x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Verner Panton's timeless designs come to Dubai

Years after the last Verner Panton piece was designed, we talk to a company that is reviving his timeless creations and bringing them to the UAE

The System 1-2-3 chair is one of Panton's most recognisable designs. Courtesy of Verpan
The System 1-2-3 chair is one of Panton's most recognisable designs. Courtesy of Verpan

Even if you don't know who he is, you'll know his products. His greatest creations, the Panton Chair, System 1-2-3 and the Shell and Spiral lamps, for example, are firmly embedded in the collective design consciousness - lauded by design magazines, sought by collectors and imitated ad infinitum.

Verner Panton's legacy is one that looms large. He was the experimental, uncompromising bad boy of post-war Danish design, known for pushing boundaries and creating furniture and lighting that was way ahead of its time. When everyone else was insisting that chairs should have four legs, he wanted to create a chair that looked like it was growing out of the ground; hence System 1-2-3. He was, arguably, the most un-Danish of the famous Danish designers - enamoured by colour, inspired by new materials and responsible for products that, to this day, have a timeless, international feel.

"The main purpose of my work is to provoke people into using their imagination," said Panton, who died in 1998. "Most people spend their lives living in dreary, grey-beige conformity, mortally afraid of using colours. By experimenting with lighting, colours, textiles and furniture, and utilising the latest technologies, I try to show new ways, to encourage people to use their imagination and make their surroundings more exciting."

Nonetheless, by the end of the century, most of Panton's pieces were out of production. So one avid collector contacted the Panton Estate requesting permission to start reproducing them. After much deliberation, Panton's wife, Marianne, the executor of the estate, agreed. But there was one problem - he had no clue how to make lamps. So he partnered with a family-run Danish company called the Frandsen Group, which had been in the lighting business for more than 30 years and was able to provide some much-needed know-how. Verpan was born.

The Frandsen Group has since gained full control of the company and has spent the past decade bringing Panton's products back to life. The company initially focused on lighting, but has started revisiting Panton's furniture and rug designs, with plans to eventually offer a full range of accessories, textiles and furniture.

"We will gradually expand the range. Some of the products are very complicated and take time. For us there is no rush; we need to stay true to the whole thing," says Peter Frandsen, the managing director of Verpan.

I meet Frandsen in the Selva showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, where, in a first for the UAE, Verpan products are now being stocked. While Panton's creations have long been available for commercial applications via Four Frontiers and can currently be seen in restaurants and bars across the country - including Étoiles in Emirates Palace - this is the first time that they are being offered in a retail setting.

"Verner Panton is really an icon and I'm very pleased that we can give our support to have the name known here - and present what this genius was able to do in his life," says Adriano Davidoni, the general manger of Selva.

Selva will open a new showroom this autumn and about 200 square metres of space will be dedicated to Verpan products. "It will be an honour to be the first to show Verner Panton's pieces," Davidoni adds.

Frandsen is confident that the Verpan range will be as successful here as it has been in other countries around the world. "His products are very international. If you compare him to some of the other Danish designers, who were very distinct and very much into a certain style, I think Panton is the Danish designer who was most international. That's why he spent 27 years of his life outside of Denmark, in Switzerland."

With so many iconic designs in the Panton archive, it must be difficult to decide which ones to bring back, I suggest. "It's a fine mix," Frandsen admits. "For us, it's a business and it's a passion. There are products that speak straight to your heart and it's not difficult to choose these pieces because, in my opinion, they are beautiful, but they also have potential from a commercial aspect. At the same time, we are aware that, to build the legacy, we also have to bring back products that we know will not be cash cows. It might not sell a lot but it shows what he was. There are products that drive the business and others that tell the story."

But there are always surprise hits, he says. Frandsen's wife, who also works for Verpan, had long been pushing him to bring Panton's Mirror Sculpture back into circulation. "I told her, 'No way, that's not going to be commercial'. But when we launched it a year ago at the Milan Furniture Fair, we sold over 1,000 panels just at the show. That was a surprise to me. Now Google is using it, it's in restaurant spaces, hotels are using it to cover entire walls and private clients are using it as a sculpture.

"I don't think Panton's intention was necessarily to make products expensive for the sake of making them expensive, but he wanted craftsmanship and he wanted great quality. He made products that were timeless. Not everything he made was perfect but he was definitely ahead of his time," Frandsen says.

This, however, presents challenges in itself. "I think one of the biggest challenges for us is that some of the materials that he worked with and that we are now trying to re-edit are not the easiest. Today, you might take a different approach. You want to make a beautiful design but at the same time you might also think about physical production. Is it feasible? There have been some challenges in trying to stay true to the original but trying to make sure it makes business sense. There have definitely been some products where it's been a tough task, but it's been a privilege for us that Marianne Panton has been involved throughout."

There is also the need to upgrade certain pieces to ensure that they are in keeping with modern standards, or are able to withstand both residential and commercial use. Luckily, the company is handling the legacy of a man who, at his very core, was a proponent of progress and evolution.

"When Verner designed a piece in 1960, his approach was always: if you can do it smarter in the 70s or 80s, do it. Stay true to the design but, if you can improve the physical production, do so. You see a lot of the old designers - particularly the Danish, who worked a lot with wood - are quite focused on still manufacturing the way they did in the 60s. That was not Panton's approach. He was constantly pushing the envelope."


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