When Fritz Hansen unveiled its iconic collection of chairs designed by Arne Jacobsen back in 1958, many of us hadn’t been born yet. Today however, whether you’re in your 20s or 60s, a design-enthusiast or regular passerby, chances are you’ve encountered them and perhaps even have sat in one. Undeniably timeless, the chairs are just as relevant in the design world today as they were first introduced 60 years ago. In the late 50s, Arne Jacobson was actually designing the entire SAS Royal Hotel (now the Radisson Collection Hotel, Royal Copenhagen), considered the first designer hotel in the world. The Egg, Swan and Drop chairs were invented just for the hotel and would become the globally iconic design heritages they are today.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of these internationally acclaimed design classics and honour one of the pioneering designers of the 20th century, Fritz Hansen collaborated with world-class hospitality network Design Hotels to host exhibitions in three select Design Hotels members across the globe—Trunk Hotel, Tokyo, Singapore's Warehouse Hotel and The Sukhothai Bangkok—in homage to Arne Jacobsen and his chairs. Along with the events, a limited collection was released, featuring the Egg, Swan and Drop chairs in pure natural leather with the classic Fritz Hansen hand-brushed aluminium base plated with 23K gold. As limited editions, each chair is marked with a serial number and comes with certificates detailing its meticulous assembly.
While the event was being held at The Sukhothai Bangkok, Thailand Tatler got the chance to sit down with the CEO of Fritz Hansen for this region, Dario Reicherl, as well as the managing director of Fritz Hansen Thailand, Veekrit Palarit, to hear their sentiments upon the 60th anniversary of the brand, as well as discuss the brand's plan for the future.
What does Fritz Hansen’s 60th anniversary mean to you?
Dario: The Arne Jacobson collection, not just to Fritz Hansen but to any Danish or Scandinavian, represents the most iconic chairs in design. If you put together the Egg, Swan and Drop chairs, you essentially have the most popular furniture pieces in the entirety of Scandinavia. The Egg itself can be considered the most timeless and iconic piece ever designed in furniture over the past 400 years. So the 60th anniversary is very important to us, not just from a business standpoint but mostly from a cultural perspective.
What inspired your collaboration with Design Hotels?
D: Originally, the Egg, Swan and Drop chairs were not designed for everyday use. They were actually created for Sais Royale, the very first design hotel in history. Arne Jacobson himself oversaw every single element in the hotel's design, from the door handle to the WC. The Egg was designed for the lobby, the Swan for the business center and the Drop for the ladies dressing table as well as the breakfast area, which was an impressive spectacle. Because of this, we decided to celebrate how far we’ve come by remembering how we began—in a design hotel.
Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok? Why these three cities?
D: I was attending the same event as the vice president of Design Hotels in Taipei, and we ended up sharing a cab from the airport to the city. In this cab ride we started talking about the different hotels under the chain and Fritz Hansen’s 60th anniversary. A week later we already had a selection of hotels. We chose three places that would make sense for both of us. Japan was chosen because, aside from Denmark, it’s our oldest export market and thus a very important destination for us. With Singapore, they have the latest hotel in the Design Hotels chain, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
So why Thailand?
D: For Fritz Hansen, Bangkok is extremely important because this is where Veekrit and I started a new project that we plan to develop worldwide. It’s called the House of Fritz Hansen—a new retail concept where we don’t do stores or shops but provide a real house designed by local architects, where you can come in and experience our furniture in the setting of a real home. We wanted this event to be a blend of Thai and Danish design, and even though they are both very different, the result is very nice. Thai culture and Danish culture actually share a lot of similarities—we're both cultures that are quite subtle and reserved.
The event held in Thailand featured an installation designed by Thai architect Vasu Virajsilp. Could you tell us more about this?
D: In each country we needed a local artist because when you do business in a country that isn’t your own, we believe the most important thing is to honour the local culture. Being in the design industry means we are also in the culture industry. We don’t want to go to another country and start telling people what to do—it should be an engaging exchange. In Japan, we chose a flower artist because it was the cherry blossom season. Here, we have Vasu because we wanted to have a contemporary Thai architect to create this interesting juxtaposition between The Sukhothai’s traditional Thai elements and contemporary Thai architecture.
