Hardly prototyped, never produced and almost forgot – Polish design classics from 50’s and 60’s were not well-born. Five decades later this timeless furniture pieces come back to life, proving their immortality on the design scene. Vzór is a young Polish company responsible for redesigning and manufacturing iconic RM 58 Arimchair, created in 1958 by Polish artist and designer – Roman Modzelewski. From the very beginning, this unprecedented idea became the foundation of the unique business concept, that includes the next implementations and building of the cross-sectional collection of timeless design classics from Central and Eastern Europe.
The company was started by young entrepreneur – Michał Woch and designer Jakub Sobiepanek, who teamed up with well-known design critique and curator – Krystyna Łuczak-Surówka. Michał and Jakub are talking with us about their business model, brand and future plans.
Interview and edition: Anna Bukowska, Sylwia Celejewska
What was the basis of this unique business concept?
Jakub: The idea of re-producing Roman Modzelewski’s armchair was born a couple of years ago, when I was working on my final degree during studies. As I already had some business background (managing small design studio during studies) – I thought that it would be great if this final project didn’t just end up with my diploma. This is how my topic shaped. “Revitalisation of the polish industrial design pieces from 20th century with the usage of new technologies and materials” – that was the official title. It wasn’t easy to convince the commission to this topic – mainly because they couldn’t find the actual designing part in it. But – what may not be obvious – using new technologies requires re-designing the original project. We also needed to design the brand and its visual identity – so they finally agreed. After defense of my thesis, Michał decided to help me with business issues and that’s how the company was started.
Was it problematic to acquire a licence for Roman Modzelewski projects?
Jakub: I must say that I was quite lucky. Krystyna Łuczak – Surówka , who I proposed cooperation on this project , knew Roman Modzelewski’s wife, who is the heiress of copyright to his projects. Thanks to it I got to know Mrs. Wera and after the presentation of the whole concept she agreed to sell the license. Acquisition of the rights was crucial for us to be able to launch the production of armchairs under the Vzor brand. I think that Mrs. Wera has been very open and had good intuition. I am sure that Roman Modzelewski’s ambition was far more than just to put his furniture in single copies in the museum or in the attic. He would certainly prefer these seats to be put into production and his wife seemed to be aware of this. Also, I think that appropriate organization of formal conditions spoke for us – we paid a lot of attention to the professional preparation of all the legal aspects.
In the context of the business model you adopted – how does the acquisition of new licenses look like?
Michał: Well, each time it is different. It all depends on whether the author or owner of the rights is still alive, and what the legacy situation is like. If we deal directly with the author – it is usually the matter of good, business relationship. It is very gentle case – not everyone has to like our idea and creators are often very emotionally attached to their projects.
Jakub: Very often, the huge problem at the beginning is the lack of information. Right now we are dealing with such situation – we are looking for the heirs of the rights to one project and actually… we cannot find them. We have even seriously thought about hiring a private detective! But the first pancake is always spoiled and what we have already done is a strong advantage in further talks. Successful implementation of the Modzelewski’s armchairs makes us credible in offering cooperation to further partners.
How about your future plans?
Michał: It’s difficult question, cause we could transcribe our plans for the next 3-5 years! We certainly look forward to implement a further two collections of Polish design icons, but for now there is a lot of work to do on the concept development and brand building. It is worth underlining, that the brand for us is as important as the product itself. The product is necessary to authenticate the brand, but later the brand carries the whole message associated with the product: why it is an icon and what value it represents, also – how these products should be read. Non-bulk goods that we offer, are not easy in perception, they need reference points – and that’s the brand role.
If you had to summarize in one sentence the vision of your brand – what would it be ?
Jakub: We want to create cross-sectional collection of Polish (and not only Polish) design. Initially, the idea was only related to Poland – but it developed and right now we are open to the collaboration with designers from all over Eastern Europe. Perhaps one day we can create such a brand as ” Scandinavian design ” – that is, to find a common denominator for the design of the entire region.
Michał: Our aim is to be a catalyst for a certain process that began in Poland (and is also visible in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe) – a process which is the retrieval of material heritage . There is an increasing awareness of its existence and we would like to create the conditions in which these achievements will become our nation pride and start to be present in homes or hotels – both in Poland and abroad.
Jakub: We are also wondering whether to start mixing historical names with the contemporary ones . We don’t want to base our brand only on the old projects – and be associated with a vintage wave. In Poland, there is a hype on refreshing old furniture now. This trend began a couple of years ago and it’s very visible now. So it is a kind of challenge to mark that we are doing something totally different. We are not vintage – instead we bring back to life the objects that actually should be with us all the time. Not because they are hot now, but because they are timeless icons.
Which designers or projects will be next?
Michał: We have adopted the logic that each collection is associated with a specific name. We select designers, who were unique at their times and whose works are still actual after all those years. What is also important – is the fact that original designs need to be adaptable to the requirements of new technologies. It is crucial that the manufacturing process ensures scalability and repeatability. The common problem with Polish design icons is that their authors didn’t pay much attention to the fact, that prototypes should meet the requirements of mass production. It’s no surprise – as at that time (in the communist era and years of Polish People’s Republic, ed.), most of them never made it to the market.
We do have our shortlist and we have started to talk with the next designers. But first of all we want to complete the actual collection and introduce some modifications to the already implemented products. The RM58 chair is now available in two versions – mat and lacquered – and there is a lot more possibilities to modify the classic model – e.g. the upholstered version of the chair.
Jakub: Of course any modifications have to be made with respect to the original design. We have to be aware of the fact that some interventions can be perceived as unacceptable – and this is not in line with our brand.