Republic of Fritz Hansen Series 7™

 

anniversary

Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1955, the Series 7™ chairs reached a major anniversary this year. Republic of Fritz Hansen have a display in their showroom at Pakhus 48 in the dock development area of Nordhavn in Copenhagen where there are versions of the chairs in the style of different architects including Zaha Hadid, a love seat version by Neri & Hu, the striking black and white love seat from Jean Nouvel Design and a Series 7™ shell without legs and set in a miniature Nordic landscape from Snøhetta.

 

Two special versions of the chair will only be available this year with one in a deep pink and with gold legs and the other in a very very dark blue with the same colour for the framework of the legs.  

 
 

monochrome

This monochrome style, with the same colour for the moulded seat and the metal legs, is also promoted in a new series of four versions … the chair in a deep tan colour called Chevalier Orange, in a strong light blue, Trieste Blue, all in white or in black with black metal legs and I think a grey, a brown version and an aubergine coloured chair are to be added.

 

colour in perfect shape

Also, to mark the anniversary, a new range of nine colours for the Series 7™ have been produced in collaboration with the Copenhagen artist TAL R.

Here, the point emphasised by Fritz Hansen is that they prefer “artistic colours to industrial colours, diversity to uniformity, and the natural to the artificial … the result is furniture that will continue to live, surprise and inspire.”

This is in part the line from a skilled advertising or PR department but it would be glib to scoff because actually it is the quality of the colour surface, the way it reflects or absorbs light and the way the colours look different in different light or different settings that give the chair a sense of real style and real quality and real warmth.

The new colours are Opium, close to a Chinese red lacquer; Ai, a very, very deep blue; Chocolate Milk, for me an incredibly complex colour with touches of pink and very little yellow (and no I am, fortunately, not colour blind) Trieste - almost a cornflower blue but not; Hüzün, a striking mid green; Egyptian Yellow, a yellow toned down with lead; Altstadt Rose, a colour I can’t begin to describe; Evren Purple, again unusual and particular - somehow strong and sharp rather than pretty - and that's praise not criticism; Chevalier Orange, again surprisingly subtle, and finally Nine Grey, produced apparently by mixing all the other shades.

In a clever marketing move the colours are produced on a swatch with a lanyard as it will be important to choose these colours carefully in the final setting and to help to inspire people and get them to look at the chair in new ways and for new possibilities, for combining and playing with colour in a more adventurous way, room settings or grouping of these chairs, set around tables, are given plenty of space in the showroom and given carefully-chosen accessories such as appropriate flowers or tableware. The colour samples are reasonably large - 60x100mm - and interleaved with a short description of the inspiration for the colour.

 

The window display at Pakhus has a striking rainbow of colours showing off the other major feature of the design of the Series 7™ and that is that it was one of the earliest stacking chairs for the home to go into large-scale production.

 

3daysofdesign: graphics and publications

use of detailed graphics in the show room of Arper in Nordhavn

 

3daysofdesign was a major event that included many of the most well-established design companies in Denmark so, perhaps, it might seem odd to talk about the graphic design of publications and posters seen at the various venues … of course everyone expects well-designed graphics and beautiful catalogues from furniture companies … surely it goes without saying? … surely it would only be worth a comment if catalogues or lettering in the showroom or information leaflets were badly designed or badly printed?

Well no. Just because everyone assumes it will be good and just because the graphics were actually good throughout, it is even more important to make a few points about this aspect of the work of the furniture industry. 

In general, people outside the professional design world … so obviously the majority of customers … assume that graphics with high-quality photographs, eye-catching layout and high quality paper are all simply what should be expected. They take it for granted. After all, computers with a huge number of fonts and any template you could wish for for a layout, high definition images, even from a mobile phone, and high quality printing are all available from personal systems in most homes … what can possibly be so hard in producing a nice (free) catalogue? And of course we are all greedy - voracious - for images, gloss, entertainment, facts, information and commentary with little time spent on thinking about how much it has actually cost to produce in terms of professional skill, mental stress, time and money. And last years catalogue or last years campaign are not good enough. We want, need and expect something new.

What was clear across the board at 3daysofdesign is that companies do and do have to invest a huge amount of time, thought and money in the right style of advertising and the best possible publications with information about and for their products.

Catalogues, advertisements, information booklets, online sites and so on have to tell the story of the company; explain the development of the design; introduce the designer, if they are young or new to the company; explain the way the design evolved - everyone loves a good story - give information about the manufacturing process, promote green credentials, of course, and, often, give after-sales care advice as well. And good graphics, as everyone knows, can create a brand image and customer awareness of, recognition of and loyalty to a company or even to a specific design. Chair 7 by Arne Jacobsen, Stool 60 from Artek and the PH5 light are all the obvious examples of the ongoing commercial value of recognition and loyalty.

