Longing for
an Instagram-Worthy

When it comes to artist x brand collaborations, fashion brands seem to be in a league of their own. There are the fashion collabs with artists that garner cultural significance along with our attention, and then there are the rest. Even though a handful of beauty and beverage brands have been making waves with artist collaborations, it seems that brands in arenas like housewares, appliances and electronics generally have been unable to impress us the way fashion brands do.

Evian x Christian Lacroix
Shu Uemura x Yaz Bukey
Smeg refrigerators
Smeg x Dolce Gabana refrigerators

To be more precise, if one wanted to put one’s 5-year-old and still irresistible Supreme x Comme des Garcons shirt in a comparably irresistible dresser, or to chill a bottle of the endearing Paul Smith x Evian collaboration in an equally endearing refrigerator there wouldn’t be many options. That is, with one glaring exception: Evian bottles lucky enough to be owned by those with a Dolce & Gabana FAB28 refrigerator, part of a mesmerizing capsule collection with the Italian home appliances brand SMEG. However, part of the appliance’s talk-value is its eye-watering price tag of 100,000 euros*.

John Baldessari’s BMW M6 GTLM art car #19
Mac cosmetics ­­­­x Kabuki

Perhaps, there lies the point. Artist x brand collaborations outside of fashion and beauty often come with price tags that are utterly out of this world. The BMW art car, for example, just like the Dolce & Gabana x SMEG collaboration, is a limited edition of five thousand, but with a price that’s never been disclosed. The strategy behind these projects are often more about brand elevation than mass sales.

Most brands, however, don’t engage in collaborations of any kind, be it art or design. That’s to say, we will all keep cooking with perfectly-fine looking microwaves, but they most likely will never compel us to post photographs and fawn over them on social media. At Arts & Labour, we can’t help but ask … why not?

The opportunities for developing unprecedented art collaborations with brands outside of fashion, beauty and beverages are so immense that leaving them untapped seems like a wasted opportunity. Not only for the loss of brilliant business momentum that collaborations have been proven to give, but equally for consumers who’re more than ready to eschew the mundane for the extraordinary.

We like to think it’s only a matter of time before brands from different industries see the marketing light, take a page from the fashion world and consider collaborating with artists for all our sakes. Someday, they’ll see that they can go beyond helping us manage our kitchens, our laundry or our offices functionally, and start transforming our day-to-day experiences.

Wouldn’t that be something.

*Dolce & Gabana and Smeg have subsequently developed a follow up collaboration of small appliances that has not yet gone into production. No word so far on how much they will retail for or when they will launch, though we’d wager there will be a waitlist.


Attracting the Masses
by Targeting the Few

For a number of savvy brands, developing collaborations with artists has become a vital way to ensure consumers see their products with fresh eyes. Art collaborations are often seen as a way of building relationships with audiences that may be hard to connect with. Yet for that to happen, brands of all kinds need to start seeing their target audiences no longer as consumers, but as their partners. Anna Sinofzik, the editor and co-author of Taken by Surprise: Cutting Edge Collaborations Between Designers, Artists and Brands, makes the following argument about the impact of art collaborations when done right: “Target audiences become brand ambassadors, customers become collaborators and consumption becomes an experience.”

Enmasse x Canada Goose
Travis Fimmel wears Canada Goose

Not surprisingly, such multi-faceted relationships can only blossom under specific circumstances. As audiences pick out their brands of choice, and likewise, brands pick out their audiences, both must engage in each other’s vision with the mutual respect required to develop authentic and desirable products that are relevant and beneficial to both. (We can’t help but think of the New York-based street brand Supreme, whose products are a win-win thanks to their collaborations solely with artists revered by its devotees.)

While art collaborations are about building broader and deeper kinds of relationships with customers, the same can be said about partnerships with artists. Ultimately, brands must cultivate trust with their collaborators—the designers, artists, photographers, creative directors, stylists, writers and all other essential creative professionals—so they may contribute to the common goal of any artist/brand collaboration: to create unique products that generate positive talk-value, benefit both the artist and brand and positively contribute to society.

