If we’re honest, we really, really, should have seen it coming. We didn’t.
We just hope no-one is tempted to over egg this particular pudding.
In the Milan press release Artek CEO Mirkku Kullberg expresses her delight that through Vitra Artek have become part of an infrastructure that allows the company to focus on product development and the expansion of the distribution network, in the words of Kullberg “the core elements for growth”
Judging by the easy, almost natural way, the Vitra sales reps crossed from the Vitra stand to the neighbouring Artek stand to show their customers the Artek collection, Artek should have no major problems growing through the new distribution possibilities. And certainly it makes perfect sense for both companies to fully utilise the new realities to optimise their sales, marketing and distribution structures.
For us however in terms of products, product ranges and product development Artek must remain focused on its core competence: Alvar Aalto as designed by Alvar Aalto. That is what it does best. Nothing against new collaborations and new products, and indeed over the years Artek have regularly – and very successfully – co-operated with new designers and brought new blood into the company, perhaps most famously with Tom Dixon as Creative Director. Which is obviously all positive and helps keep the company fresh and competitive. But one shouldn’t get too distracted. Just because one has easier access to leading contemporary designers doesn’t mean one should take up the option.
That said, the two new collaborations presented in Milan have, we believe, been completed in Artek’s best interest.
With Konstantin Grcic Artek have cooperated with a designer who understands the soul of Artek and understands where Artek come from. A fact demonstrated, perhaps a little too elegantly, by a work in progress prototype from Grcic being presented in Milan by Magis. At this juncture all we shall say is, had Alvar Aalto been a keen skier he too may have arrived at such an idea.
However for Artek Grcic has also poetically demonstrated his understanding of Aalto and Artek and has developed a new swivel chair christened, somewhat curiously, Rival and intended for home office use, but which in our opinion is much better suited to bar, restaurant and conference room use. Or possibly co-working spaces. Crafted from birch Rival comes with either a high or low backrest, a choice of seat padding and in a range of colours.
Hella Jongerius meanwhile has not created a new product but has refreshed three Aalto classics, in that she has developed four new wood colours – silver birch, honey, walnut and charcoal – for Aalto’s Stool 60, Armchair 400 and 401, and introduced new textiles for the 400 and 401. Developments that will almost certainly help make the objects interesting and accessible to a wider audience than was perhaps the case until now.
While we full understand the background thinking behind the changes, and would agree that Hella Jongerius has achieved her aim of adding more depth and warmth to the objects, for us, and for all with the designs for the 401 we just feel that she has gone a little too close to a “generic Jongerius” aesthetic. The 401 would, for example, look every bit as good and every bit at home on the Vitra stand as on the Artek stand.
And that is exactly what the two companies need to make sure they avoid. Vitra and Artek come from different backgrounds, their identities, philosophies and understanding of design originated at different times, from different motives and in different contexts; consequently they must travel different paths. Must maintain that what makes them unique.
A fusion of the two traditions would benefit neither.
As we say, the start is positive, but it’s going to be interesting to observe how things develop!
A few impressions from Artek in Milan.