I’ll never forget where I began to cultivate my eye for design: at the register of a Claire’s in Chicago’s Water Tower Place mall. It was there among the butterfly clips that my twelve-year-old self proudly purchased a silver inflatable chair. I remember how thrilled I was at the thought of blowing up this bulbous thing and putting it wherever I wanted in my room at home. It was, after all, the must-have piece of furniture for Britney Spears–loving, Limited Too–wearing tweens everywhere. 1998 was also the year I started to notice trends: tagging sparkly flared jeans and yellow-lensed sunglasses in Delia’s catalogs, running out to buy the Spice Girls paraphernalia I saw in commercials during TGIF on ABC. The chair was just the next It thing I had to have.
I brought my chair home and thought long and hard about where it should live. Would it be shoved inside my closet so I could sit and ponder which spaghetti-strap tank would look best with my stick-on bedazzled tattoo? Or would it go between my bed and nightstand next to the Sony MiniDisc player and lava lamp? After inflation, I finally decided on a spot near the “real” chair in my room, in close proximity to the closet. I was proud of this moment of self-styling, one similar to the first time my mom let me pick out my own outfit. (Never without an opinion, I think I was about three years old.) My first adventure in decorating was complete. The next challenge, of course, was to not pop it.
However personally momentous that dip into decorating may have been, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the inflatable chair was and still is considered far from chic. It has been the recipient of harsh criticism ever since it was first made famous in 1967 by its quirky-cool inventor, Quasar Khanh. It was also met with skepticism a couple of years later, in 1969, when the contemporary Italian furniture company B&B Italia designed a version that self-inflated once taken out of the box. And while today my inflatable chair of the nineties is remembered through snarky BuzzFeed lists and memes, I look back and remember it fondly, not as some ugly plastic fad, but as the adolescence of my personal style.
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