Leather Bikini: An Eames Revolution


Early Eames DKW-2 with Leather Bikini Cover c.1950, Ray and Charles Eames and production by Herman Miller (photo: https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/seating/chairs/early-eames-dkw-2-leather-bikini-cover/id-f_10565913/)

A few weeks ago, I was faced with the challenge of preparing a presentation on the Eames House in Pacific Palisades. Since then, the couple have moved permanently into the dusty attic room I call my brain. Up until now, I had been trying, and failing, to keep my personal interest in chairs separate from things I learn at university in hope of retaining some of that pure curiosity before I learn facts about objects and their designers. I take great enjoyment in not knowing things. The past few weeks have proved that this is a very counterproductive approach.

This is why this week I present DKW-2 by the Eameses. Ray and Charles seemed like one of those couples made up of two people that are annoyingly great together. They both possessed the perfect blend of creativity and utter ridiculousness. I began to truly enjoy the task of researching their career history, particularly because the internet is littered with wholesome images of the Eameses displaying their eclectic taste of humour. It seems appropriate to focus on the DKW-2 because it’s a reflection of their innovative approach to design. Similarly to the house in Pacific Palisades, the chair is made up of several elements, harmoniously brought together with the use of a steel frame. I particularly enjoy the combination of wood and metal on the legs, a feature I lovingly call the ‘spider web’. The DKW-2 is entirely customisable, with only the wire frame that remains the key element in all the possible configurations.

The ‘Leather Bikini’ chair was the one that grabbed my attention immediately. I may still be in a trance after looking at more images of the Eames House than I care to mention, however, I see a striking structural affinity between the two. Just like the belief that dogs tend to resemble their owners, I rather enjoyed the idea of the DKW-2 as a miniature version of the Eames House. What is most enticing to me about the configuration of the material is that the frame remains exposed despite being strategically covered on the seat and back areas to ensure comfort. It acts not only as support, but as a celebration of industrial material. A quick ponder on Vitra, the only authorised manufacturer of Eames products in Europe, reveals the chair can be bought in its sole state entirely made of wire, with a seat cushion, or fully decked out in the classic ‘bikini’ features, where the seat and back panels can be removed and reattached. Additionally, you are absolutely spoilt for choice when considering the colours of the Hopsak fabric for the panels; the range takes you from earthy, subdued hues to lively reds, greens and yellows.

I think it is the adaptability of the chair that makes it so fascinating to me. The Eameses truly considered the multitude of ways in which the chair can serve an interior of the home. The DKW-2 sparked an impressive movement of reproduction, which is something I’m not opposed to, considering the hefty price tag on the original Vitra chairs. I respect the Eameses for that aspect alone: the simple desire to create for the public and to bring good design to the mainstream market so that everyone, including you and I, can enjoy the effects of their work many decades later.

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