Text: Viveka van de Vliet
Photography: Boudewijn Bollmann
David Heldt and Victor le Noble
Ten years ago, Tuttobene, the platform for divers, young Dutch design talent with a focus on sustainability and innovation, was one of the hotspots at the Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Victor le Noble and Davidt Heldt started as pioneers in Milan with their first Dutch podiumfor design talent that created sustainable design, a rather undiscussed topic in the Netherlands at the time. They spotlighted the collections of hundreds of designers in beautiful exhibitions at varying locations throughout the city. Tuttobene was a household name and was a springboard for design talent that later often broke through nationally or internationally. Weltevree, Kranen/Gille and Basten Leijh are just a few examples. David: ‘The goal was to provide ambitious, high-quality designers who came up with new ideas with a platform. It could be Basten Leijh’s Sandwich Bike or Doreen Westphal’s ceramic made of concrete. I didn’t want to highlight a certain style, a uniform appearance or only young and fresh designers, but rather to show the development, the innovation’.
Victor comes from the furniture industry, is more business-like, and wants to design and sell products himself. David had experience in organising exhibitions that promoted Dutch design abroad, like in Japan, where he organised a major Dutch Design exhibition in Nagoya in 2000. He’s the one who creates a vision, wants to give designers a platform and wants to publish. Two talents who are both good at different things, which makes them stronger together.
Because they are designers themselves, there was kinship with designers. ‘We felt like one of the boys. That personal bond set Tuttobene apart’, David says. ‘Nowadays, our job is more organizational’. The duo also had good contacts with the government, ministries, the Netherlands Foreign Trade Agency, the embassy and the consulate, and they had a database. ‘We were needed to reach the world. Now everyone has a database, MailChimp, a website, and their own contacts with the press’.
Typical for those days were the high-profile parties that were part of the exhibition and that were characterised by a somewhat student-like, youthful atmosphere with free beer and rough edges, as David and Victor put it themselves. These informal parties seem to have given way to selective networking dinners with a creative chef.
In addition to these shifts, both Tuttobene and Victor and David have undergone changes in the past decade. While Victor turned Tuttobene into a sales agency for independent and self-producing designers in collaboration with Remco van der Voort, David went solo with his Connecting the Dots platform and The Dots publication for all Dutch designers and companies exhibiting in Milan. He brings together a number of competing platforms, including Margriet Vollenberg’s international Ventura Projects and Masterly, Nicole Uniquole’s Dutch pavilion.
‘The introduction of LED lighting and 3D printing has offered designers new ways of designing’, says Victor. ‘Innovative materials were invented and used to make prototypes. The gimmick, like the Weltevree catamaran or the porcelain dildo by Guido Ooms and Davy Grosemans, is pass.’, he believes. ‘Storytelling is becoming more important in products, as are marketing and branding’.
The fact that the sector as a whole has managed to brand itself successfully is beyond dispute. The Dutch design industry has the largest presence in Milan second only to the Italians. ‘Communication within our sector has become a sector in itself. Presenting yourself independently as a designer or brand is outdated; you have to do it under the umbrella of a crowd puller that also takes care of communication’, says David. ‘Communication agencies are hired for this and they maintain close relationships with the media. This means that the sector has relinquished an important part of its autonomy’. To an increasing degree, designers are preoccupied with their own promotion and branding, something that has been made important by social media platforms like Instagram. They think about where they want to belong, with whom they want to be seen, whether they are in the right place. The focus seems to be less on the product itself’, he says.
That is why he believes that designers have to be careful not to work for the common denominator. ‘Dare to design for a small group, dare to be idiosyncratic. This is where the strength of Dutch designers lies. The importance of branding is putting that at risk. Dutch designers are known for being enterprising, for experimenting, for making connections between sectors and daring to venture into unfamiliar territory. This is typical for Dutch design: its diversity in style, its use of materials, and its target group.
This mentality put the Netherlands on the map as a design country, although David believes that which was characterised as Dutch design was, for the most part, dictated by the image of Droog Design. ‘There certainly were designers who liked to use the image, but there were also designers who didn’t recognize themselves in it at all and didn’t want to be associated with it. I never actually come across that discussion anymore; today, where you come from is less relevant. Dutch design is dead, long live Dutch design!’