The Series 7 chair is actually a very good example. It will be the subject of a separate post but it is of relevance in this post just because it is still the best-selling piece in the Fritz Hansen catalogue but it has just reached a milestone anniversary - the chair was designed in 1955 - and Fritz Hansen are in the middle of a major campaign to ‘relaunch’ the chair in new colours to ensure that it remains a design that has a place in the homes of young and future generations of buyers. So publicity material, and advertising and the way the chair is shown in displays now, are crucial to its future success. The strap line of the present campaign is Colours in Perfect Shape.

With a completely new range or a novel design it may even be necessary to give advice about how the piece might best be set in the context of it’s new home. It is actually quite difficult to explain to a customer, who is dissatisfied because, maybe, their new purchase doesn’t look quite as good in their home as it did in the show room or in the catalogue, that in fact they have bought the wrong thing for their existing house and existing life style. The new piece itself is amazing … it’s just that really their room/your room should possibly/could maybe/definitely ought to be a different colour and much of the rest of the furniture should be replaced. But the shop can’t say that. Better to start a bit of gentle advice - sow the seeds of a few ideas and suggestions in the catalogue or in the display in the shop.

The good small catalogue for the event itself and the graphic material for Re-Framing Danish Design were well designed and distinct … presumably they were aware of the added problem of having to avoid any resemblance to the brand styles of any of the companies taking part. 

Arper and Muuto had elaborate graphics on the walls of their show rooms to explain or identify their designs and several companies including Fritz Hansen, OneCollection and Gubi include in their catalogues extensive articles on major designers from the classic period of Danish design to put designs, that might be 50 or more years old, into their wider historic context. The Gubi catalogue is called a design booklet and is, significantly, titled ‘Icons, Memories and Stories.’ It is necessary to explain to a new generation of buyers when and why the pieces were designed; state why they were important designs or why they were admired when they were first manufactured, and why they have relevance now and and why they should still be in production. Basically why a design was amazing then and why it is amazing now.

It is also necessary to explain to a new buyer why an old design might not be exactly like the earliest examples of a design that they have seen in a museum. Designs can evolve in terms of the materials used, for instance in upholstery, and manufacturing techniques change or some aspects of machine manufacturing have improved since the original pieces were made. Again managing expectations and nurturing customers who might have admired a design long ago but are, only now, getting around to buying it.

Innovations for new designs, particularly new materials or new methods of production, have to be explained to potential customers and can become what are called unique selling points to distinguish the designs from one company from the works from their rivals. Muuto have launched a new shell chair that is moulded from a recyclable material that includes wood fibre … deliberately described as ‘pinewood fibers.’ This material has a softer and matt look and a slight texture which has to be explained to the customer and work with the material has also led to interesting developments in producing an optional upholstered interior to the shell. New material often require changes to fixings and supports or an appropriate rethink and here, with Muuto, this means that the shell of this chair can have four different supports: thin, elegant, metal legs; a ’sled’ like metal frame; a wooden base with a frame below the seat and a metal swivel base. These distinguish the chair from rivals but the developments and the differences have to be pointed out to the customer and this has to be done through advertising and through catalogues and brochures … not least because this choice of base and choice of upholstery along with choices of colour, in the case of the new Muuto chair, gives 41 different permutations … a potential problem for the customer in making that choice and potential problems with manufacture and the supply system that can be made easier by appropriate publications for information. I believe this is called managing expectations.

Frama and Please Wait to be Seated both produced information that unfolded to poster size and several companies, including Frama, used reproductions of hand-drawn line work, rather than digital computer-generated drawings, to show something of the various early stages of the design process as designers play with a number of ideas and take a particular form forward.

 
 

Personally, I really like the small, folded and stapled A4, cloth-bound catalogue from Flos for their String Lights and IC Lights by Michael Anastassiades with quotes from the designer, talking about inspiration for the design, but with studio photographs combined with hand-drawn sketches to explain how that arrangement of the lights were set up along with a surprising amount of technical information. 

The small catalogue for Parentesit from Arper has an interesting look that somehow hints at the 1930s and Bauhaus style. Good graphic design can hint at sources of inspiration.

For its ‘case study’ series, Frama uses thick board that is coated on one side but unbleached on the back and with a single brass screw link at one corner - so playing a very clever game with period and style - hard-tech mechanics contrasted with soft-tech almost retro style that you see in their furniture as well with incredibly sharp, clean industrial-character designs presented in the elaborate and dramatic interior of their show room - formerly a chemist shop with amazing fittings that date back to about 1900.

Graphics from MA/U Studio were as thin and as elegant and as distinctive as their furniture with the clever use of simple outline human figures to give drawings of shelving easily-understood scale.

