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Jaime Hayon & his sexy chairs

Spanish designer Jaime Hayon in his Ro chair, the bestselling lounge chair from Fritz Hansen: “If you look at the chair from behind, you will feel that this is something that will hold you, embrace you.”

When he was 17, Jaime Hayon had to decide what he was going to do for the rest of his life. He had just spent a year living in California, soaking up its design, art and skateboard culture.

He was coming home to Madrid and, like any teenager, he wasn’t sure where to go from there but he knew this much: “It was not going to be medicine or engineering. When I came back from California, I knew I had to do something creative, but I didn’t know if it was design or architecture or something like that. I was sure it was going to be creative because, at the end of the day, it was the only thing that was going to make me happy.”

Jaime is relating this story to me two days ago at The Playground of Bench Tower in BGC. We are walking through the vignettes that Studio Dimensione, the exclusive distributor of Fritz Hansen in the Philippines, had set up.

 “A friend of mine told me about design and said, ‘Why don’t you try to see if it’s for you?’ So I went to an Italian school from Milan that was opening in Madrid. Almost all of them were Italians and they were really nice and interesting. They told me, ‘It’s all about making objects, about the way we live and think.’ And I said, why not?”

In two hours, Jaime’s going to speak in front of architects, interior and industrial designers, and students the same age he was when he found himself making that decision about the rest of his life.

There is a palpable sense of excitement in this wide space that displays Fritz Hansen’s classic chairs from 60 years ago to Jaime’s chairs from as recent as seven years ago when he first designed for the Danish company.

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Much as I want to, I can’t stay for the lecture but I know that each of these seats covered in black cloth is going to be occupied. You can feel the anticipation in the air, from the people who are lining up the chairs in front of an elevated stage to those taping the long cords to the floor with black electrical tape and those doing last-minute touches for the event.

You can feel it even from Bench and Studio Dimensione founder Ben Chan, who was responsible for bringing Jaime to the Philippines.

 

 

 

 

Ben first studied Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair before he owned one, before there was a Bench. And then he owned two Egg chairs even before he brought to Manila the company that made it. Trained as an interior designer, Ben studied all the icons of design, seen and coveted them from his travels.

Fritz Hansen had for decades reigned in upmarket offices and homes with its slew of chairs with catchy single names — Swan, Egg, Drop — which were soon enshrined in modern museums and galleries around the world.Other chairs came with varying levels of success, but with Fritz Hansen, the names were always Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Pierro Lissoni. 

Then came Jaime Hayon seven years ago — a young Madrileño with curly hair who first became popular in the art world rather than the design world. He was cool, he wore a jacket with sneakers, talked crazy and had high energy.

He looked like the type who’d want to stir up things. And he did.

The shape of things

As a young man, Jaime appreciated the designers like Alvar Aalto and Le Corbusier, but it was the painters Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso that he adored and was inspired by.  

“My world was never really about industrial design, it was about so many things. I used to paint all the time and now I work with galleries and museums every year. Still today, my office is run by making objects, installations and furniture and interiors, so it’s pretty much divided between different disciplines.”

We are standing in front of Jaime’s Ro chair, his second design for Fritz Hansen. Ro follows what has been a trademark of Fritz Hansen chairs — they’re a pain in the ass to upholster owing to their shapes.

When Ro came, it broke the calm in the Republic of Fritz Hansen. Suddenly there was this chair and this designer that everyone was talking about. Wait! Was this going to be another icon the likes of which we haven’t seen in 60 years?

“To me, the Egg was not comfortable enough, and this is me trying to be…it’s typical me,” says Jaime snapping his fingers. “Let’s try to change things!”

Ro is a one-and-a-half seat but it’s not a hunk of a chair. Instead, it’s sexy and leafy with a long neck that folds inwards on both sides as if to shield you from the outside world.

Jaime sits beside the chair and turns it around to show me the profile. Now I can fully appreciate its lines, its shapeliness — and how it looks like a woman’s back.

