words Nancy Durrant
Hella Jongerius is the leading female designer of our time, according to the Design Museum, which is showing the first retrospective of the Dutch designer’s work.
Jongerius, 40, left the Design Academy Eindhoven in 1993, working first with Droog Design and then, from 2000, out of her own studio, Jongeriuslab. Her work unites craft and industry, high and low technology, ancient and modern. Icon caught up with her in her Rotterdam studio.
You co-curated the exhibition; why did you choose to hold it in London?
Because they invited me! The work has never been seen all at once, so I will be very curious to see it all together. We put most of the old work in, and we made new work for the London exhibition.
The Design Museum describes you as one of the most innovative and influential forces in contemporary design.
Ja, ja, ja, yes, well, I’m very flattered. I don’t know about influence really, but innovation is the most important thing for me. It is very important to me to walk a new path, to invent a new path. That is the most important part of my job, my work, my talent, maybe. Someone else can make a shaver that works better than the others, but I will find a new vision of it, a new way of looking.
Tell us a bit about the book you’ve done with Phaidon.
We travelled the world to find the story behind the products. So we went to the Moma archive, to the factories where the products are being made, to private collections and where people had them in their homes. We wanted to find the whole world behind the design. It is not so clinical as design books usually are. It’s not about just being exhibited in a gallery or put in a magazine, it is about how the products are used in the world.
Why did you decide to stop working with Droog and set up Jongeriuslab?
I wanted to be on my own, to be independent. I was the wagon behind the locomotive, and I am a locomotive myself.
Your work has become richer and more sensual since the beginning of your career – My Soft Office and the Repeat textiles for Maharam suggest a new direction.
Yes, this is a new direction and I am now working far more closely with industry. It is not so self-initiated any more. I don’t know what will come next year, but I really want to make a connection again with industry because of the bad economic situation. You cannot play around when there are real troubles in the world. I am working with Authentics, a German [plastics] company that nearly went down last year, but they have built it up again from the bottom. I am also doing something with Ikea. What is really good about working with a big company like Ikea, is that you really can change the world. If you just make a small change in your development or materials, the volumes are so big that you can really make a difference, even in thinking, in people’s minds.
That’s quite a departure for you, to be producing mass-market, affordable products.
Yes. Before I have been experimenting and having ideas and this is the adult follow-up after years of experimentation. And that experimentation did its job, it changed things in a small, specific design group but now I want to make work for many people. I want to shake hands with the consumer.
Hella Jongerius by Louise Schouwenberg (Phaidon), £24.95