Vetements x Canada Goose
Concept x Comme des Garçons

Deliberately or not, most brands are prone to classify their audiences a bit too broadly, assuming they have to appeal to the masses to achieve explosive growth. While expanding a target audience has the potential to increase profits, it also runs the risk of diluting or weakening the products, and with them, the bottom line. But we believe there’s a way to avoid this catch 22 of brand stewardship and accomplish the growth every business owner dreams of – by doing just the opposite.

Canada Goose. The company started as a family-run business in the late 1950’s manufacturing heavy-duty utilitarian winter outwear for the Canadian Rangers and those working in and around the Arctic Circle. Forty years later, Canada Goose emerged onto the global fashion scene and became renowned for its high-end duck down-filled parkas, recognizable for their Coyote fur-lined hoods and distinctive “Made in Canada” logo patches displayed proudly on every sleeve.

It took the founder’s grandson Dani Reiss, an aspiring writer, to step in and slightly re-write the brand’s original narrative. The parkas were already liked for their functional, utilitarian and northern characteristics among those on arctic expeditions and in Nordic communities. Promoting the parkas to film crews working in cold environments was an out-of-the-box, yet natural idea. Canada Goose became known in those tight-knit, trend-setting circles as the “the” coat to have on set. Dani, however, wanted the parkas in the front of the cameras as well as behind them.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s. The Scandinavian fashion scene had now been taken by storm by Canada Goose, while Hollywood and other international celebrities had begun to follow the lead of the crews behind the cameras. Canada Goose parkas were now being seen on and off screen, and on the streets north and south. Worn by Daniel Craig in the James Bond movie “Spectre” and by Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” the parkas were now, officially, a global sensation. To add fuel to the fire, Canada Goose began to engage in numerous art and brand collaborations. Whether joining forces on highly-stylized collections with the prestigious, French avant-garde fashion house Vetements, or working in collaboration with the digital artist Eepmon, Canada Goose was becoming the parka of choice, or perhaps more importantly, of status.

All of a sudden, the parka’s lofty price tag was no longer seen as barrier, but as a mark of craftsmanship and class. By narrowing its focus on a small but influential group, Canada Goose ultimately became desirable by the widespread many.

“Want to expand your business? You should narrow your focus,” are the wise words of Al Ries, author of the business classic “Positioning”. Perhaps it’s time more brands begin taking note and in turn, taking this proven wisdom to heart.


Big Ideas
from Shallow Pockets

Did you know that the art of Yayoi Kusama (whose work has become affectionately referred to around our office as “dotty”), is coming to a museum near you? Widely known for her international collaboration with the French luxury brand Louis Vuitton (and curated by LV’s former creative director Marc Jacobs), the pioneering, Japanese, multi-disciplinary artist Yayoi Kusama’s personal work is now drawing similar outsized attention. Her solo show, now beginning to stride its way through four major museums across the U.S. and Canada, has so far been a sold-out affair. Lineups consisting mostly of uber-enthusiastic, selfie-taking Millennials have made it very clear – this is a show to see and be seen at.

Infinity mirrored room: All the eternal love I have for the pumpkins, 2016
Infinity room: Phalli’s field, 1965

Perhaps it was her whimsical collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2012 that brought Kusama to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Whether one is a fashion or art enthusiast seems irrelevant. Kusama, who was pretty much unknown outside of Japan before 2012, is now close to becoming a household name in culture-hungry circles across the western hemisphere. Without a doubt, Kusama’s work captivates. Whether it’s a pumpkin dot handbag or a pumpkin dot room, her work embodies a sense of bounding playfulness and joy. It’s an effect that’s hard to replicate – intimate, jubilant and deeply immersive, all at the same time. Which makes it not at all surprising that huge crowds have been drawn to cue up at the doors of Kusama’s six infinity mirror room exhibitions to experience it themselves.

