Orgatec, Germany, Cologne; a biennial international trade fair where companies gather from all over the globe to present their newest offerings in office furniture. For Okamura, 2002 was not only our first year at Orgatec, but also the stage upon which we chose to reveal our
flagship chair Contessa to the world. Contessa, developed for global use, utilized a newly developed mesh for both its backrest and seat and realized new design and function features unlike any seen before. During development, Okamura joined forces with our fabric supplier Kawashima Selkon Textiles and from a place of little know-how on mesh, Contessa, Japan’s innovative mesh chair was born.
From Nishinjin-ori to High-Performance Mesh
Founded in 1843, Kawashima Selkon Textiles has roots in Nishijin-ori - a traditional type of weaving unique to Kyoto, Japan, most famously used for making obi Kimono belts. From the Meiji-era (1868-1912), Kawashima Selkon Textiles broadened their scope and also turned their hand to textiles for interiors. However, even for Kawashima Selkon Textiles, developing a mesh for a chair was no easy task, explains Mr. Hiroyuki Ikeda who was involved in the original development project.
‘Even before embarking on the project with Okamura, we had tried developing a mesh suitable for chairs, but none of the early samples we had created were good enough for approval, both in terms of strength and aesthetics. Having the durability to hold a person’s weight without losing structure, being flexible enough to provide a comfortable seat - these are two contradicting characteristics. Making a mesh that could perform on both levels was really complex.’
Even so, drawing upon their knowledge built up over the years, Kawashima Selkon Textiles was able to create a mesh that fitted the brief. ‘Initially, we trialled knitting mesh on a machine that we used for lace for curtains. Before long we realised, we shouldn’t be knitting, but rather, we should be weaving. By creating the mesh using a weaving technique, not only could we make a higher quality mesh, but we could actually improve efficiency too. ’
In order to ensure the mesh had the correct balance of durability and comfort, the weaving method of the mesh was trialed time and again. Okamura’s mesh seating uses original threads that have both elasticity and strength for the horizontal weave. By combining this thread with standard vertical threads, we were able to realize not only the functional aspects the mesh required, but also give it a luxurious feeling of high quality. Naturally, multiple trials in which mesh was applied to the backrest and seat frames had to be carried out as well to ensure a suitable level of weight dispersion.
‘Okamura’s request was ‘give us a material that holds its strength, whilst still maintaining the transparency you expect from a mesh. On top of that, another brief we labored over was the request for a full range of colors - Okamura didn’t want just black. Initially, we tried dying the mesh after weaving, in the same way we would a curtain fabric, but soon we improved our technique in a number of ways, one of which was dying the threads prior to weaving.’ Thanks to their wealth of knowledge and skill Kawashima Selkon Textiles were able to meet our meticulous demands.
Kawashima Selkon Textiles was founded in 1843, in Nishijin, Kyoto, Japan - the home of Nishijin-ori weaving. Their work and quality are extremely highly regarded and can be found in the Kyoto State Guest House, with earlier examples also including the Meiji Palace and the former Crown Prince’s Palace (now known as the Akasaka State Guest House).
As well as mass producing a wide range of interior textiles, Kawashima Selkon Textiles also employ artisan craftspeople to create a range of textiles and pieces that keep alive the beautiful Kyoto tradition of Nishijin-ori weaving. By drawing on their technical expertise in thread, weaving and colour dying, a mesh for global use was born.
Okamura x Kawashima Selkon Textiles - Made in Japan Quality
Although Contessa is still highly praised across the globe, mesh seating is continuously developing.
Take for example Contessa Second, our 2017 redesign of its namesake, which saw a big jump in mesh strength, comments Mr. Hiroshi Masunaga, Okamura product engineering division. ‘We conducted rigorous testing both externally and in house against the assumption of a 136kg (300lb) office worker working 24hrs, 7 days a week. In order to maintain the correct level of tension, when setting the backrest and seat mesh millimeter precise adjustments are necessary. However, thanks to our own upholstery method we’ve been able to increase both precision and strength.’
Our mesh has also evolved in various ways design wise, too. For example, our gradation mesh allows us to provide different tensions to different areas of the backrest and body. Naturally, everything from material procurement, to mesh construction and chair assembly takes place in Japan. It’s this ‘Made in Japan’ quality that makes Okamura’s mesh seating so special.