 
 

just to quote ... Jonathan Ive on design and manufacturing

Earlier this month I posted a short quote from Jonathan Ive talking about the design process. The film from Fritz Hansen I posted yesterday about the professional skills and effort needed to bring back into production the Drop Chair reminded me of another comment from Ive in that same interview with Time Magazine. 

Clearly, the team from Fritz Hansen were driven by enthusiasm and conviction and by the professional challenge of this project and would probably only go as far as to claim that it was hard work and not actually painful but that does not diminish the importance of the point and a point that I have tried to emphasise several times in this blog: it is important for designers and manufacturers to explain to consumers the process of design and its importance … both creative or aesthetic design and technical or product design. Ultimately the quality of materials and the quality of production should be fairly obvious once the item is on display in the shop but the meticulous process of production design is less tangible and less obviously justified, to the buyer, looking at the price tag.

Ive was talking about copies of ideas or a specific design by rival companies undercutting the retail price and that does not apply to the Drop Chair where a company is reproducing it’s own earlier designs but if the Drop Chair is a success, and I am sure it will be, then without doubt cheaper imitations or variations will appear. 

At least the film from Fritz Hansen goes a long way towards explaining why bringing back into production pieces from a back catalogue are not necessarily a cheap nor an easy option.

return of the Drop Chair from Fritz Hansen

There is a growing interest in furniture designed in the 1950s and 1960s - generally described as the classic period for Scandinavian design - and prices achieved at auction for major pieces from the period have risen dramatically over the last couple of years.

Some classic designs have been in continuous production since the 1950s - including the Swan Chair from Fritz Hansen that was designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1957 or the Kartio glass tumblers from Iittala designed by Kaj Franck in the following year - but manufacturers are also reassessing their back catalogues and reintroducing some major designs. Some of these pieces are careful reproductions of the originals but other designs have been given new colour ways to appeal to new customers or the precise form or technical details have been modified to use more modern production methods … last week I posted a review of the CH88 from Carl Hansen and Republic Fritz Hansen have reintroduced the Grand Prix Chair designed by Arne Jacobsen but now produced with wooden legs rather than the chrome legs of the original,

In the Spring, Republic Fritz Hansen announced the relaunch of the Drop Chair that was designed by Arne Jacobsen and first produced in 1958 for the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. The Swan and the Egg, the other chairs designed for the hotel, are much better known but the Drop was made exclusively for the hotel and was never in general production. 

It will be available from the Autumn.

The chair is not an exact reproduction of the original design. In fact, Fritz Hansen have produced an interesting short film about the design that explains that unusually there were no drawings for the chair in the company archive so an original chair was taken apart carefully to assess the construction and so that the shape and profile could be copied for new production drawings.

For the new chair, the shell is in ABS plastic, forming the inner and the outer shell, with reinforcement in nylon. The choice of finish will include the plain primary plastic, in a choice of colours (including black, white, storm-blue, fire-red, stone-grey, sand-yellow) with or without a separate cushion or the chair can be upholstered in fabric or leather over foam. Legs will either be chrome or powder-coated steel.

Because I was curious about the chair I visited the showroom of Fritz Hansen in London where they have prototypes of the chair on show for pre-release orders. Without doubt, the Drop is extremely beautiful, a simple and almost pure sculptural shape and it is certainly evocative of its period … is it just me that sees echoes of the shape and form of the Russian Sputnik satellite that was launched the year before the chair was first produced?

With it’s elegant shape, relatively small size and with the delicate splayed legs - like the antennae of the Sputnik? - this is one of Jacobsen’s most feminine designs. I know that I will be criticised for trying to suggest that furniture could possibly be gender specific but I have fairly clear reasons for making the assertion. Not only is the chair elegant and light but, because I am 1.9 metres (6ft 2”) tall, the chair is simply too small for me to sit in comfortably. Literally I feel as if I am perched precariously on it but the back is also too narrow and too low for me so the top sticks uncomfortably in the small of my back.

Obviously this does not make the chair a bad design …. simply the wrong design for me … but it does raise neatly an important point about design: good design relies on a sort of Venn diagram with the designer and his design, however good it is, as just one of the overlapping circles.  Another circle is the manufacturer and the technical expertise they bring to production while the circle for the customer brings in factors of retail price and the requirements of usability … the whole business of function and utility to at least some extent. Some would argue that the fourth though possibly smallest circle of the diagram is the one labelled style or fashion. However good a design, it depends on its marketability for ongoing success so no designer, in commercial terms, can afford to produce a piece that is at odds or out of kilter with the taste and fashions of the period. Nostaglia or pushing the bounds are possible but as a general commercial rule it can not be pushing too far too fast.

Can and do classic pieces manage to sit bang in the middle of the overlapping circles? Is that one definition of classic design?