Infinity mirrored room: All the eternal love I have for the pumkins, 2016
The obliteration room, 2002—present

Yet, after exiting the exuberantly whimsical rooms and entering the Kusama-themed museum shop, one cannot help but notice a distinct dip in originality and newness. Unlike Kusama’s invigorating work, the gift shop merchandise feels stale, predictable and repetitive. Perhaps it’s understandable for museums facing budget restraints to succumb to time-worn merchandising tactics. However, not seeing the sales-generating potential of offering products that are equally as dynamic as the art they pay homage to seems like a blind spot.

Kusama’s gigantic pumpkin at the Naoshima ferry
‘We love Naoshima t-shirt school project, 2012

Perhaps a helpful lesson in creating more intriguing and desirable merchandise can be learned from Naoshima, an island town by the Japanese Seto Sea. It’s a place that happens to be highly familiar with Kusama’s work. In fact, one of the main reasons Naoshima has become a tourist destination itself is the town’s fascination with Kusama’s art; none other than one of her sizeable red pumpkins greets its visitors as soon as they step off the ferry. Kusama’s pumpkin has not only become a symbol of the town, it’s also become a source of endless inspiration to the local kids. When I visited Naoshima a few years back, the local ferry gift shop had a collection of t-shirts and drawings on display, all interpreting Kusama’s dotty pumpkins. All the items were drawn by local kids and had become an attraction of their own. It was striking how such a low budget project could have such a great and reverberating impact.

Never underestimate the power of unconventional art collaborations, even on the smallest scales. Like this one, they can easily become the talk of a town – school, kids, parents and tourists alike. Nothing stands between a museum and a local school to collaborate and create something truly exceptional and relevant, and in this case, to promote the vision of an artist of such immense significance as Kusama. One simply has to remember, it’s not deep pockets but imagination and courage that are required to make beautiful things happen.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity mirrors will be at the Seattle Art Museum till September 10, 2017. It will then continue at The Broad in Los Angeles from October 2017 to January 2018, then at the Art Gallery of Ontario, from March to May 2018, and finally at the Cleveland Museum of Art from July to October 2018.


When Being an Artist
is Good for Business

Brands of all kinds know only too well that creating a successful product takes massive amounts of time and effort. Then they have to convince people to buy it. But what if brands could build products so remarkable they sold themselves, and because of this, others would clamor sell for them?

Art of the In-Between” at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York
Art of the In-Between” at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York, Exhibition Catalogue

Rei Kawakubo, founder of the unorthodox Japanese fashion brand, Comme des Garçons, has done nothing but that her entire career. For the past forty years, she’s invested unprecedented amounts of time and effort into designing the most extraordinary and unconventional collections the fashion industry has seen. However, as the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Met), Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, has shown, it’s not only the fashion crowds that have been flocking to the Met’s architecturally-impressive gallery space, but enthusiasts of all kinds. It’s the first exhibition honouring a living designer the Met has ever done. What’s more, it’s featuring a visionary renowned for defying the most fundamental of conventions: “If we say, ‘these are clothes’, it’s all very usual, so we said ‘these are not clothes.’ It sounds like a Zen dialogue, but it is very simple,” says Kawakubo.

Naturally, Comme des Garçons is about more than clothing. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the brand has captivated people across such varied demographics. One may argue it’s Kawakubo’s philosophy that sets the brand apart and attracts a spectrum of devotees. Or perhaps it’s her inherent need to keep challenging every assumption there is about clothing: “Is it strong or not? That’s the only question. I need to create something new, something unlike anything seen before. If a lot of people praise what I’ve made, it must have been just ordinary,” asserts Kawakubo.

Art of the In-Between” at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York

Despite its edgy, artistic status, Comme des Garçons has become one of the most desirable brands for fashion retailers to carry. The brand is a draw for design-conscious locals and tourists alike; a worthwhile stop to check out Comme des Garçons’ greatest and latest. For a retailer, carrying Comme des Garçons is often seen as an honour that must be earned. That’s the power of a brand that has built products so exceptional, others consider it a privilege to sell them.

