IMM Cologne 2013: Wilde+Spieth. Interview with CEO Thomas Gerber.

Older readers will be aware that we have often held up the absence of some of Germany’s most important designer furniture manufacturers as an unmissable indicator of an inherent weakness in the IMM Cologne brand.

Those same readers will therefore understand the confusion we felt on seeing that Wilde+Spieth would, finally, be attending IMM Cologne in 2013.

We were delighted they were participating. We however now have one argument less.

Based in Esslingen near Stuttgart, Wilde+Spieth were originally a manufacturer of roller shutters, then in 1948 Egon Eiermann approached the company with a simple request for extra wide blinds for the Ciba AG factory he was building in Wehr, Baden: a simple request that Eiermann then extended with a brief “Kinderchen, can you also build chairs?”.

They could.

And Egon Eiermann’s hopeful question was to evolve into one of the most productive, successful, but for all innovative, partnerships in the chronicles of German furniture design.

Together Wilde+Spieth and Egon Eiermann released over 30 product ranges, and even today some 43 years after Eiermann’s death the two remain inseparable, while chairs such as the SE 18, SE 42 or SE 68 have gone on to take their rightful place in the high pantheon of European design.

Many of Eiermann’s early collaborations with Wilde+Spieth were launched at the International Möbel Messe Köln – the bi-annual forerunner to the current IMM – and so it was somehow more than fitting that for the company’s debut at the modern IMM four Eiermann classics were being presented in new colours from the Le Corbusier “Les Couleurs” collection.

In addition, and in many ways more significantly, Wilde+Spieth also used IMM Cologne 2013 to launch three new products: CU! by Avinash Shende, TG1 by Thore Garbers and Typus by Edelhoff & Nettesheim.

It seemed therefore obvious to take the opportunity to speak with Wilde+Spieth’s CEO Thomas Gerber about the new products and living with Egon Eiermann’s legacy, but we started by asking why, after all these years, they have finally decided to show at IMM Cologne….

Thomas Gerber:  Whereas we have often exhibited at, for example, Orgatec with the Egon Eiermann classics, we never really ever felt we had that many objects that could be seen as “domestic furniture”. This year however we are releasing three new products, products that all fit well into the home furnishings sector and we felt that IMM Cologne would be a suitable place to launch them. On the one hand because of the fair’s international profile, but also we feel the mixture of visitors – so architects, large chains but also small, independent shops – largely reflects our target audience.

(smow)blog: Before we come to the new products, until now Wilde+Spieth have concentrated, more or less, solely on the classic Egon Eiermann chair designs. While that presumably has its benefits, in how far is such a close association with such a famous furniture architect a burden?

Thomas Gerber: While taste itself, fortunately, only changes very slightly over the years, the popularity of design classics is cyclical and so while there are periods when classics such as the Eiermann chairs are very much in, there are also periods where they are very much out. And such phases are very hard for us. A large proportion of our business is contract and so if the project manager tells the architect that they don’t want design classics for a project, then we have a problem. Which is also one of the reasons for the new products.

And that is when the real curse starts, because when we announce we are releasing something new the expectations are so high. It is expected that we will release something that is just as good as what we currently have, is cheaper than what we currently have, and which has the potential be the next classic. And that makes it very difficult. Over the years we’ve co-operated with numerous designers and architects, but until now never had anything that we felt completely comfortable with…

(smow)blog: Until now! This year you have three new products, what “clicked” here that perhaps hadn’t in the past?

Thomas Gerber: Probably that we approached the search from a different perspective! This time we pretty much let the designs find us rather than commissioning someone to develop something. With, for example, the CU! chair by Avinash Shende, we discovered it at Salone Satellite in Milan, were instantly fascinated by it and so decided to explore if it could be something for us. And then once the decision was made to take it on all we really had to do was tweak it a bit so that it can be serially produced.

(smow)blog: Which we presume means you’re confident that it will meet the expectations?

Thomas Gerber: We wouldn’t be showing it if we weren’t! And, for example, before making the decision to take on the project we took the chair to architects showed them it, and got 100% positive feedback, which was then one of the reasons we decided to say yes.

(smow)blog: The one thing we notice immediately with CU! is the colours. Was the decision for such a bright palette also a result of this feedback from the architects?

Thomas Gerber: Partly. But much more CU! is a cheeky, fresh product that simply cries out to be colourful. Also it can be used outdoors, for example, in cafes, bars, etc, and who says cafe chairs can only be black and white?

(smow)blog: To end and, staying with colour. You’re also launching four Eiermann classics in hues from the Le Corbusier “Les Couleurs” collection. Why the Le Corbusier colours?

Thomas Gerber: Because it all passes so well together. When you look at Le Corbusier and Egon Eiermann they are both from a similar age, had similar passions and ultimately the colours look so good on the furniture that it really is a coming together of what belongs together!  And of course a chair is just one part of a room design, inevitably you also have other furniture, wallpaper, floor coverings, etc, and such objects are all available through other manufacturers in the Les Couleurs palette. Consequently, because the shades are all based on natural tones and compliment one another you can either use one colour throughout a project or effortlessly combine colours, and we find this inherent harmony in Les Couleurs a really fascinating concept.

IMM Cologne 2013  Wilde+Spieth Egon Eiermann Le Corbusier Les Couleurs

IMM Cologne 2013: Wilde+Spieth Egon Eiermann chairs in new shades from the Le Corbusier "Les Couleurs" collection

IMM Cologne 2013  Wilde+Spieth Egon Eiermann SE 68 SE 42 Le Corbusier Les Couleurs

The SE 68 and SE 42 in Le Corbusier "Les Couleurs"

IMM Cologne 2013  Wilde+Spieth CU! by Avinash Shende

IMM Cologne 2013: CU! by Avinash Shende for Wilde+Spieth

IMM Cologne 2013  Wilde+Spieth Typus by Edelhoff & Nettesheim

The table Typus by Edelhoff & Nettesheim for Wilde+Spieth. Here with 2 SE 68s. (Photo Wilde+Spieth)

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