What: Anodized aluminum furniture designed and made by Warren McArthur between 1929 and 1941 (in Los Angeles, Rome, N.Y., and Bantam, Conn.). These machine-age artifacts, forgotten for decades, have a small but devoted following. But recent exposure has made them hip, threatening their cult status.
Danke Schon: Last summer in Germany, both Der Spiegel and Manner Vogue published lavishly illustrated articles on McArthur, who died in 1961. Stylists and magazine editors in the United States featured the Art Deco furnishings as props in fashion layouts and in such fall and winter catalogues as Neiman Marcus'. Stuart Parr, the top McArthur furniture dealer in this country, is quick to assert that the furniture is classic and should not be considered trendy. "This furniture is timeless, and that's what makes it an icon," said Parr, whose gallery is in Manhattan. "Just because it shows up in some fashion magazines doesn't mean it's cool all of a sudden. It's been cool for the last 60 years."Nuts and bolts: Unlike other metal furniture, McArthur's has no spot welds. Instead, a complex infrastructure of threaded tension rods lies inside the segmented tubular frame. The tension rods are connected at right angles within the furniture's ring joints. This construction allowed easy assembly, gave the frame increased rigidity and made repairs routine.
Bauhaus buster: McArthur's design philosophy was strictly opposed to that of the Bauhaus, the prevailing design esthetic filtering over from Europe. Unlike contemporaries like Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer - who advocated sleek, chrome-plated lines - McArthur chose to work with a lusterless material and emphasized, rather than concealed, his furniture's connecting elements.
Military intelligence: Because aluminum was needed for the construction of airplanes in World War II, it was declared strategically important by the government. As a result, most of McArthur's prewar furniture was melted for the war effort (which explains the furniture's rarity today). Using his expertise in tubular aluminum, McArthur retooled his assembly line in 1941 and manufactured 80 percent of all the seats in American bombers.
Mad about McArthur: Valentino, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, Mick Jagger, Nicole Miller, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and Marlene Dietrich.
Does that include delivery?: In June 1993, Sotheby's auctioned a McArthur armchair (made around 1935, in the designer's "golden period") for $8,050. Six months later, a vanity and chair sold at Christie's for $9,000.
Fab fakes: Classicon, a furniture company in Munich, Germany, that specializes in authorized reproductions, has issued a nine-piece line of McArthur furniture. Prices range from $500 for a side chair to $5,000 for a three-section couch.