The Togo sofa is one the most iconic and radical pieces of 20th Century furniture ever designed. In its Golden Anniversary year we look back at the development of a design that divided critics from the start; and still raises an eyebrow now even after 50 years.
Togo Shanghai Sofa by Michel Ducaroy with graphic design fabric by Cristian Zuzunga for Ligne Roset. Available on our website HERE
TOGO - at a glance
Togo is an iconic sofa designed by Michel Ducaroy in 1973 and produced by French manufacturer Ligne Roset.
It's a lightweight modular system that uses triple density foam and ruched fabric to create comfort and form.
In 2023 it celebrates 50 years of production and innovation selling over 1.5 million units across 72 countries
The sofa is hand stitched in LR's production facility in France and current lead times exceeds 2 years.
It's a very desirable piece of furniture that's cool and trendy even if you're not!
Order from Chaos
If you took an armful of fabric and tossed it into a corner you’d end up with a chaotic wrangle of material that in part, would have some relationship to Togo. And that’s what Michel Ducaroy effectively did in the early 1970s. Using triple density polyurethane foam he sculpted an oversized floor hugging pillow, swathed it in soft, tactile ruched material and created order and style out of chaos. All wrinkled up like a new born babe the design premiered at the world famous Salon des Arts ménagers (SAM) design show in Paris in 1973 under the Ligne Roset banner to mixed reviews; and that has never changed.
Love it or hate it, and despite its success many people do fall into the latter category, you can’t ignore it; this is not a sofa to be trifled with.
Togo? No one seems to know for sure but the thought is the name is a riff on ‘Toga’ which was an ancient Roman draped garment. And the shape? Ducaroy himself says, it came from examining a rolled up tube of toothpaste on the shelf in his bathroom that was starting to fold in on itself (it does that when you squeeze it in the middle Michel…) One has to say this wouldn’t normally be a source of inspiration, but for Ducaroy it was his very own bathroom Eureka moment and within months the design was prototyped and ready to go.
The challenge for most designers would have been in creating the structure-less frame but Ducaroy and Ligne Roset had a head start with this having already proved the concept in 1968 for a sofa called the Adria. This was the first ever self-supporting sofa created solely from foam and despite having a more linear look it incorporated many of the basic design principles of Togo. However, as Togo had a curvier profile it’s foam core required it to be slung wide and low or it wouldn’t have the structural integrity to stand up to its task - any higher and you could find yourself tumbling out the back if you approached it with childlike gusto. So it hunkers down and glowers at you from the corner like it has eyes set deep under its heavy lidded crumples.
A 70s icon
Togo was at the forefront of a new era of design and soon became an Icon of the non-conformism typical of the Seventies. As LIgne Roset's creative director Michel Roset says, “People were aspiring to change; the ’70s were also a period of freedom, even anarchy.” On this basis there's no question that the decade’s experimental aesthetic, even now, is what forms part of its contemporary appeal. As the arts and culture magazine Vice says in their article the Togo and equally cool affordable dupes. “It’s a museum-worthy feat of design that reconciles comfort with 1970s smoking-gun sex appeal.”
An original Togo ad from 1974. Photo by Roux-Séguéla Agency Via Ligne Roset Archives
Flexibility Looks are one thing, however, practicality is another; but even here Togo excels. Perhaps the biggest advantage it has over any other high end piece of furniture in its class, is its flexibility and it’s almost unreal weightlessness. Normally in quality furniture production heft is everything but in Togo Ducaroy created a master class in soft engineering and strategic salesmanship. You see at just under 15kg for the 3 seater, and at around 170cm in width, a single person can not only pick it up by themselves but they can also stand it on its end to manoeuvre it through any doorway – so for most buyers there are fewer of the basic logistical problems of transportation and installation; and therefore less of a barrier to sales. This is particularly relevant when you understand that the 3 seater is one of the largest sectional pieces of Togo’s modular system. You can therefore buy different size sections and move them around to suit your space; from ‘L’ shaped to oblong, square or bracket the choice is yours, and always knowing that you will able to move your sofa in and out of your home (and new home) and between rooms with ease. It’s genius.
