You may not know their names if you’re not a design buff, but you would recognise the silhouettes of Fritz Hansen’s iconic chairs. If you’ve ever cocooned yourself in the enveloping body of the Egg™ chair, you would know how addictive that can be. Designed in 1958 by Danish industrial designer Arne Jacobson, it’s an icon of the Danish brand Fritz Hansen. Another icon is the ubiquitous Series 7™ chair. This year at the Milan Furniture Fair, Danish artist Tal R was tasked to create new colours and so these have rad names like Opium Red (inspired by Shanghai in the 30s), Huzun Green (meaning ‘wistful’ in Turkish—poetic, no?) and, and, and Chocolate Milk—so absolutely essential. It’s a very pretty rainbow put together (check out Fritz Hansen’s Instagram account @fritz_hansen for the inspirational mood boards). A recent event in Singapore also saw two original Fritz Hansen Series 7™ chairs from the vintage furniture store Noden displayed, replete with marks of time in the ragged wood, giving it a sense of aged glory (have you checked out Noden? You should. And get all the vintage goodness as fast as you can as they sell out fast).
In Singapore, Fritz Hansen opened its mono store last year, helmed by German-Italian Dario Reicherl, Vice President, Asia Pacific of Fritz Hansen. When I first met Dario, I was a bit afraid. He looked quite serious—must be the German part—but really if you speak to him, he’s the sweetest guy ever and the sweetest dad to little Mia, who just turned one recently. Dario is forever flying around the world—six million miles flown to date, he shares—so it was a miracle we managed to squeeze a little bit of time out of his schedule for Playground and take some pictures with sweet little Mia.
Hi Dario, can you tell us about what you do at Fritz Hansen?
Okay, I’m Vice President for the Asia Pacific market. Basically I’m in charge of everything about Fritz Hansen in the region—sales to marketing to PR—and my job is to breathe new life into Fritz Hansen in this region because Fritz Hansen has been here for almost 30 years but I feel that it has been a little bit quiet. Being Danish also they’re very humble. My role is to help people understand that Fritz Hansen is not just about classic furniture and it’s not only for collectors. It’s actually a lifestyle brand that even a 30-year-old guy or 25-year-old guy can be interested in it. We’re not changing anything really, just communicating to the people through the PR.
What were you doing before you took on this role?
I actually started in the airline business—that’s still a passion of mine. I started working with a small airline in Italy, Air Dolomiti, and then Lufthansa. After September 11, of course, the industry was quite sad so I decided to change industries. I had a little bit of savings so I opened a company called FIEB for the web market because at that time I was very into web sales, e-commerce; that was about 2001. I was based in Padova, Italy close to Venice, and half of my clients were in the furniture industry because in that area there are many companies that make furniture, accessories, etc. One of my clients was Tecnocucina. They asked if I wanted to join them. So I did and after a while I became a partner of that company and I started working a lot in Asia. In 2002 I [expanded the brand to] Japan and in 2003, Singapore, and so basically I moved to Asia 12 years ago. After that I was very tired because there are a lot of technical issues on site so you’re always on site. So I finished with that company, sold my share and came to Singapore with a furniture brand called Novamobili where I started again from zero. I developed the brand for them. They were very happy; they succeeded for Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, and then after almost three years, I decided to resign and take a break when my wife was pregnant. But Fritz Hansen came. Basically I have always been a huge fan. I knew someone from Fritz Hansen and we had kept in contact. We started talking again and they proposed me this position. So actually I didn’t have much holiday. I had three weeks holiday; I had planned to stop for six months. So here I am.
Where did you grow up in? What are some of your best memories about your childhood?
I was born in the north-eastern part of Italy, in Trieste. My father is German but he moved to Italy when he was pretty young. My mother is Sicilian. When I was about three years old, we moved to Venezuela in South America. From there we moved to New York and other countries, so I actually grew up travelling from when I was three years old, changing country with my father’s new job every three years. I remember very well Venezuela. When I was 11 or 12, we moved back to Sicily, and I had a lot of good memories from over there also because Sicily is very laid back and the people are like the Spanish, very festive—family is super important, friendship is super important. When I was 18 I left. The majority of my life I spent in Singapore. I remember [my childhood involved a lot of] travelling; that is something important in my life. I cannot stay in a place too long. I need to travel, and I travel around 270 days a year. So far in my life I have flown over six million miles. That is a lot and I still like it. Some people ‘say are you crazy?’ But to me it’s about exploring the world, exploring different cultures. Being on the plane is beautiful because you don’t have Wi-Fi, you don’t have phone, it’s like you are in a limbo by yourself for a couple of hours. One of my best memories was when I was flying to Caracas in the 747; it was my first long trip. I was three years old but I still remember it very well.
I’m sure you intend to bring Mia travelling a lot.
Yes, I’m bringing her to Italy next week, and we will spend two weeks in Sicily going around. For sure I would want her to travel a lot because it’s extremely important to have an open mind. If you stay in only the place you grew up in, your opinion is not really 100 per cent true on things because you only watch the TV or read the newspaper. Going to a place and talking to people you have a clearer picture. And it doesn’t take a week, you really have to go back and spend the time—the first impression might not always be the right impression.
