An Italian superstar of the 1970s is staging a comeback. When Italian designer and architect Mario Bellini created the Camaleonda sofa in 1970, he couldn’t have foretold that his lowslung modular design would be a smash hit during a 21st-century pandemic. But a hit it is, if measured in re-edition sales, vintage demand and social media likes.
Unveiled at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of a 1972 exhibition, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, Bellini’s foam-filled sofa captured the imagination of art critics and the public. Modulars weren’t new but his creation represented the freedom of the times, allowing people to try endless configurations and, in his words, “to shake up a space”. Furniture company B&B Italia rolled out the model in bouclé, corduroy, velvet, chenille and leather – all in an earthy palette – until 1979.
A series of 90 centimetre x 90 centimetre components, headrests and footrests, Camaleonda’s popularity owes much to its shape shifting capabilities as well as its low profile (just 67 centimetres high). It can run along a wall, own a corner or float as a sculptural island to anchor open-plan spaces.
Noting the Camaleonda’s hold on the vintage market (original models are fetching more than $70,000 on 1stdibs.com), B&B relaunched the sofa on its 50th anniversary, with sustainable upgrades (the materials are now fully recyclable). “Certain products are born in the future: Camaleonda is one of them,” says Bellini, who has more than 20 pieces in MoMA’s collection and countless buildings to his name.
Social media has done the rest, fanned by tastemakers (Athena Calderone), the fashionable (Marc Jacobs) and the famous (model Chrissy Teigen). Local retailer Space Furniture, where the reissue is listed at $24,080 for the three-piece setting, reports the Camaleonda is a bestseller.