Now, imagine if more companies, not just fashion brands followed Kawakubo’s enterprising steps and developed products that were at least slightly ahead of the curve? For a number of brands, collaborating with cutting edge designers or artists would be an easy first step in challenging their own status quo, and ultimately capturing a creative edge the marketplace is eagerly waiting for.

The exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between, runs at the Met until September 4, 2017. It features about 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons from 1980’s to present. It also includes one of Kawakubo’s dearest, her art collaboration with the American avant-garde dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, titled Scenario.


The Top 3
Art Collaboration Myths

Even though the marketplace is as saturated as ever and marketing budgets have been shrinking regularly, relatively few Canadian brands have taken advantage of the bountiful opportunities art collaborations provide, despite their success globally. At Arts & Labour, we’ve been talking to brand managers and have uncovered a few obstacles that seem to come up time and again when making the decision whether or not to collaborate with an artist on their product. What we’ve discovered is not that Canadian brands have a different set of concerns than international brands who are more willing to embrace the approach – instead, we found their top concerns were often based on lack of exposure to art collaborations and even more often, out and out myths. Naturally, we’d to take the opportunity to discuss those. Here are the top three.

Frank Gehry’s Crosscheck series of Bentwood furniture for Knoll
Frank Gehry’s Wiggle Chair

Myth No. 1: Art collaborations are costly.
Just as Frank Gehry, the celebrated Canadian architect once said, “You can do great architecture for the same cost as crappy buildings,” collaborating with an artist is not about having deep pockets, it’s about having vision.

To illustrate Gehry’s theory, consider that manufacturing a limited-edition run of art-inspired watering cans designed by a buzz-worthy artist will most likely cost the same as manufacturing a series of conventional watering cans. But as you can imagine, the social media leverage and resulting sales would be far from similar.

Keeping costs manageable comes down to conceiving the right art collaboration idea to achieve the most beneficial effect within brand’s given budget and requirements. Just as Mr. Gehry advises working with the right architect for a building, we’d recommend working with the right creative director for an art collaboration. In both cases, you’re hiring a creative professional who is capable of guiding one through the complexities of the process from start to finish effectively, successfully and fiscally responsibly.

Comme des Garçons x Nke
Gucci x Comme des Garçons
Supreme x Comme des Garçons
Supreme x Louis Vuitton

Myth No. 2: Art collaborations are gamble.
For many brands who are accustomed to using marketing to stimulate sales, collaborating with an artist seems too filled with unknowns to provide a reliable return on investment.

What they may not realize is that developing an effective art collaboration, like all good business, is based on a solid strategy that’s followed through with great ideas and strong execution. Using ourselves as an example, Arts & Labour looks to art collaboration successes worldwide as a guide and employs proven techniques to achieve a great result; we use what we call “modules” to break down the process and help guide brand managers and product designers. While our tactical modules help uncover a brand’s needs and wants, our creative modules help define a collaborative strategy to inject a product with the most inherent newsworthiness and appeal. With the right process, creativity does not have to equate to risk.

Myth No. 3: Art collaborations are for luxury brands only.
Perhaps it’s because the most celebrated and memorable art collaborations of late have come from luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garcons, but many brands assume the approach is too avant-garde for them, or even “out of their league.”

illy art cup collection x Gillo Dorfless
Illy art collection x Dasha Zaichanka

Nonsense. Developing an art collaboration is an essential way for brands of all kinds to ensure consumers see their product with fresh eyes. For instance, Illy, the Italian coffee company, uses art collaboration as a way to help them de-commodify their offering. Whether it’s a coffee cup, a can of beans or a trade booth, Illy is a brand that takes full advantage of collaborating with artists as a way to stay relevant, top of mind and most of all, inspiring.

As Rachel Somers Miles wrote in her Huffington Post article called “Collaboration Validation,” “Focusing on culture, by developing brand-artist collaborations, is a way of building authentic relationships with audiences that may be hard to connect with. Brands need to work with artists, whose relationships with consumers come from consumers’ genuine excitement.” Indeed.