“If you look at the chair from behind, you will feel that this is something that will hold you. I always say you have to be embraced by your furniture. Sometimes, you see furniture that are kind of telling you, ‘Move away!’ Why? Furniture should embrace you, it should tell you, ‘Come in.’

“The fact that it’s so thin, even though there’s 25 centimeters of foam, that’s pretty hard to shape in a way that’s very delicate. There’s a lot of sculptural, artistic element to it.”

Is this the next egg chair?

Ro is said to be the bestselling lounge chair of all the brands in the world at the moment.

The question of knowing if a design is going to be an icon or not, if it’s going to endure, is a fascinating one because it’s something that manufacturers and designers can’t answer definitively no matter how experienced they are.

“Oh, you just don’t know,” Jaime says. “But when something looks like it can be there for so many years — because it’s made well, it has the right proportions, and it’s accepted by a lot of people — maybe it will last.”

So is it the collective emotional response that makes a design a success? “It’s also the function. I know a lot of people who see it and say oh I love it, it’s going to look great in my house. But the proportion…the fact that it’s a one and a half seat, you can bring your baby in it, you can bring your purse and not put it on the floor when you’re in a hotel, you can bring your laptop, all these things matter. It’s stupid, but I thought about all this stuff when I was designing the chair. I thought about the privacy, how much you want to hear when you’re seated in it, if it’s comfortable to read a book, to have a nap in it.”

Ro may very well be the chair that 50 years from now people will be saying about, “You know, this chair was first designed in 2013 and it’s popular now more than ever.”

Jaime laughs and says,  “I’d feel pretty good about that. It’s interesting because Fritz Hansen has always been a solid company but they had a time, as you said, of not being very sure where they were. The heritage in a way was not understood by a lot of designers in the middle. They lost a little bit of their track in my opinion. When I arrived I was probably not the obvious choice. I was pretty crazy and into a lot of eclectic stuff. But I did understand where they were. What their DNA was and its importance to the company. If you think about their shapes, you see these are forms that are actually very hard to upholster and you also see the quality from the fact that they can upholster this.”

Jaime made the idea of furniture embracing you in the physical form with his first design, Favn, the Danish word for embrace. He describes the sofa as his “first exercise”— which lasted three years because of the engineering involved.

We walk to the sofa, its brushed aluminum legs firmly on the floor, and Jaime switches the two pillows from the sides to front, saying, “I don’t know why I made these pillows. People are always putting them in the wrong place.”

This sofa influenced the shape of sofas that came on the market after it. Suddenly it was round, it was a big sculptural piece and it was also a very big challenge to make.

He explains that when he designs, he is always going for “forms that are organic and nicely done using technology that Fritz Hansen is good at. Many of the furniture I’ve designed have to be done in a very precise way.”

Jaime’s pieces strike you as being uncomplicated, but there’s a lot of details that go into them. The simple shape is not so simple after all, and his first three designs — Favn, Ro and Fri — look like “double” chairs for lack of a better word.  There’s a shapely shell and then the cushioning, which with another designer might look hefty but in Jaime’s hands they turn out sexy.

 “It’s all about making forms that are complex to achieve,” he says.  Take Fri, for example. At first glance it looks like a shorter version of Ro, but it’s an entirely different geometry. 

“We wanted a chair that was part of the Ro family (which also has a sofa, by the way) but it had to be done in a way that we didn’t just cut the Ro chair. So I did it fully and thought about the volume. The other one had a big neck, this one doesn’t.”

Jaime runs his hands on the side of the chair, as if caressing it. “We needed to fill it a bit more here, we needed to re-dress it. I did 20 drawings on how this beautiful curve will go and how this meets the pillow. There’s a lot of designers in the world that just send their sketches to the manufacturer which will do a prototype and forget a lot of things. I’m not like that. I’m a person that starts to sketch and bring 25 different processes into it. I look at the details, I discover the details, I make a first draft prototype and then I go to the atelier and shape it by hand, so I go from the technical drawing and to the proportion and shape them with the eyes. I look at the volume, I look at the light. I like to see how the light falls on it. You look at a piece like this in an interior and it looks so nice from behind, it looks so sharp.”

