Text Viveka van de Vliet
The Peoples Manufacturer
Hans Lensvelt has been going to the Salone in Milan for more than thirty years. The first years as a visitor, since 2000 as co-owner of MOOOI together with Marcel Wanders and Casper Vissers (label Moooi), and the last ten years as design furniture label Lensvelt. Since then, he is often the first to come up with innovative products in collaboration with designers, artists and architects. The often pioneering Lensvelt shows never-unnoticed and often prize-winning presentations during the Milan Design Week. All New, this year’s presentation, is characterized by the focus: Lensvelt shows accessible designs for the international market at Ventura Centrale.
Lensvelt often knows how to surprise with something remarkable in Milan. The museum like presentation in close collaboration with Atelier Van Lieshout (AVL) in 2012: ‘World War III/ Furnification’ is engraved in our memory. It stood out from many other shows during the Milan Design Week in both size and design. A large factory hall was dominated by new furniture: AVL Cloud Table, AVL Koker Chair and AVL Spider Chair and by a huge blue-painted replica of an American cannon. The ‘artillery’ and the name ‘Furnication’ – reprehensible sex between unmarried people – symbolized the relationship between Van Lieshout and Lensvelt.
Lensvelt is also the only Dutch company that has won the ‘Oscar for the international design world’: the Milano Design Award, Best Concept. And not once but twice in succession. In 2016 together with architects Space Encounters for ‘The Boring Collection’, and in 2017 for the presentation ‘May I Have Your Attention, Please?’ with Maarten Baas and the Maarten Baas 101 Chair. Hans Lensvelt: ‘It’s a huge recognition, it shows the appreciation for who we are and what we do.
’In 2018, the presentation Nothing New in collaboration with Maarten Spruyt was, despite the nod, also strikingly new and different. And this year, Lensvelt launches together with Modular Lighting: All New! Many new products in collaboration with Dutch and international architects, designers and artists, are put in the spotlight under the arches of Stazione Centrale.
Milan is still the place to launch new concepts and furniture designs, the place where Lensvelt also tries to bridge the gap between the commercial world and innovative designers and artists, and where it gains appreciation and makes new contacts. The furniture brand never presents at the big trade show in Rho-Fiera, as many furniture brands do. ‘We anticipate to the entourage, the atmosphere of such a large industrial space like Stazione Centrale or Museo Diocesano. It fits better with our creative, somewhat anarchistic identity than the more sophisticated, established trade show where you only get a small stand in a corner at your disposal.’
But for Lensvelt, the annual presentation in Milan also raises the question: What about Dutch Design? For him, Dutch Design is conceptual design with a wink, as originally made by the Big Five: Marcel Wanders, Jurgen Bey, Richard Hutten, Piet Hein Eek and Hella Jongerius. ‘They have put Dutch Design on the map, but it has not become what I expected,’ he says. ‘After all, we have not been able to build up a serious industry and distribution. The fact that the Netherlands also lacks real craftsmanship does not help. No matter how enthusiastic everyone is, unlike, for example, Italian and Scandinavian design, we have unfortunately not succeeded in getting Dutch Design into foreign living rooms and offices’, he says critical. ‘Almost nobody wants Dutch Design, the Dutch government certainly doesn’t. It is unintentionally mainly the cultural and art-loving Amsterdam ‘grachtengordel’ elite that buys it. That feels like a failure, “says Lensvelt, sipping a glass of white wine in his office on the Herengracht in Amsterdam.
“The Dutch government sponsors the creative industry but it buys products that have nothing to do with Dutch Design. That government would better help the creative industry if it used and applied Dutch Design. This would make the Dutch creative industry much more credible internationally’, is his conviction.‘The products that are currently being designed by a number of these big five are now by the way much less Dutch Design than their initial designs were in the 1990s. They made the move to the middle; the designs are less conceptual and more commercial,’ he notes.
Lensvelt has always had the mission: as the chef selects the very best ingredients for a meal, Lensvelt offers the tools for architects and interior designers to create the very best innovative interiors. Since its foundation in 1962, the label has always had the goal of making high-quality design available to a larger audience. Lensvelt, which calls itself ‘The Peoples Manufacturer’ works with more conceptual designers and artists such as Atelier van Lieshout, Maarten Baas and Studio Job, but this year also opted for a less conceptual and more commercial direction. Hence the collaboration with Luc Binst / B brand, OMA, i29, Fabio Novembre and especially Studio Piet Boon and Baranowitz + Kronenberg. ‘After all, we do not want to make works of art for the happy few, but rather accessible, affordable, applicable and well-designed furniture for everyone, that means: sober, functional and logical furniture – with a twist.’
Hans Lensvelt believes that Milan Design Week still has unprecedented dynamics. ‘The concept of Milan has not changed in the last ten years, except that it has become much bigger. Thousands of people are coming now, there are thousand presentations. The whole world settles here temporarily; it is now popular to study product design and to present in Milan. It is fantastic that the people of Milan can accept the invasion without a problem, while here, in Amsterdam, we moan when a tourist interested in Dutch culture also uses the public space,’ he says.
After All New, next year’s show is called Nothing At All, in which Lensvelt seriously wonders whether that should be the next step. ‘We have learned a lot in recent years. In the early days, Milan was primarily a team-building event as an alternative to a long weekend in the Ardennes. Later we were especially happy when everything was physically there. This year the focus is therefore on sales. The aim is to build a network of foreign distributors and to bring Lensvelt’s products to attention of foreign architects and interior architects. Lensvelt: ‘Having a physical product is only twenty percent of the process. After that there is a long way to go. That is often underestimated by many starting designers. The other eighty percent is mainly the marketing that should get the distribution started and to get the products into living rooms and offices.’
Find Lensvelt’s presentation at the upcoming Milan Design Week, 9-14 April at Ventura Central: