Given that Ambiente is held in Europe, the homeland of Western tradition, it’s not unusual for exhibitors to represent companies with hundreds of years of history to their name. The fair itself dates back to the Middle Ages. Therefore, one of the most prominent conversation topics this year was, how can traditional companies reinvent themselves in a changing world?
Designer and lecturer from the Saar University of the Visual Arts in Saarbrücken, Mark Braun, led a media tour that sought to find some answers to this question from different Ambiente exhibitors.
Mono is a flatware company famous for its minimalist ‘mono-a’ collection, designed in 1959 by Professor Peter Raacke. The collection was the best-selling German flatware of the post-war period. When it was released, the mono-a collection was “absolutely unique”, but at Ambiente, the company was promoting a new product – softmesh, which looks a bit like a cleaning cloth made of chain mail. It’s a specialist tool for cleaning glass.
Mono chief executive Wilhelm Seidel emphasised the importance of finding a balance between maintaining an iconic design and finding new products like the softmesh. He emphasised the work that had gone into ensuring each new product represented a genuine step forward and had longevity.
Siedel is confident the softmesh will still be “a big deal” in 25-30 years: “We are not part of this business that creates a new collection every year.”
Christian Kraus from Austrian glassware company Riedel is proud that his company continues to make its product by hand while pursuing high functionality. Since its foundation in 1756, Riedel has improved its technology a lot and created “a great value for this daily product”.
Riedel specialises in offering specially-designed glasses to suit the different characteristics of particular wines. Each is designed by a team of experts from scratch, and the final design is selected from at least 20 different shapes. During the design tour, Kraus highlights an unusual glass resembling a brandy balloon which is made for oaked chardonnay and other barrel-aged white wines.
He feels it’s important to allow consumers to understand the “incredible skill” involved in Riedel’s production process. It takes six or seven years to train each Riedel glassmaker. The complexity involved in designing and creating Riedel glasses also means that the product cannot be copied – no other manufacturer can replicate its 50-year knowledge bank.
“Our glasses are not fashion items,” says Kraus. “Our glasses are tools and tools will never be out of fashion.”
Kraus is confident Riedel will still exist in 100 years.
German porcelain company Rosenthal is another heavyweight exhibitor, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In recent times, it has stayed at the forefront of design by releasing a lot of collaborations with fashion-forward designers.
Rosenthal’s head of product design, Robert Zuck, says it’s important to balance designers’ creativity with the company’s corporate identity.
“They both have to fit in a nice way together.”
He pointed out a line of hot-pink vases from the ‘Hot Spots’ line, created in collaboration with Christine Rathmann. These products are unconventional for Rosenthal, but it’s important for heritage companies to be flexible, he says: “It’s very modern but it’s still Rosenthal. Maybe that’s expressive of how Rosenthal wants to go in the future.”
Sarah Dunn travelled to Ambiente courtesy of Messe Reps & Travel. A full article on Ambiente will be forthcoming in the April / May issue of NZRetail magazine.