On the opening day of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at the Javits Center, AN sat down with Christian Rasmussen, the head of design for Fritz Hansen, to discuss the company’s design strategies, its philosophy on collaboration, and to test out the new Favn and Ro seating that has just been released in the U.S.
What are your impressions of ICFF?
It’s getting better every year and I’m seeing more interesting stuff. I was surprised last year and this one is even better. Last month we were in Milan but it’s so big. I like that ICFF is more focused and offers a tighter overlook. You can spend more time in each booth as opposed to Milan where you have to move very fast to see everything. Overall it’s really positive.
How are the new releases being shown at ICFF this year significant for Fritz Hansen?
We just released the Ro chair, which means tranquility in Danish. We wanted to design a chair where you could sit down and create your own atmosphere in the midst of this hectic life. Similarly, this sofa by Jaime Hayon, Favn, means embrace because its like two hands cradling you. Danish is a small language, spoken only by five million people, so it’s nice to use these [names]. Denmark has a long history of furniture design and we’ve been a part of it since 1872. [Design] is really part of our culture and at Fritz Hansen we’ve helped create some of that identity. The reason we pick the Danish names, in addition to the fact that its hard to name a piece, is that it’s its nice to [hear other languages] interpret the names in their own way.
How would you describe the releases?
You can divide our work into new and classic categories. I’m really happy with the Ro chair, because its close to the Egg Chair but it’s still its own. It’s like a cousin; they’re very clearly related. It’s very important to draw a red line between the past and present but still keep some of that design DNA. It’s part of our philosophy to stand on the shoulders of the classics. We have a number of design values we follow very carefully to make sure we’re on the right track in the design process.
What constitutes good design for you personally?
It is many, many things. To me, it’s important that it’s original and brings something new to the world. It should surprise you positively, and hopefully provoke a little, too. That depends on the brand, of course, but personally I like it to challenge me, particularly when it’s based on an original idea and that comes across in the product.
It also needs to last. Design-wise it shouldn’t be too fashionable and you have to balance quality with design for longevity. If it’s too fashionable it’ll go out really quickly, kind of like clothing. For furniture, a lot of energy goes into it and it would be hard to spend on quality if people didn’t keep the chair for years. We can’t guarantee how long it’ll be held but [of course] that’s our ambition.
I like things that are fashionable but it’s not always simpatico. It has to be thought of in a longer perspective. The world is flooded with a lot of bad products and so we launch only one collection a year. But I like that; I’d rather launch something I believe in than launch 20 new products a year [and have to discontinue] half [of them] later. That is the company philosophy—our products should have a long lifespan.
Is there a designer or architect you’d really like to work with?
We spend a lot of energy and time getting to know designers before we work with them so we understand how to best release their creative potential. That’s the most important thing for me. When they feel comfortable they can perform well. Our external collaborations should [last longer], like with Jaime [Hayon]. Working with a new designer each year wouldn’t make sense [for us].
It’s also about chemistry. He’s a fantastic guy—50 percent artist and 50 percent designer—so he comes from a very different background with a different approach. It’s a good challenge for our view and we have great design discussions. There has to be mutual respect to lift [the relationship] to a new level altogether. In that sense, it has been a great partnership. Additionally, some of the best interpretations of Danish design history come from abroad. Jamie isn’t afraid of going close to our heritage.
Which designers do you admire?
The Boroullec Brothers are really clever and I admire them. They are very skilled. And I also admire Jamie because of his ability to combine art and design. He’s really creative and I’ve never met anyone like him. He can zoom in and out, [thinking] abstractly one second and very organized the next. Its a very unique combination of control and open-mindedness on an abstract level. Some designers are strong only conceptually or otherwise, but he’s balanced. He spends lots of time prototyping with us and I think that’s different from other manufacturers. We want them to spend time with us because it needs to be a Fritz Hansen piece and a Jaime Hayon piece. The product should be born and raised in Fritz Hansen. The process is really important. That’s what is different for us.
Jamie has said working with us in Copenhagen is like doing yoga. When he started with the sofa, he was frustrated with the pace [at which we work] but he’s learned to enjoy the process. We believe at the end of the day it makes a good piece.
What are some of your plans for the future of Fritz Hansen?
We’ll focus more on laminate wood as we haven’t done in a while. We understand that material and process well, so in a few years you’ll see more experiments with laminated wood. We will make upholstered furniture, too, of course!
We’ll also be looking into new materials and technologies where you can create value but still support timeless design. The state of the materials can really make long lasting products. Right now, we 3d print legs and things like that for prototyping. Maybe in five or 10 years everything will change, so we’re looking into it for larger production. It’s the future and it will change everything.
We will also collaborate with Jamie moving forward but there’s more in the pipeline. We have a huge catalogue so maybe we’ll reinterpret some of the classics. It’s all about timing and making pieces relevant for today.
What’s one of your favorite parts of visiting New York?
Walking to the Javits Center along the Highline.