Let’s start with a truly gobsmacking fact about this chair: though it clocks in at just under 7 lbs, factory testing from its debut in 1952 shows it to support nearly 3400 lbs in weight.
…Now that you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, let me introduce the designer, Jacques Guillon. Belgian by birth, Guillon stayed on in Quebec after completing his studies at McGill, going on to become (arguably) the father of modern design in Montreal — if not Canadian modernism on the whole.
The now-iconic Cord Chair has its origins in the technological innovations and constraints of the Second World War. Guillon was preoccupied with exploiting the Postwar zeitgeist — as was already happening worldwide — to establish modern design as *the* aesthetic of positive progress in Canada. Using the same technology that was being used to make skis lighter and longer-lasting (the secret? airplane glue), Guillon developed a laminated frame of maple plywood, sandwiched between two contrasting panels of walnut veneer. The nylon parachute cord was originally sourced from an army surplus outlet and holds the three interlocking frames together, with tension lending strength to the minimal construction.
With the success of the Cord Chair as a springboard, Guillon established Jacques S. Gillon & Associates, presiding (much like George Nelson) over a talented stable of young designers. This diversity also enabled JSGA to adopt a multidisciplinary approach, a pioneering move at the time. With the primary goal of educating consumers on how the new aesthetic was valuable and relevant to their lifestyle, JSGA could control much of the narrative surrounding modernism and Canada by tackling product design, interiors, contract furnishings, exhibition design, graphic design and visual identity.
Also dabbling in retail, JSGA used the street level of their offices to set a retail boutique that specialized in high-end furniture imported from Scandinavia. An effective propaganda machine, Pego’s (named for Guillon’s wife, Peggy McNaughton, who ran the store) legitimized modernism by borrowing the name recognition of older, established European craftsman-designers and simultaneously whetting consumer appetites for the work her husband’s firm was designing.