Scholten & Baijings
ONE WEEK ABOUT Ten years Dutch designers in Milan by curator David Heldt (Connecting the Dots), interviews by Viveka van de Vliet
Since founding Scholten & Baijings in 2000, designers Carole Baijings and Stefan Scholten have only skipped Salone del Mobile in Milan once. ‘Over the past decade it has become a place to maintain contacts with all our clients. We no longer have to present ourselves, the big brands do that for us’, say the design duo.
Their first presentation was at Salone Satellite with design-grandmother Martha Griffin, after which their Woven Willow collection for Thomas Eyck was presented at Rossana Orlandi and they were participants when vice president of design by BMW Group, Adrian van Hooydonk, gave them carte blanche to come up with a Concept Car for MINI, which was shown spectacularly during the Salone in 2012. Scholten & Baijings made the MINI of the future friendlier, more colorful, softer, and a pleasant place to be; they gave the car plastic wheels and a new look.
Despite this spectacular presentation, it did not result in orders until years later, like for the Korean company Samsung. But the well-organised solos at MINI and Herman Miller did lead to contacts with other brands and provided visibility and appreciation. Scholten & Baijings now works for an impressive list of international brands, which means that they are represented at several locations in the design city every year.
‘We have come into contact with clients through Milan’, says Carole. ‘You have to persevere, you can’t expect to show in Milan once and go home with a bag of money’. ‘Only present if you’ve designed something new. As a novice designer you have to exhibit at least three to five times and then take stock’, is Stefan’s advice. ‘You have to have patience and be able to finance everything, otherwise it’s impossible’, they know. ‘In addition to all the hard costs – the first twenty thousand euros are already spent before you even arrive at the location – you have to create new work and invest a lot of your time. In our early days, renowned Italian hotshots like Cappellini chose the Bouroullecs over a Dutch designer. We had no industry in the Netherlands. The big boys like Ahrend chose German architects for the design of their new furniture’.
But Scholten & Baijings were well received. Perhaps because of their unbridled dedication, as if the two perfectionists were professional sports, but also because of their distinctive signature that comes from a shared love of composing self-developed, extraordinary colour schemes and nature as an unequalled source of inspiration, an eye for the smallest details, and a sense for craftsmanship and layering. What’s more, they quickly realized that a good presentation and photography – they have worked with the photography duo Scheltens & Abbenes for many years – helped to determine their calling card.
Although their focus is also on fairs in Cologne, Chicago, Tokyo, London, and Stockholm, Milan is just Milan, they say. ‘Everyone comes here. You see the latest designs’, says Stefan. ‘In addition, we often don’t meet people located quite close to us in Amsterdam until we get to Milan. We met Helen van Ruiten from the former Galerie Binnen. The same applies to Dutch museum directors such as Ingeborg de Roode, curator of Industrial Design at the Stedelijk Museum, and Wim Pijbes, former director of the Rijksmuseum. The latter encounter led to the exhibition of the 2016/Arita collection in the East Asia pavilion of the Rijksmuseum. And to think that we can see the museum from our studio’.
The function of Milan for designers such as Marcel Wanders, Studio Job and Scholten & Baijings has changed in the past ten years. ‘It is the place where we meet all our clients’, says Carole. ‘We go to dinners where all influential people from the design world show up. In the past, a table was reserved for ten designers, now a whole restaurant is rented’.
‘It is still difficult to do business in Milan’, Stefan says. ‘In that respect, it is exceptional that the owner of 1616 / Arita Japan, with the presentation of our Colour Porcelain collection at Rossana Orlandi, was asked by all major department stores to come by, even though he doesn’t speak a word of English’, says Carole.
For young designers (and visitors), it is a different story. Ten years ago, there was the fair in Milan and a number of spectacular presentations in the city. ‘Nowadays, Milan is one big show!’, Carole says. Milan Design Week has grown explosively. New neighbourhoods have been added and with the fair, shops, exhibitions, the Triennale, and Salone Satellite, the offer is so overwhelming that it is hard to stand out as a designer among all the other tens of thousands of designers’, says Scholten.
‘Although designers have an online platform that creates visibility and a market, they all want to present their work here’, he says. ‘The chance that Vitra, HAY or Cappellini will notice you is small, because big brands work with a very select number of designers. If you don’t choose a direction as a young designer, or show only an idea or concept, you will have a harder time than if you show a finished design that a manufacturer can take into production’, he knows. ‘Dutch Design Week is a good platform for young designers. Almost better than Milan’.
Thanks to Connecting the Dots
Interview: Viveka van de Vliet
Portrait photo: Boudewijn Bollmann