Slate has a great profile about the design and manufacturing history of the Aeron chair. I have to confess, I had never considered the chair's origins before. For one thing, I always assumed that Herman Miller had designed it. (Isn't that why they called it the "Herman Miller Aeron Chair"?)
Symbols of the 90s: The Aeron Chair
Sleek, bizarre and expensive - The dot-com boom in a nutshell!
I can't think about Aeron chairs without thinking about the dot-com boom of the 90s. When they first arrived on the scene, Aeron chairs looked so bizarre compared to normal office chairs. They looked like UFOs landing in a parking lot full of sedans and minivans. Black, sleek, and made with non-intuitive fabrics. There was no plush, for one thing, just plastic mesh. And yet, people swore they were the most comfortable chairs in the world.
The whole thing was counter-intuitive and genre-breaking and - if you will forgive a bit of 20teens vocabulary - "disruptive." It seemed to encapsulate the rise of the internet, and the counter-intuitive tsunami of dot-com success that swept us all up in its grip.
And of course, the Aeron was ridiculously expensive. A thousand dollars for an office chair? Their price, in concert with their sleek design and elite brand name, made them an object of lust. If you were an elite employee working for a dot-com start up, you knew you had made it when they gave you an Aeron chair.
Gossip among my coworkers frequently hinged on who had left for which company, and whether or not they got Aerons. The Aeron became a symbol for 90s success, as much as wacky slides in office environments, conference rooms kitted out with beanbag chairs, razor scooters, and Segways.
Then of course after the dot-com boom, you could find barely used Aerons on the market for pennies on the dollar. I remember hearing about a friend of a friend who bought an entire cargo container of Aerons at auction for a song. He resold them on Craigslist for several hundred dollars apiece and made thousands on the deal.
And of course, every news article about the dot-com bust had to feature an empty Aeron chair. Ideally in some abandoned location, like a parking lot, or lying on the floor beside a pile of discarded wires. The Aeron became the symbol of the dot-com crash as easily as it was the symbol of the 90s dot-com bubble.
These days you can buy a knockoff Aeron chair for about fifty bucks at Ikea or Office Depot. No one is going to be fooled by your fake Aeron, but I have to admit, the plastic mesh really is nicely breathable compared to the traditional foam-and-fabric office chair.