We wish you plenty of courage to crush each obstacle that stands between your brand and your next art-fusion collaboration.


The New Currency: Creative Vision

Last fall, the BMW Group published the fourth edition of its Independent Collectors’ Art Guide. Like many luxury brands, the German carmaker has been busy developing a variety of partnerships with the arts in their ambition to consistently remain culturally and socially relevant. It’s a true balancing act, nurturing that delicate relationship between commercial and creative vision. Getting involved in art collaborations and art partnerships with emerging and established contemporary artists or institutions has become quite a skilled endeavor among the world’s most prestigious brands. But why, we wonder, do only luxury brands seem to take advantage of the power of art for its instant injection of relevance, interest and “nowness”?

Olafur Eliasson BMW H2R, 2007
Jeff Koons BMW M3GT2, 2010

The BMW Art Guide is a collaborative publication between the German luxury carmaker and Independent Collectors of contemporary art, presenting 256 private yet publicly accessible art collections, large and small, famous and unknown, across 180 cities and 43 countries. It started in 2012 to simply gather and enlist privately owned contemporary art collections with public access around the world. The result was a well-designed, pocked-sized publication that has, according to the BMW Group, become the go-to-guide to discover new art collections in the most diverse settings on the planet. And so, the concept of “art experience collecting” was born.

BMW’s first foray into the arts dates back to 1975 when the French auctioneer and racecar driver Hervé Poulain commissioned the American artist (and personal friend), Alexander Calder, to paint his racecar. The result was to become the very first BMW Art Car. Since then, a number of well-known artists like Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons have joined the ranks of the BMW Art Cars Project’s featured artists. BMW Art Cars initially only appeared at car races, without any public participation, so to speak. Only later, as the public’s interest in contemporary art and artists grew, the art collaborations started to take a different shape; they soon began serving as travelling advertisements, reinforcing BMW’s elevated image and borrowing the cache of the many rock-star artists they collaborated with.

Nowadays, it’s a known fact that the tighter brands are able to align their commercial and creative visions, the more original and desirable they become. Yet, at Arts & Labour we can’t stop asking two simple questions. First, why aren’t more brands, high-end or not, taking advantage of the art collaborative model that has proven time and time again to work for the BMW Group and a handful of other savvy brands so effectively and for so long?

Second, why do brands who do not have creative visionaries the caliber of Herve Poulain in-house, not make a point of outsourcing the creative vision they so desperately need to succeed? Why are they not aligning their marketing and product development teams to bring their creative and commercial visions together to reach their full capacities?

The BMW Art Guide can be purchased directly via Amazon or as an Ebook download.


An Inspiring Product is Better than Inspiring Marketing

Brands that recognize the value of fostering not only a commercial vision, but a creative one have been leading the way of late. Take for instance, the continuing success of the London-based Cambridge Satchel Company. Founded in 2008 and celebrated intensively ever since for its locally handmade and globally desired bags —a result of not only hiring the best-of-the-best British leather workers, but also their strategy of continuously collaborating with a handful of cutting-edge designers and relevant bloggers. Or Supreme, the New York based skateboarding shop, founded in 1994, and notorious for its many sold-out international capsule collaborations with artists. Or Artek, the ultra-innovative Finish design company founded in 1935 by two visionaries who, just like the founders of the previous two brands, believed in a synthesis of the arts with technology, architecture, design and lifestyle at large. The successes of each of these three brands have been remarkable. At Arts & Labour, we relish their ability to invent and reinvent their products through art and serving them up in a way the world simply can’t get enough of.

Artek x Tobias Rehberger
Artek x Kvadrat x Raf Simons

So. What’s the magic formula?
To start, it’s best to look inward and see if the formula you’re currently following is actually one for mediocrity. More than ever, brands need to cultivate their own creative vision to be able to achieve their commercial vision. Yet for many brands, their creative vision, for various reasons, only goes so far. This often translates to working with an advertising agency to help develop glossy ad campaigns to make their products seem inspiring.