Growing up in Italy, do you feel you were always surrounded by good taste and good design?
Yes, of course. We have fashion competitions from when you go elementary school. Even growing up in other countries I would always be surrounded by the Italian community. So when you grow up with Italians no matter where in the world, it’s normal [to be mindful of fashion from young] because your mother really cares about how you dress. And everything is beauty. It’s not just about your shirt and pants; it’s also the way you walk, the way you talk, it’s in everything. It’s in the Italian culture. On TV, Sicily is famous for its mafia—you know the movie The Godfather—but honestly I never saw any mafia. Sicily is the land of gentleman, no? Where the women is super respected. They’re very old school, and so I grew up with those values. I have a lot of education from my family on good taste and good food but it’s also in the DNA. I like beauty; I like nature—the most beautiful thing—like going to the mountains. And I’m a scuba-diving instructor, I like to go under water—not to go deeper and challenge myself, just to look around. You can find beauty anywhere, even in a place like the market. Important is how open are your eyes, and also how flexible you are in looking at things without judging, no? The fact that I’ve seen so many places in my life teaches me not to judge immediately, to look and look and look again, and then express your opinion.
Why did you choose the name Mia for your daughter? What is her Mandarin name?
Her Mandarin name is Su Rei—a combination of the surname of my wife Jenny, and the first three letters of my name. We chose Mia because my surname is already complicated in the German sound—very masculine—so we wanted something that is feminine, short. And Mia to me is important also because my Sicilian grandmother’s name was Maria and Mia is a shorter version of Maria. Mia also means ‘mine’ in Italian. There are a lot of meanings. (Haha) And it sounds very—how do you say—very gentle; that’s what I want for my daughter to be.
What was your first thought when you became a father?
Ahhh. When I first found out my wife Jenny was pregnant, the first thing—stress. It’s a man thing, no? But that fear disappeared immediately. I felt responsible and the most important thing is: I am not the priority anymore. And then when she was born, that was the most amazing thing, the most amazing moment in my life. Even if I can become president of the United States I think it’s not as important as that moment. The position when she was coming out was not correct and the doctor had to used forceps to literally pull her out so she looked like an alien because the head was very long on one side but I just remember she was so beautiful and she had these eyes opened looking left and right and I got so emotional I was crying in the corner. The doctor said ‘forget about him! Take care of the baby.’ (Laughs) it was really, really emotional. I’m actually very, very emotional and that moment for sure, was like a bomb to me—simply beautiful. I think every parent would say the same: the most beautiful thing you ever seen, is your baby, no?
How have your daily rituals changed since becoming a father? How do you and your wife ensure stability in the household and also make sure you spend sufficient time with Mia?
Of course when Mia arrived, I stopped travelling for a couple of months. And you’re a mother, of course you understand, to get her sleeping, etc. [was tough]. Luckily we had my mother-in-law with us. She lives in the USA and flew in and stayed with us for three months. She was fantastic; she knows everything about babies. Me and my wife, we had no idea what to do, not even how to change the diaper, and sometimes Mia couldn’t breathe. There were a lot of scary moments but also I remember a lot of sweet memories: just sitting in the armchair with her and carrying her, and spending as much time with her as possible. I know it was very tiring but I don’t remember a lot the feeling of tiredness; I remember more the positive things. The beautiful thing was seeing her day-by-day growing, the new things she can do…first she could not even support the head, and then after when she was eight months she was already walking—very very fast. But still no hair. (Laughs)
What are your passions and how do you aspire to share them with your child?
Of course I talk to her about furniture design or architecture or the A380 or airlines, about travelling, though she cannot talk. I try to talk to her in Italian as much as possible. We want to teach her Mandarin, English, Italian..and we play Lego a lot. I’m not an architect but I’m trying to teach her some structural design with Lego. And it’s also fun. I think being a father and having a daughter it’s scary when she will ask you to play with Barbie, no? (Laugh) I propose Lego; it’s unisex. That’s a good compromise.
With your family in Italy, how do you make sure Mia stays connected with them?
I have two brothers. One is in Singapore so he is always with us and another one is in Sydney. He comes here like twice a year. My parents, we manage to let them come twice a year. Soon we are going there and in September they are coming here. And of course we use a lot of video calls, Skype and so on. My mother is asking for Whatsapp photos so everyday I send her eight to ten photos. Everyday she keeps pushing: ‘can you send more?’ ‘Can you send another one?’ ‘No photo today?’ (Laughs) They are actually experiencing my daughter through technology. It’s the first grandchild. It’s a good thing as we talk more. I left home when I was 18 far away so they are used to not talking to me everyday but now with the baby…they don’t care about me of course, it’s all about Mia. (Laughs)
Fritz Hansen recently celebrated the 60th birthday of the Series 7™ chair with an exhibition at the showroom. What’s so special about this chair and the special anniversary editions?
