyed a second golden age in the 1970s. Bouclé fabric lends itself to the pop colours and organic shapes of the time. However, the bright white of the fabric is still a safe bet for elegant design.

Grey curly wool chaise longue, design: Afra & Tobia Scarpa, 1960s on Design Market
Vintage Camaleonda sofa in curly wool by Mario Bellini, 1972 on Design Market

What is it about curly wool, and then curly fabric, that makes it so appealing? Real wool brings security and comfort, a soft texture reminiscent of the “Doudou” of childhood? The looped fabric, whose surface is as if enhanced by knots, is the result of irregular weaving of the wool. The finished look, a woolly texture, provides visual comfort and a chic aesthetic, especially with white..

Today, other materials such as polyester make up this elegantly comfortable fabric. If you add to the comfort of the fabric a design with very rounded lines, you get an elegant piece that invites you to relax. Today’s designers have understood this and are revisiting the design classics with an upholstery made of looped fabric..

Pacha armchair, design: Pierre Paulin, 1975. In 2018, the Danish publisher Gubi of iconic and timeless design has reissued Pierre Paulin’s famous armchair. Curved and organic shapes combined with a curly wool and viscose fabric make this piece so charming!
Boomerang armchair, design: Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen, 1956. In January 2020, the Danish publisher &Tradition is reissuing the Boomerang armchair with a white curly fabric cover.
Bouclette Wilson armchair from furniture publisher AM.PM. A line that is reminiscent of great design classics such as Gerrit Rietveld’s Zig Zag Chair (1934) or Verner Panton’s Panton Chair (1960)!

François Boutard