What Supreme, Artek and The Cambridge Satchel Company have in common is that their creative visions and commercial strategies are equally robust and most importantly, they’re intertwined. They’ve invested in reinforcing their already well-designed products with a continuous cycle of art collaborations, be it with architects, artists, designers, photographers, musicians or bloggers to continually ensure their products don’t need to be made to seem inspiring by marketing; they actually are inspiring. All three brands collaborate with creative talents who are naturally adept at recognizing what society craves and end up with buzzy products that sell themselves.

In our next post, we delve more into the subject of creative vision and explore a brand that leveraged theirs to its benefit for over 40 years: BMW. Until then.


The Principles of Staying Relevant

How many brands today can claim they’re striving for better rather than newer? Vitsoe, a British furniture manufacturer founded by Niels Vitsoe in 1959 in Germany has been obsessed with nothing but being better for the past 57 years.

Braun razon designed by Rahms
Radio designed by Rams

As strange as it may sound, the brand was first and foremost created for Dieter Rams, a German furniture designer known for his pioneering solutions that helped transform his then employer, Braun, into a global consumer electronics brand. But ultimately, Vitsoe was born out of a collaborative spirit among a group of open-minded and imaginative professionals and friends. This was an era when design collaborations weren’t the movement they are today, but simply a pragmatic way of doing things. Vitsoe’s original founders, Niels Vitsoe and Otto Zapf, along with Braun’s founders (and Rams’ employers), Erwin and Artur Braun, unilaterally agreed that Dieter Rams’ secondary employment with Vitsoe would only benefit both brands. Dieter Rams went on to work for these two companies side-by-side, and as he likes to point out, “… only for these two companies.”

In addition to his seamless and irresistible product designs, Rams has been celebrated for his ten principles of good design. Our favourite at Arts & Labour is no. 10, “Good design is as little design as possible”, and no. 6, “Good design is honest.”

10 Principles for Good Design by Dieter Rams
Our suggestion

Despite being prolific for Braun, Dieter Rams designed only three key products for Vitsoe. The most popular, the 606 Universal Shelving System, is a modular system that’s fully adaptable to every single surrounding. The design is not only movable and adjustable, but also tasteful. Some consumers even claim it’s “highly addictive.” Now part of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collection, Dieter Rams has made numerous improvements and adjustments to the system since its early days, but always with integrity to its original design.

We are clearly lovers of good design at Arts & Labour; but why, you may wonder, are we devoting so much thought to Vitsoe? Like other established brands that want to remain in demand, Vitsoe too may need to start addressing the desires of more recent generations, namely Millennials and Post-Millennials. Unlike Baby Boomers and Generation X, who have been captivated by Vitsoe’s good design, Millennials seem to be neither familiar with nor interested in the brand’s affluent history or its design principles. In fact, Millennials appear to be attracted to values that signify cultural disruption and activism rather than design relevance exclusively.

In our opinion, Vitsoe may want start expanding its company’s vision beyond good design and start celebrating the role of good art. Wouldn’t it be delicious if this prompted a new set of principles that focus on the benefits collaboration between good art and design can bring to brands, artists and society at large?

May we humbly suggest a new principle? No.11, “When good design and good art collaborate, it has the power to change minds.” The ever-innovative Dieter Rams would no doubt approve.

For more on the genius of Dieter Rams, see this recent article by Fast Company.


Two Brave Brands

As we all know, brands must live and breathe innovation to stay relevant. But the practice is not as much about marketability or promoting allure as one might think; it is in reality, more about fostering authenticity. For innovation to ring true to consumers, it must come from the core of the brand, rooted in a thoughtful and continuous process of genuine rebirth – or it risks feeling like a desperate gimmick. This process is anything but easy, and worth applauding when brands have the bravery to do it well. Today, we’ll highlight two brands that have shown their mettle in spades. Both are European and internationally celebrated; while one is much younger than the other, both are achieving innovation in ways that speak volumes artistically, socially, culturally and economically.