The Series 7™ is so special because it’s considered the best chair in the world. It’s the most sold chair in the furniture industry—not the most sold chair by Fritz Hansen only. It’s also the most copied chair in the history. It became famous immediately in 1955 when it was first released, and is still famous today, so it’s an icon. The shape is an hourglass, very feminine, very gentle, like a woman’s body, and it can fit in any type of environment—contemporary, in classic, in Danish, Japanese households. It also became famous in the 60s because of a famous scandal of a Russian spy in UK posing naked on a chair that was actually a fake Series 7™. That picture became so famous that Marilyn Monroe took a photo of herself on the chair so the chair became a symbol. And what is special this year is for the 60th anniversary is you have two new colours: a light pink and a dark blue—one feminine, one masculine. The light pink comes with gold-plated legs and the blue is with powder-coated, dark brown legs, so one is for women, one is for men. And these will be produced only during 2015—the 60th anniversary year, so they are also collector pieces. They’re doing very, very well, better than expected and the pink is actually our best-selling colour.
What is your favourite Fritz Hansen piece of design?
Ahhh, that’s a difficult question because I keep changing my mind every month. But even before I was working at Fritz Hansen I was a fan of the Egg™ chair. So if you ask me this month what I like more? It’s the Ro armchair. I just bought a pink fabric Ro chair for Mia and she loves it. She always sits on it and climbs up and down. It’s by Jaime Hayon. I became good friends with him when we spent a week with him recently in Asia. So now I like the Ro chair even more because I like the designer; I understand his thoughts, his philosophy, and he’s a family guy.
Can you tell us about your thoughts on the differences in the way both the Italian and Scandinavian cultures perceive and use design?
I can talk for a couple of hours about that, but I will try to be short. First of all, we talk a bit about the history. The Danish are famous for the 50s. The Italians were famous in the 70s. So the difference, you can imagine: the 50s were all about elegance, the Danish tend to be timeless so they don’t follow trend. The Italians follow trends because they’re all about fashion, especially today. For the Italians, every year, everything changes. But with furniture, imagine changing your dining table or sofa every 12 months? So this destroys a lot the market, and destroys a lot what is considered Italian design. If you are talking about the Italian design of the 70s, the 80s, it’s beautiful—Cassina is a good example, and B&B Italia—those two are my favourite brands, especially B&B Italia that is so clean and minimal. Danish design is more quirky, more feminine, more gentle. And together they can actually fit well. Half of my house is Danish, half of my house is Italian.
But in the past 15, 20 years in Italy there have been so many new companies and new brands that are trying to be design companies, but they are production companies, meaning that they just copy each other. They say ‘we get inspiration’ [from the design companies] but between getting inspired and copying is a very fine line. And if you look at the Italians’ products, you cannot put a name on the designer, but if you look at Danish design you will recognise—that’s an Egg™, a Wishbone chair—because the products speak for themselves. The Danish has a product that you put in the middle of the room with nothing and the product is so beautiful. Even I cannot tell you what it is Italian design now, because I get lost about what is Italian design. What is Danish design is clear to me and also to many other people.
What is the brand strategy of Fritz Hansen in the markets you are in charge of and how do you go about fulfilling these goals?
My strategy usually is the mono store. The distribution is very important; you cannot have many dealers left and right. Imagine: you don’t find Bentley cars in a multi-brand showroom. You have to have focus especially if you have a brand that is so important, and you have to have people that are super trained. Even me I’m still learning after one year, the history, etc. If you are in a multi brand store, that is impossible to do. So the internal distribution is very important. For the internal market, as I said in the beginning, it is essential to re-communicate Fritz Hansen. Everybody knows we are the one with the Egg chair, pieces like that are in the MoMA, in the other galleries…and if you go to design school you will study Arne Jacobson, all these masters, so it’s pointless to continue on that way. From 2000, the company started doing contemporary design with designers like Jehs + Laub, Cecilie Manz…they are young, so it means you have a new Fritz Hansen.
How I rebrand is through talking to many people: ‘yes we have the Egg™ chair it’s $20,000 because it is 1,150 stitches by hand and it takes two days for a guy who is 60 years old doing the chair for you by hand and there is one cow for one chair; it’s the labour, the material—everything costs. But you can also buy a Ro chair for $4,500—the one I bought—and the special edition of the Series 7™ chair costs $1,150. So it’s not about the price. My focus now is to help people fall in love with how I fell in love with Fritz Hansen years ago before I joined the company. How to do that? Talking. So I go and do a lot of events now, events where we tell stories and I can talk an hour about why the design is designed, the quality, the craftsmanship, and about whatever is around the product. That’s my goal, passing this love, this enthusiasm I have, and the respect I have to other people.
Lastly, please continue this sentence: play to me is:
Fun. Play for me actually is fun and fun to me is my job that I love, I enjoy, and where I have a lot of fun. The day I do not have fun doing this, I will leave, immediately. I don’t do much sport; this is my sport, no? Talking with you, the media, or the client, or talking to my colleagues, to me this is fun.
The Fritz Hansen mono store is located within the W. Atelier experience centre.
+ portrait images by Playground
+ product images courtesy of Fritz Hansen, unless otherwise stated