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Tough and beautiful: Lucite celebrates 75 years

 This product image courtesy of Saxum Design shows the Lucite Cube Chair by Saxum Design. Lucite wasn't the first brand  of clear acrylics in 1936, bu...
 This product image courtesy of Plexi-Craft shows the Leather Wrap Slab Desk designed by Coffinier Ku Design using Lucite.  Lucite is an enduring symb...
    This undated photo courtesy of Bruce Buck for Coffinier Ku Design shows the living room of a Soho loft in New York designed by Coffinier Ku Design...
 This product image courtesy of Ben-Amun shows the Ben-Amun Camel Resin Link Necklace with leather strap. The links are made with Italian resin, a for...
 This product image courtesy of Lucite shows vintage Lucite purses. Lucite wasn't the first brand  of clear acrylics in 1936, but it's an enduring sym...
 This undated photo courtesy of BNOdesign/Antoine Bootz shows the living-room in the New York home of musician/actor Sean Combs. "It's definitely fres...
 This undated photo courtesy of Bruce Buck  for Coffinier Ku Design shows a room designed by Coffinier Ku Design in a West Village townhouse in New Yo...
 This product image courtesy of Alexis Bittar shows a Lucite floral pin designed by Alexis Bittar. Lucite wasn't the first brand  of clear acrylics in...
    This undated photo courtesy of BNOdesign/Antoine Bootz shows a yellow Lucite table by BNOdesign in the library of the Jaharis/Ledes residence in N...
 This undated photo courtesy of Troy Glasgow shows the entrance to Gibson Hall at the Memphis College of Art in Overton Park in Memphis, Tenn. In desi...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This product image courtesy of Saxum Design shows the Lucite Cube Chair by Saxum Design. Lucite wasn't the first brand of clear acrylics in 1936, bu...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This product image courtesy of Plexi-Craft shows the Leather Wrap Slab Desk designed by Coffinier Ku Design using Lucite. Lucite is an enduring symb...

ADDITION Homes Lucite Anniversary

This undated photo courtesy of Bruce Buck for Coffinier Ku Design shows the living room of a Soho loft in New York designed by Coffinier Ku Design...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This product image courtesy of Ben-Amun shows the Ben-Amun Camel Resin Link Necklace with leather strap. The links are made with Italian resin, a for...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This product image courtesy of Lucite shows vintage Lucite purses. Lucite wasn't the first brand of clear acrylics in 1936, but it's an enduring sym...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This undated photo courtesy of BNOdesign/Antoine Bootz shows the living-room in the New York home of musician/actor Sean Combs. "It's definitely fres...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This undated photo courtesy of Bruce Buck for Coffinier Ku Design shows a room designed by Coffinier Ku Design in a West Village townhouse in New Yo...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This product image courtesy of Alexis Bittar shows a Lucite floral pin designed by Alexis Bittar. Lucite wasn't the first brand of clear acrylics in...

CORRECTION Homes Lucite Anniversary

This undated photo courtesy of BNOdesign/Antoine Bootz shows a yellow Lucite table by BNOdesign in the library of the Jaharis/Ledes residence in N...

Homes Lucite Anniversary

This undated photo courtesy of Troy Glasgow shows the entrance to Gibson Hall at the Memphis College of Art in Overton Park in Memphis, Tenn. In desi...

Her friends' Lucite-and-white kitchens were far more inviting than the outdated, psychedelic wallpaper and avocado-colored appliances that greeted Jeannine Anckaitis at home during the late `80s.
"It was the absence of color that looked so clean, fresh and bright," she said. "They were clutter-free and seemed upscale. Our kitchen, on the other hand, seemed garish and was overwhelming to the eye."
It's been more than 75 years since rival chemical companies came up with a new generation of clear acrylics known in their world as polymethyl methacrylate. Lucite wasn't the first brand in 1936, but it's an enduring symbol of mid-century modern style spanning home furnishings and decor, industrial design and retail merchandising, contemporary art and costume jewelry.
"It's so modern, but it also looks futuristic at the same time," said Alexis Bittar. "It's definitely the platinum of the acrylics."
Bittar is the wizard of Lucite after a 20-year journey from hawking his jewelry on the streets of New York to hand-sculpting masks for Lady Gaga and floral pins for Michelle Obama. "You can manipulate it any way you want," he said.
Lucite's qualities _ it's easy to form, glue, cut, tint and fuse with other materials to add texture, color and sparkle _ are the things that made it a hit. Lucite handbags from Charles Kahn and other designers in the `50s now fetch up to $600 or more from collectors.
There were precursors when DuPont put tough, clear-as-glass Lucite on the market for the windshields and canopies of fighter jets, the eyes of submarine telescopes and the gun turrets of tanks. Cheaper to produce than Bakelite, Galalith and Catalin, with a unique ability to conduct light, it moved over the years to a myriad of other applications, from three-story aquariums to the heels of women's shoes.
"It's definitely fresh," said interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, who created a sleek living-room set of clear Lucite for the New York City digs of Sean "Puffy" Combs. "I like that it's clear, so the rooms tend to look larger when some of the pieces are in that material. I also combine it with white or black so it's a combination of clear and solid. It's easy to clean. You don't have to paint it."
Lucite has its purists. Some wouldn't consider designing in color, for example, or embellishing it with metals and other bling. Perhaps all those neon Lucite laminate keychains produced by high schoolers during shop class in the `70s left a bad taste.
Etienne Coffinier, an architect and furniture designer who grew up in Algeria, Holland and Dubai, works solely in clear Lucite.
"It's a staple of our design," he said. "We have clients who have huge rooms and therefore they have huge coffee tables. I don't like to have the huge coffee table hiding the beautiful rug I have designed for them. The best quality of Lucite is that it's more transparent than glass. It doesn't scratch so easily, and if it does you can usually buff it out."
Noriega-Ortiz straddles the divide, using pops of bright solids in chairs or yellow see-through tabletops in the same home as clear Lucite chandeliers, and shaped legs holding up other pieces.
Lucite is great, he said, for combining periods in home furnishings. "We mix it with antiques so it doesn't compete."
Ultimately sleek and modern, the designers said, the acrylic _ in name and sensibility _ has traveled far from the `50s, considered its heyday, straight through to the `70s, a period followed by several years of sagging interest revived by a new generation of designers.
"As a sculptor in addition to a designer, I was attracted to the endless possibilities of using Lucite to create new jewelry shapes _ a loose-fitting bangle or cuff that wraps around the wrist, a solid Lucite ball on a long chain," said Isaac Manevitz, creator of the Ben-Amun jewelry line.
"When I started my brand in the early `80s, Lucite helped pave the way for outrageous fashion jewelry that was more fun than the smaller diamonds that had been so popular in previous decades," he said.
In suburban Chicago, Wendy Piersall has the bug for vintage, inspired in part by a grandmother who passed down a tortoise-colored Lucite bag.
"My father's mother was incredibly fashionable, with impeccable taste," she said. "It's really one of my favorite pieces of all time. You just can't find stuff like that anymore."
In the `50s home, after the war and its rationing were over, all things "modern, fresh and clean" were appealing, and Lucite swept in, said Chris Robinson, business manager for Lucite International, a Memphis, Tenn.-based division of Mitsubishi Chemicals.
"It was cool to have clear Lucite cutlery. It was in everything," he said. "Back then it was expensive stuff and arty stuff, so the fancy people were getting it. They were looking for things that weren't metal, like the things their parents had. Lucite was a material that no one had seen before."


Updated : 2021-08-02 15:26 GMT+08:00