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Nordic design with staying power

Interview with Sofie Lindahl-Jessen, Executive Vice President for Sales & Brand Management at Fritz Hansen A/S

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Ms. Lindahl-Jessen, Fritz Hansen is one of the market leaders in Nordic furniture design. How would you describe the company’s philosophy?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: Our brand name is Republic of Fritz Hansen. This reflects the fact that all of our designers, among whom there are many different nationalities, share our philosophy about Nordic aesthetics, high quality and unique design. We are a global niche player; we compete in the high-end, premium design sector. Our mission is to combine iconic pieces in our collection with modern design.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Fritz Hansen has, in recent years, expanded its activities beyond furniture. What was the thinking behind that strategy?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: Three years ago, we took a strategic decision to expand our scope as a furniture designer; we wanted to develop into a lifestyle interior specialist. Our goal was to create inspiring, all round furniture environments. In 2015, we acquired Danish lighting company Lightyears, which develops and manufactures modern lighting that combines tradition and innovation – a perfect fit with Fritz Hansen’s philosophy. We also launched our own accessories line, Objects by Fritz Hansen, which encompasses cushions and throws, vases, trays, mirrors, and stools. The collection goes by the tag line ‘complementing your life’, and introduces the whole Fritz Hansen brand to customers through stunning yet affordable products.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Nevertheless, furniture remains the mainstay of Fritz Hansen’s portfolio, and its iconic pieces are recognized around the world. Tell us about the collection.

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: Chairs and lounge armchairs are the two main pillars of our portfolio. We actually have two collections: classic furniture, and contemporary design. Series 7™ is the best-selling range in the classic collection; the iconic chair was designed by Arne Jacobsen in the 1950s, and has always been incredibly popular. The sculptured Egg™ lounge chair is another, instantly recognizable classic. On the contemporary side, the Ro™ lounge armchair offers both comfort and style. This year, we launched a new sofa, the Lune™, a functional, modular system which maintains the clean, elegant lines of the famous Nordic style.

"We are a global niche player; we compete in the high-end, premium design sector" Sofie Lindahl-JessenExecutive Vice President for Sales & Brand Management at Fritz H

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: What is particularly special about Fritz Hansen’s furniture?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: We create a specific combination of Danish and Nordic design tradition – clean and aesthetic lines – with a high level of quality and craftsmanship. We utilize our history and add modernity. We have an in-house design team who co-ordinate our external designers, a mixture of classic and modern designers, which includes such renowned names as Spanish designer Jaime Hayon, and Cecilie Manz from Denmark. Iconic designers include Hans Wegner, designer of the China™ chair in the 1940s, Arne Jacobsen who was the talent behind the 1950s Egg™, and Poul Kjærholm who designed the PK22™. Within our furniture portfolio, we have some of the most recognizable design icons ever produced, and we constantly update our classics. For example, in 2016, we relaunched Arne Jacobsen’s prestigious Oxford™ Classic chair, which was originally designed for professors at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford; this design earned him an honorary doctorate, and is considered to be Arne Jacobsen’s most outstanding work.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Fritz Hansen boasts a number of iconic designs which have really stood the test of time. How did the company develop into such a prestigious and recognized brand?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: The company dates back to 1872. However the real breakthrough came in 1950, when Christian Hansen, the son of the founder, devised a method of steam-bending wood. This proved a turning point. Arne Jacobsen was very interested in this development – he wanted to create a sophisticated chair with a light look, using this technique. The pair collaborated, and the result was the famous canteen armchair. At that time, it was known as the 7-series™ chair; today, 60 years on, it is known as one of the most iconic chairs in the world. Around that time, Jacobsen also designed the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen for which he created the Swan™, the Drop™ chair and, most famous of all, the iconic Egg™ chair. In 1970, the family sold the company; today the Augustinus Foundation owns 70% of the company, in partnership with another foundation.

"Looking further ahead, our vision for 2025 is to become the most important player within the premium design sector." Sofie Lindahl-JessenExecutive Vice President for Sales & Brand Management at Fritz H

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: What sales channels do you use?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: We sell to the B2B market, which includes contract sales for hotels, restaurants and offices, and of course, we also supply the retail furniture market. We have 25 Republic of Fritz Hansen stores around the world, as well as 130 in-store outlets. We also sell online; this is a growing sales channel for the accessories and lower sector of our portfolio, the products which our customers know very well. The Nordic region is still our most important market, followed by Germany, where online sales have really taken off, and the USA. We have also seen huge growth in Asia Pacific, especially in Korea and Hong Kong, where we still see huge potential. Japan has been a great market for us for many years.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: How would you describe the company culture?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: As a Scandinavian company, empowerment and freedom are key characteristics, but we also expect our staff to take responsibility and be proactive. This is a typical Danish leadership style. As a high-profile brand, we have no problem attracting good staff in Denmark, but abroad it is more difficult; competent sales people are hard to find.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS: Finally, what are Fritz Hansen’s future plans?

Sofie Lindahl-Jessen: In 2018, the Swan™ and the Egg™ will be 60 years old, and we are relaunching both in February. We are also still working on the marketing for the newly-launched Lune™ sofa, which is a huge initiative for us. Looking further ahead, our vision for 2025 is to become the most important player within the premium design sector. We believe that good design beautifies a room and its entire building; in this context, we simply want to bring joy to people.

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