Available at the busy Dover Street Market in London and in countries like France, Switzerland, Kuwait, Japan, China, Korea and Canada, the namesake-clothing brand of Faye Toogood is an ongoing project of the British artist and fashion designer. Her academic training in fine arts coupled with her hands-on experience in the magazine industry has been a major force behind both of her practices: art and fashion.

Collaborating with like-minded individuals and organizations, as well as participating in prestigious design festivals, Toogood has been integrating both of her disciplines quite seamlessly. Fusing her sculptural work with fashion, and applying a discriminating, multi-dimensional, artistic sensibility, she has been pushing the boundaries of her craft not only aesthetically, but also socially and politically. And her brief but sharp manifestos couldn’t be any clearer about Toogood’s moral convictions, in case anyone should wonder. At Arts & Labour, we enjoy the courageous and truly inspiring forward motion Faye Toogood’s work exemplifies.

Known for its everyday household objects, iittala, has been inspiring lovers of good design with its elegant functionality since the 19th century, and continues to do so today. It’s clear by their actions that iitalla’s enthusiasm is for making perfectly desirable objects more than it is for making marketplace noise.

Since its beginnings, the brand has focused its efforts on collaborating with an impressive array of visionary international designers and growing its reputation not only in Finland, but also across continents. Their most recent collaboration with the Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, notable for his innovative work with pleats, has culminated in a collection of high-quality ceramics, glass and home textiles titled Pause for Harmony. Iittala’s Scandinavian sensibilities united with Miyake’s expression of Japanese serenity went even further. The collaboration was launched with a series of art installations allowing consumers to experience the story behind the collaboration in a peaceful and harmonious way, making its mark quietly, yet deeply as iittala prefers.

Bravo to both brands. Your nerve and authenticity inspire us.


Salone del Mobile: The Bottom Line

Salone Milano and Milan Design week are exceptional design showcases, primarily thanks to their top-notch organizers. But each and every participating brand, small and large, national and international had something extraordinary to add. Salone Milano seems to magically bring out the best of everyone who wants to play. Whether it was a large brand exhibiting a full new collection or a small brand launching a single product, the sensitivities and sensibilities of each brand could be seen and felt quite intensely.

Undoubtedly, the majority of products launched during the Salone Milano and Milan Design Week had already undergone scrupulous testing before being exposed to the discriminating public eye at the show. As we know, there is a whole gamut of details a successful product needs to embody in order to become aesthetically and functionally desirable. The brands we saw seemed to consider this not once or twice, but endless times before bringing their latest to this international trade exhibition of such enormous reputation and magnitude. In other words, the successful brands, small and large, did their homework with uncompromising diligence. Everything needed to and did go a step beyond to make it there.

It’s a quality that seems to be lacking from numerous other trade shows, including our own Interior Design Show (IDS) or IIDEX hosted annually in Toronto. Most of the trade booths there are short on imagination, while the products themselves lack newness and desirability. The ethos seems to be about being just good enough, rather than being exceptional. Could it be that for the brands participating at Salone Milano, it is more about pride and joy, whereas here it’s about obligation and responsibility?

What drives crowds and generates well-deserved attention is thoughtful artistry, not only when applied to products, but also when applied to the booths themselves. Every item, even the promotional literature, needs to be infused with the power of invisible yet fully present design to withstand the fierce heat of scrutiny that a trade show and design week will generate. Ultimately, that’s the acid test that produces a show that will make people from around the world come year-after-year to experience it. And as the brands at Salone Milano proved, it’s not about deep pockets, but the willingness to stand out – through thoughtfulness, confidence and exceptional creativity.

Let’s be open to learning from them.

In our next post we’ll look at what sparks an idea. See you in September.

marni ballhaus
marni ballhaus
Raw Edges x 5VIE Art + Design
Raw Edges x 5VIE Art + Design
maybe blue Would have been better, site installation
La Triennale di Milano ‘Women in Italian Design’
equilibri, trade booth
La Triennale di Milano ‘Women in Italian Design’