For some years, contemporary Danish designers have been standing in the shadow of the time-honoured brand, Danish Design. But now a new generation of playful and successful Danish design talent is bursting into view. The world is busy rediscovering Danish design.
Maybe the interest never went away. It just felt like it had. The world had its gaze firmly fastened on classic Danish design from the days when “Danish Modern” were the words on everybody's lips, and there was an inclination to overlook contemporary generations of designers. Danish Design had become synonymous with the stylish functionalism of the 1950s and 1960s, the period when furniture had names like “The Egg”, “The Swan” and “The Ant” – architect Arne Jacobsen's visionary proposals for modern chairs. It was particularly in furniture design that Danish Design established itself with such worldwide success that for some years, younger designers were left in the shadows of the Danish masters.
But not any more.
Recently a new generation of design, Made in Denmark, has gradually pushed its way into the international spotlight – not least because of a strong desire to experiment and challenge common perceptions of how things should look.
New Danish Modern
While the classic Danish designers were nationally-orientated, the new flock of designers are globally-oriented and gain inspiration from their travels around the Americas, the Far East and Southern Europe. They are not afraid to try alternative approaches, use new materials, and mix wood, plastic and metal with playful, expressive power.
Those in any doubt should take a look at Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan – the world's biggest and most important design and furniture trade show – which each year is visited by 300,000 people.
Since 2008, Denmark has participated with a shared stand organised by the Danish Consulate General in Milan, which brings together the best of Danish design.
Design company Normann Copenhagen has been involved since 2008, and already by the following year had managed to gain entry to the exclusive club of design companies that have their own exhibition stand at Salone Internazionale del Mobile. The organisers of the trade show have over 500 companies on the waiting list, and it is perfectly normal to have to wait 10-12 years before even being considered.
“It isn't an Italian trade fair for furniture design, it is a world trade fair for design,” says sales manager Peter Husted from Normann Copenhagen.
“Unless you have been there, it is hard to understand how huge it is. It is the biggest and most focused platform for design in the world. Visitors walk an average 25 kilometres per day at the trade show and all guests have a professional association with the design industry. It is the one place in the world where once a year all the major stakeholders gather. It's visibility worldwide.”
With a clear reference to the heyday of Danish furniture design in the 1950s, Normann Copenhagen attached the name “New Danish Modern” to a collection which caused a stir at the show two years ago. The collection encompassed chairs, ceramics, lamps, children's furniture and toys, all imbued with the same qualities which denote Danish design: quality, functionality and choice of materials. Danish design is characterised by its material sense, visual humility, towering user value and simple, clean aesthetics. Less is more.
Underplayed style with a sure touch
Danish design's strength is its sureness of touch, avoiding overinterpreting and overdesigning things. The whole thing is a little underplayed, in a very confident and convincing manner.
Danish design is rarely flashy or visually dramatic, and this fits well with the times after the global financial crisis, as well as with increased environmental awareness. A new frugality, where the level of consumption is restrained a little. Danish design had sustainability built into its tradition long before it became fashionable, thanks to its simplicity and especially another rare feature: it lasts.
“One of the strengths of Danish designers is their passion for natural materials, the high quality and the great attention to ergonomics. For example, Stelton and Eva Trio are excellent brands that are known everywhere,” says Arturo dell’Acqua Belavitis, who heads the design faculty in Milan and is a passionate connoisseur of both Danish and Italian design.
“Denmark has a fantastic design tradition that stretches back to the middle of the last century. Denmark has excellent design schools and today there are plenty of exciting young designers. It lies in your DNA and your background in designing cities, furniture and products. In a nutshell, Danish design has a fantastic reputation, so it was high time that Denmark was represented at the Milan show,” says Arturo dell’Acqua, who thinks that Denmark is too modest about flaunting its designers abroad. He adds:
“Underneath it all lies the social approach which takes into account many different types of people – an approach which stems from the fact that Denmark is a very egalitarian society.”
This article is from Focus Denmark Magazine, March 2011