Tubes & Ikebana

Last year, Fritz Hansen introduced its accessories category, Objects. “They told me to make accessories and I did,” Jaime says. What he did was not a normal vase, instead it’s a playful vessel for plants and flowers.

Called Ikebana, the vase is a tribute to the Japanese art of arranging flowers. It’s a wide-mouth glass vase with a solid brass stem holder in the form of holes. The raitonale for this is that flowers don’t last at the same time. “I wanted something where you could see what was happening with each one. When one flower is not doing well, you take it out and change it, so you’re always creating a landscape.”

Where there’s a vase, there must be candleholders on the table as well. Jaime’s solid brass candleholders are an “exercise in cylinders. I wanted to work with only cylinders of different sizes to create candleholders. They don’t mean anything, they’re just cylinders put together but they do look like a little Pinocchio. It’s a little character of geometry, it’s simple and humble but it’s pure and solid. It’s an interesting game of tubes, but the discipline is that it’s only tubes, it’s only one material.

Royal SAS hotel room 506

Room 606 of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark is preserved in time. It has the original Arne Jacobsen chairs, Egg and Swan in green, and Drop, which he designed particularly for the hotel in 1956. Room 606 is also the most photographed hotel room in the world.

Two years ago, one floor down, Room 506 “opened.” It’s a fair notion that it will follow in 606’s footsteps. This room was re-designed by Fritz Hansen and reinterpreted by Jaime Hayon. It includes both Jacobsen’s Swan and Hayon’s Ro chairs.

How have the Danish people reacted to a Spanish designer over at two of their most iconic brands? Republic of Fritz Hansen Asia CEO Dario Reicherl says, “When Jaime started designing with us, it was a bit controversial especially for Danish design aficionados and furniture dealers. You have a Spanish designing for a Danish brand, which is most important for Danish design as well. But as soon as the Favn sofa was out and the Ro chair, he was an immediate success. Denmark is still a huge market for us even though it’s a small country, because everybody knows and wants to buy Fritz Hansen. To us, it’s a test market all the time. If it works in Denmark, it will work all around the world.”

The notion of a hotel furnished only with Fritz Hansen pieces must have crossed a lot of people’s mind. It became a reality (sort of) for five days at Milan’s Salone de Mobile last spring.

Fritz Hotel was hatched on a flight from Sydney to Perth by Jaime and Dario. The CEO turned to the designer and said, “Let’s do something crazy in Milano, let’s do a hotel.” To which Jaime replied, “It’s going to be called Fritz Hotel.”

From Monday to Friday during Milan’s Design Week, there was a Fritz Hotel in the Brera district of Milan, which houses old warehouses and buildings converted into design spaces.

“People really thought it was a real hotel and wanted to book a stay. We said, no, it’s an installation. What we did was a hotel lobby, a lounge bar, cafeteria and a museum. Only the rooms were missing.”

Incidentally, this was where Ben Chan first met Jaime. “Jaime is very down to earth” is how Ben describes that initial meeting. “A lot of well known designers are not very approachable, but this guy is. He would pose with you for a selfie, engage you in conversation.”

What was interesting about Fritz Hotel is where they chose to put the installation. Brera district, as I found out when I covered Salone de Mobile three years ago, is where young designers set up their exhibits because the fairgrounds are too expensive and dominated by global brands. As huge a company as Fritz Hansen is, they chose to go with that hip district during Design Week.   

“In Brera, we were talking about design, about ideas and inspiration,” says Dario. “We didn’t even have a price list.”

Maybe that’s how iconic pieces are born.

* * *

 Visit the author’s travel blog at www.findingmyway.net. Follow her  on Twitter and Instagram @iamtanyalara.

Jaime Hayon’s pieces are available at Studio Dimensione, 28th St. corner 7th St., BGC, Taguig. Call 736-3728.

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