At the 2011 Milan Furniture Fair Vitra are presenting a range of new products from designers including Konstantin Grcic, Antonio Citterio and Barber & Osgerby. Ahead of the official launch we caught up with Vitra Chief Design Officer Eckart Maise to discuss the new products and the Vitra Home Collection in general.
(smow): Herr Maise, before we discuss the new products, and maybe as a little helpful background. How does a company like Vitra develop a collection? Do you go to a designer and say “There’s a gap in our collection, can you fill it?” Or how do new projects develop at Vitra?
Eckart Maise: In essence it all comes together as a consequence of our long-term relationship with the designers. With, for example, Antonio Citterio we’ve been working together for 25 years. Or with the Bouroullecs we’ve now been co-operating for 12 or 13 years. And although there are obviously phases where more happens and phases where less happens we are always in contact with one another. And so most projects arise from a concrete briefing from us that such or such a project would be good, for example a large sofa family or a lounge chair, and then we consider who would be the correct designer. And often we speak to several designers about the same project, and then see who reacts in which way and where what develops. The designers obviously all have their own agenda, have their own mission as it were, and so we need to find projects where there is an overlapping of interests, because that is the best conditions for a successful cooperation. It hardly ever occurs that a designer comes to us and says “So here’s a finished project, do you want it?” It’s always a co-operation and a joint development.
(smow): And in this context, this year you are presenting several products in Milan by, let’s say, “new” Vitra Designers. Are they also the result of long term contacts?
Eckart Maise: Exactly. With Barber & Osgerby, for example, we’ve been in contact for around 6 years and have discussed various projects that then never got further than the very early stages. Which isn’t to say that they are better designers now than for 6 years, rather it simply didn’t come to this overlapping of the interests. With the Tip Ton chair that was different. Similarly with Alfredo Häberli we’ve been in contact for a long time, we already worked on one project together that was quite well developed but never completely clicked and so it was stopped. Which incidentally is something that both Vitra and our designers are always prepared to do: namely even in the later phases of the development to say, no this isn’t right or we’ve not achieved our goal or whatever the reason – let’s stop. The public obviously don’t see that. But it happens. And finally with Konstantin Grcic we first worked together four years ago in the context of a Vitra Editions project, and since then we’ve remained in contact and there are further co-operations with Konstantin in preparation that will come in the future.
(smow): Which brings us nicely to the next question. From what we know of Vitra we can’t imagine that you’d enter into new projects without planning a longer co-operation?
Eckart Maise: Yes, and in all cases there other projects in development. But it can also develop other than one expects and sometimes it remains with just the one project. But we always enter into a designer cooperation with the aim of it being a long term cooperation.
(smow): Which is perhaps a good moment to discuss Hella Jongerius and the Bouroullecs. Our impression is that up till now they have played the central role in the development of the Vitra Home Collection. Is that so, and if so why?
Eckart Maise: Every designer naturally stands for one position and has their own voice. The Boroullecs are good for the Vitra Home Collection because they think in terms of systems, in terms of collections, plus they have highly poetic expression and they are very good at combining technical solutions with a poetic expression which is very important in the home. In the home you don’t want a product that is purely functional because the decision for a product is never a rational decision alone, rather emotion also plays an important role.
And with Hella Jongerius, for us Hella embodies the decorative, and also the importance of haptic, of the material, the colours. Also she also represents a return to handwork, which obviously plays an important role in the home.
But of course it’s not just the Bouroullcs and Jongerius, also Jasper Morrison plays an important role or Antonio Citterio and then of course we also have the design classics. And so one has altogether this collage.
(smow): You spoke earlier about soft seating and in that area Vitra is currently well represented, can you say where the Vitra Home Collection will develop in the future?
Eckart Maise: We will continue in the same areas as now but also in smaller objects, accessories such L’oiseau by the Bouroullecs or in dining but it’s not our intention, for example, to move into, as we say in German “Kastenmöbel, so shelving and sideboards. In that area there are other producers who are better equipped. We have our experience and our competence in seating and in Milan we have, for example, a reclining lounger by Antonio Citterio where he has used his experience in office chairs to develop a lounge chair with a synchronizing technology in which the back tilts and at the same time the seat moves so that you maintain the same comfort regardless of seating position. And that in a very restrained style where the mechanism is not visible, it’s all incorporated in the legs and under the seat. And in such areas is where we have our strength.
(smow): And a final question. Is the Vitra Milan Collection 2011 a good vintage? As Vitra Chief Design Officer are you confident it will positively received?
Eckart Maise: For us it’s a good year, not least because it is always exciting when you present new co-operations, that is always a large step to take as a producer. But the co-operations are also important as they enrich us, as if the family has enlarged, or the choir has grown and we can now sing new songs. And we’re confident because we have a wide variety of products from a broad range of designers; in comparison to last year where we had a very strong focus on the Suita from Antonio Citterio. This year we’ve got Vitra’s first plywood seat shell from Alfredo Häberli; we’ve further developed the HAL range with Jasper Morrison; we have the new lounger by Antionio Citterio – from our perspectiveve finally a real alternative to the Eames Lounge Chair! And that with a comparable comfort quality. Then with the Tip Ton chair from Barber & Osgerby a chair that is a real innovation in terms of the sitting experience. And in Waver from Konstantin Grcic we have a chair that is something truly new and fresh for Vitra and is an uncomplicated, young form of seating. And so we are looking forward to the reaction.