What is Fritz Hansen's reaction or interaction with the market trends in Thailand?
D: We’re totally against trends. For us, furniture should have no trend. Invest in a good piece of furniture that will last. A piece of furniture should stay with you for at least 50 years—use it and pass it on so your children. Furniture isn’t like a bag or fashion trend that you get bored of after a year. With furniture, you shouldn't care about what the colour of the year is. It isn’t like a pair of shoes or a shirt, it’s a work of art.
Veekrit: Unfortunately today’s industry values and avidly follows trends. Every year, there is a new collection if you go to Milano or whichever fair, and there’ll be a trendy colour every year. But think about how often you change the chairs in your house. You probably don’t change them every year, maybe not even every four or five years. You might have even grown up with those chairs—because that’s the lifespan of furniture.
Then how have you overcome trends and stayed relevant throughout the decades?
D: The concept of Danish design is to reduce, reduce and reduce again. We compare it to peeling an onion. You really only want to keep the core, the very essential. That's the so-called "timelessness", or timeless style. The word is used everywhere now but very, very few have actually reached true timelessness and stood the test of time. We have through simplicity: if it is simple, functional simplicity becomes beauty and you don’t get tired of it. Once you start adding ornamentation, it becomes overwhelming and after a while, you get tired of it. Your belongings shouldn’t outshine you—they are just accessories to your persona.
How does timeless design specifically apply to the Arne Jacobsen chairs?
D: If you look at the Egg, Swan and Drop chairs, you can put them anywhere and they’ll belong. It’s because they are so simple that they can match every interior. This is a very big part of why these icons from the fifties are still very modern and relevant today. Achieving true simplicity is the most difficult thing a designer can do.
V: Also, when you own one of these chairs, they are truly yours because the leather on these chairs changes over time, for instance, depending on how much sunlight they're exposed to and how you use it. In my showroom, I see the chairs everyday, so I know when new wrinkles form or when the colour changes a little bit. These details are all really meaningful. This is why we are crazy about this company: the beautiful craftsmanship that has stayed the same for 60 years.
Can you tell us more about the meaningful craftsmanship that goes into your chairs?
V: We actually use a matte leather but after around 10 years, it becomes glossy from exposure to the sun. When this layer of gloss is fully formed, the leather won’t change colour anymore. In that sense, it takes around 10 years for these chairs to develop into what they are supposed to be.
D: Another thing is at Fritz Hansen, we don’t kill cows. All the leather we use comes from free cows that die naturally, not cows used for meat. Free cows grow up in natural environments, healthy and happy, so when they pass naturally, they leave very good leather. Our process isn't mass production, and our leather is four or five times more expensive because you're getting the best quality leather that is free of chemicals and treatments. Leather that won't form a gloss over time has been over processed; it's dead, whereas ours is alive.
Some would consider these changes over time as flaws. What’s your response to this?
V: We sometimes get clients who tell us they don’t want the chairs to change—they just want it to stay that way. But once we explain to them the value behind these changes, the meaning behind the subtle details in the leather, they change their minds. We use two cows to craft one Egg chair. There's no stitching. The entire back is one whole cow. It takes a lot of skill to do this well because the chair is curved. Also, when you look at the entire piece of leather, you can spot certain details that reveal how the cow's life experience. For example, sometimes you see stretch marks running through the middle, so you know this cow was once pregnant and gave birth to a baby cow.
What's the next step for Fritz Hansen? What can we expect from the brand in the future?
D: More experience and more blend of cultures. We started the House of Fritz Hansen because we wanted to blend Danish design into Thai culture. So here we have one of the first Thai modernist houses—kept it the way it is, just cleaned up a bit and furnished with Danish design, so you get this very interesting experience of how Danish furniture would look in a Thai home. It’s a very beautiful way of introducing one culture to another and showing how they can co-exist in harmony. We really want this house to be alive, so we plan to host events like dinners, art exhibitions and parties. We’re also thinking about developing the idea to collaborate with local craftsmen and invite them into the house to show their process and craft. This is a long-term idea, but we want the House of Fritz Hansen to be a place where things happen and are created.
Learn more about Fritz Hansen furniture at norserepublics.com.