Little wonder then that in 50 years it’s estimated that Ligne Roset has sold in excess of 1.5 million units across 72 countries; and that’s no mean feat when you remember that this isn’t a piece of cheap mass modern design. Togo is an expensive piece of hand stitched luxury with the single seat Fireside Chair starting at around £1,500, and with a basic 3 piece set starting at around £7,500.
However, style never goes out of fashion and whilst appetite for Togo does wax and wane over the years a good 2nd hand set can still command a high price as each generation discovers it anew.
Famous Togo owners include Avril Lavigne, Lenny Kravitz (who has a set in every house he owns), Thierry Henry and Gerard Depardieu. Looking at this list of names shows again how the Togo has crossed borders, generations and tastes.
Ultimately in Togo Ducaroy and Ligne Roset created a timeless classic that no doubt transcended their belief in its beauty and value. When it was launched in 1973 it coincided with Ligne Roset’s rebranding as a new company, and also with the 50th anniversary of SAM design show at that time; so it’s especially befitting that we can celebrate its own 50th anniversary here in 2023.
Buying new, vintage and second hand
And what of the future? Although Ligne Roset continue to push boundaries with a variety of textile and print options the biggest problem facing them is production times; the sheer volume of orders they are facing is phenomenal. In short, Togo has become too desirable. It was often described as the key sofa of the lockdown era featuring in more Tick Tock and Insta reels and photos than any other piece of furniture and has therefore, over the last 3 years, become a victim of its own success. Lead times are now pushing 100 weeks (yes, that really is nearly two years!) so for many people the only option is to buy a quality used Togo from a reputable dealer or design portal. Prices typically come in at around 50% - 75% of retail depending on condition and fabric/leather choice, but usually these can be delivered within days, rather than years.
You can also buy from regular 2nd hand sources such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace, whilst naturally observing the usual ‘buyer beware’ caveats associated from buying from sites such as these. There’s generally always a number of Togos of various configurations on offer and in a variety of conditions. Prices vary considerably but you can still find the occasional bargain as long as you are prepared to hire a van on short notice and move quickly. But remember Togos have been around for a long time so they will range from newer 2nd hand sets, to truly valuable vintage models (usually in leather) that have been cared for and nurtured – and then there are the poor beasts that have been beaten up by years of family bundles and TV dinners. With these the foam will have delaminated and you’ll end up with a rather flaccid facsimile of Togo that will have you yawing off the side like being on a boat in a swell.
What's wrong with it?
Well, to be honest, not a lot... The production and delivery lead times are clearly a problem, but that seems to have just increased it's desirability. Other than that the only real criticism is the practicality of keeping it clean; all those wrinkles and crevices are a playground for lego bricks, peanuts and crumbs so it does need regular cleaning. Also just bear in mind that if it picks up a bad stain the covers, although washable and fitted with zips, are difficult to remove - you need to cut off all the buttons to detach the cover from the foam, and whilst that is doable, it's not straightforward.
Living the Togo life Is Togo for you? For some people it’s love at first sight, and for others it’s a flat out no. But I think many people are often genuinely on the fence. It’s obviously not an afternoon full out flat on your back afternoon siesta sofa, as it too undulous for that; and I wouldn’t even say it appears inviting either as the curvature of the seat and back defies the human form. But it’s exactly that lack of formality that makes it so much fun to be around. It’s an adult bean bag; a cloud like haven of comfort that lets you escape everyday life. It’s not a sofa that demands respect, it a sofa that demands to be enjoyed. Kick back with a drink at the end of the day or curl up in a duvet eating takeout pizza and watching a box set on TV; that’s the Togo life, a life less ordinary but still filled with simple pleasures.
David Rokov - October 2023
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