Wednesday 3 March 2021 - Monocle Minute On Design | Monocle

Wednesday. 3/3/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


On the road

My past few weeks have been spent visiting design and furniture companies across Europe and the mood among everyone that I’ve met is positive: people are ready to return to business as usual and to reconnect with clients in the real world. While we remain hopeful that some trade events, where these interactions typically occur, will go ahead later this year, many other large gatherings will not take place in 2021. That’s why firms are revising marketing strategies and looking to seize opportunities in other ways. Don’t want to be left behind? Well, here are some ideas to help you get back in the game.

1. Snap up that space
An inevitable consequence of the pandemic is that shops have shuttered. Strike a deal with a landlord and take a space, even if temporarily, to show your best assets to customers and help to liven up a quiet part of the city.

2. Host a dinner
With restaurants reopening, the best way to reconnect with clients, contacts and suppliers is around a table. A sunny alfresco spring lunch will have everyone singing your praises.

3. Open your factory doors
For many furniture brands, production hardly ceased over the past year. Highlight the often underappreciated asset of the craftspeople making your wares with open days.

4. Dress up your windows
In our conversation on Monocle 24 radio show Monocle on Design this week, our Berlin correspondent told me about the novel window displays popping up in temporarily closed businesses, from hairdressers to galleries, across the city. Apply some creative nous to yours – even if it’s just as a teaser for what’s to come.

5. Minimise screen time
Brands were quick to adapt at the start of the pandemic with bursts of digital marketing. At that point, digital films and experimental online concepts were welcome. A year on, we’re square-eyed and sick of screens, so be wary of lengthy online showcases and inevitably glitchy digital conferences.

6. Get intimate
Furniture showrooms tend to be quiet places that focus on quality rather than quantity in terms of their visitors. One-on-one, tailored tours allow an even more personal experience for your best clients behind closed doors.

7. Keep it local
Global events are not on the cards for the time being but do seize the opportunity to bring your nearby audience to one of your showrooms for an intimate discussion and a few glasses of bubbly – people are ready for real-life interaction.


Bay tripper

Seeing this recent renovation project in sun-soaked Byron Bay gives us a serious urge for a getaway. The revamp of rundown Aussie motel The Sunseeker into a plush, mid-century-styled guest house by architecture firm Balanced Earth has been aided by some smart branding and graphics designed by Australian creative studio Muse Muse. “Throughout the conversations with the owners, we realised that the beauty of holidays was not from staying at the most lavish hotels but the memories that are created in the holidaying moment,” says Lila Theodoros, founder and creative director of Muse Muse. “We wanted to capture that and apply it to the brand.”

Image: James Tolic
Image: James Tolic
Image: James Tolic
Image: James Tolic

Vintage hotel paraphernalia and travel posters provided the initial inspiration for the graphic design, and Muse Muse also produced some appealing merchandise for guests, including cotton tote bags laden with retro typography. “The underlying theme was the question: ‘Would you steal it?’” adds Theodoros. We certainly would.


Spoke of genius

Bike-riding has long been a favourite form of transport in Japan, but how to pass on this love of two wheels to the next generation? By inspiring and exciting them, of course. That’s what Spanish designer Marcelo Alegre and Japanese architectural-product manufacturer Katzden Architec set out to do with the creation of its D-NA range of bike racks for use on the streets of Tokyo and beyond.

Alegre explains that the powder-coated steel silhouettes of a bear, butterfly, bird and elephant are “designed to motivate kids to ride bicycles” by using strong colours and playful forms that appeal to children – and to anyone’s inner child. Importantly, the geometry of the designs means that they’re suitable for any kind of bike wheel – from a sturdy city commuter to a child’s balance bike – to roll smoothly into the rack.


Notes on a sandal

Birkenstock has spent the past three years working closely with London’s globally respected design school Central Saint Martins on an initiative that has brought its students into the German shoe manufacturer’s fold. The end result was the release of four new shoes into the Birkenstock range, which tapped into the identity of the brand’s classic sandal. We spoke to professor Fabio Piras who oversaw the collaboration, to learn how it has shaped his students’ understanding of the relationship between creativity and commerce.

How did this collaboration come about?
Birkenstock approached us in the same way as it would collaborate with any other brand, which was really flattering for us. It was about designing a capsule range interpreting the brand and the famous sandal. It was as simple as that: an association of Central Saint Martins fashion and Birkenstock, in a way that engaged the talent that studies on the course with the Birkenstock identity.

The project combines creative and commercial interests. How were the students briefed to respond to this?
It was important for the students to understand that they were wanted for their creativity and ideas on the Birkenstock sandal. But it was also important for them to respond to the mantra: if you’re not creative, then you’re not commercial. This was really formative for the students because obviously they have to deal with a host of issues and respond to people who are not being negative, but are giving them limitations. Their job is to bring limitations to the students, and the students’ job is to respond to those limitations with solutions – or at least ideas for solutions.

Why is a Birkenstock sandal the ideal fashion item through which your students can learn these lessons?
A Birkenstock sandal is a very simple object but at the same time, it’s extremely complex; it needs to affect a part of your body, the foot, in a way that makes it comfortable. The students can’t really ignore that because that’s how the brand makes its name. They needed to find a way to communicate with a team that loves their creativity, but also has the constraints of production and industrialisation.

To hear the full interview, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Anje Jager


Past masters

Italian mid-century design is as popular as ever but there’s still plenty to discover beyond the work of Gio Ponti and Carlo Scarpa. This elegant coffee table, for example, is Italian flair encapsulated but its designer is the little-known Neapolitan Cesare Lacca.

Lacca was active in the 1950s in Milan, to which he had moved in his teens. Though the designer dreamt up many a spindly bar cart in his time, what distinguishes his work is a masterful use of brass – a talent on exquisite display in this two-level table. Though he enjoyed a skyrocketing early career, designing for luxury furniture-maker Cassina and being selected for a major international exhibition of Italian design by the age of 20, in the 1960s Lacca seems to vanish. That mystery, though, is all the more cause to give his designs a long overdue rinascimento.


Better together

For a truly Milanese design collaboration, handcrafted leather accessories label Serapian has teamed up with high-end furniture firm Azucena for an update of Luigi Caccia Dominioni’s 1957 Catilina chair. The collection comes in various colour combinations, from black and white to touches of fuchsia, mint, red, bronze and navy.

The pieces were highlighted at a mini exhibition at Milan’s Villa Mozart, the art deco home of Serapian, during Fashion Week. In true Milanese tradition the collaboration is perfectly executed, with the seat cushion of the Catilina chair becoming a canvas for the fine mosaic craft of Serapian. It’s a tribute to Dominioni’s enduring mid-century designs for Azucena, which was acquired by furniture giant B&B Italia in 2018, and is enjoying a renaissance in popularity.


Drool nationality

How do you motivate your population to take voluntary coronavirus tests? Having seen so many boring and uninspiring campaigns, the powers that be at the Swiss canton of Basel-Landschaft decided to add some fun and lightness to the task of getting people to take the saliva-based tests.

The campaign uses that most famous of expectoraters, the llama, to underline the message “together against coronavirus” through what can only be described as a spit bubble. Quirky and impactful, it’s a campaign that will get people into the spirit and help to quell the spread of this serious virus.


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