Verner Panton was a renowned Danish designer famed for his original designs and tireless experimentation. In 2003, the Danish company Verpan started to manufacture and (re)launch many of Panton’s designs. We decided to talk to CEO of Verpan, Peter Frandsen, about experimenting with the design’s capabilities, the act of building a brand around such a renowned designer and what the company learnt from Panton’s playful approach to design.
DANISH™: In your opinion, what is it that makes Verner Panton’s designs so special?
Peter Frandsen (PF): Panton’s designs can fit any type of surroundings. To me, he is the most international designer among the classic Danish designers, like Jacobsen, Wegner and Mogensen. In terms of taste and appeal, Panton’s designs reach a wide audience – regardless of the fact that people often describe him as very 70s-ish. The reason for this though is probably because Panton is very well known for some quite spectacular and colourful installations he made in the 70s, and people associate him a lot with these installations and think that ‘it isn’t Panton, if it isn’t an installation’, so unfortunately he’s kind of got stuck with this 70s’ label. But if you look at the total collection of Panton furniture that we produce, there are not that many that involve bright colours. Indeed, over the past 12 years we have been selling the products, only one customer wanted something made that one might say resembled a Panton installation. Mostly, our customers are everyone from the typical modern family with a minimalist apartment in New York to Russian oligarchs and Japanese ‘zen’ customers. They all buy Panton, because Panton’s designs fit in many different contexts.
DANISH™: Is it the fact that Panton’s designs are so different from other Danish modern designs that help Panton’s designs reach such a wide audience?
PF: Absolutely. The other great architects from that period focused a lot on wooden furniture, whereas Panton said that that was just a Danish trend and he wanted to design something that would appeal to the whole world.
DANISH™: Did you learn anything from Panton’s daring designs when doing business around them?
PF: We are extremely proud of the tradition that Panton was a part of. What we try to accomplish in our business is to showcase Panton’s designs in a modern context. Recently, we delivered the Cloverleaf sofa to a new building at Oxford University, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. They chose the sofa because it fitted so well into the place they designed – and it is not some kind of retro 70s project; they just wanted the ultimate sofa for the university building.
So, when we communicate about Panton’s products, we primarily try to put them in a modern context. But, we also put them in a retro context and indeed in other contexts, as they can fit different contexts, not just our primary modern context. Undoubtedly, Panton’s designs are not indifferent – every person has an opinion about them. That is interesting for us, because his designs make a difference – they stand out.
DANISH™: What did you have to be aware of when building a brand around such a renowned designer as Panton?
PF: First, it has been extremely important for us to do what we do in the same spirit as Panton, so we hope he would be proud of what we are doing with his designs. We work closely with Marianne Panton, who is the widow of Verner Panton. Everything that Verpan produces is approved by her. We need to know that our pieces are designed and produced in the spirit of Panton.
We try to improve the different designs by enhancing each product’s construction and the materials used. So, quality wise they are upgraded in coherence with Panton’s spirit. For example, our System 123 dining chair has been upgraded with moulded foam and nozag springs. These upgrades should help the chair last for 60 years. Here, the design is the same, but we have improved the construction.
Panton used to say that if his designs could be produced in a smarter way in the future, then one should do that. Indeed, he demanded it, because he knew that new materials would be invented in the future. Therefore, if one can produce his designs with better materials, we can be assured that Panton would have loved it. This reminds me of something that makes Panton even more interesting. Namely, the number of different materials that Panton managed to work with; for instance, marble, glass, plastic, wood, iron, steel, acryl – you name it. I like to call him a kind of design multi-artist.
DANISH™: Verner Panton would have celebrated his 90th birthday in a few weeks. How do you plan to celebrate this?
PF: We launch the Series 430 chair at the Stockholm Furniture Fair. The chair is a classic example of a Panton design. If I were to place the chair on a public street and ask passers-by to guess who designed the chair, then most of them would not guess that it is a Panton design. That is one of the surprising and sublime things about Panton. He managed to utilise different styles. And so we feel a great responsibility in regards to showing the wide appeal of Panton’s design heritage, while at the same keeping our commercial glasses on.
DANISH™: What is the cornerstone of Verpan?
PF: We are part of the Frandsen Group, a company my father started in 1968. We have some proud traditions as a family company – traditions, we want to incorporate into the Verpan brand. We are a separate subsidiary, so you can say that the tradition and respect for our products’ quality is something we want to incorporate into Verpan. We want to cause some disruption and shake things up a little, leading to us becoming the leading company within our business field. We can achieve this because our products are unique and speak for themselves and have such wide appeal.
DANISH™: What are your ambitions for the future?
PF: We have spent the last few years building an assortment of Panton designs. We have learnt a lot about the designs through this process. Also, during this process, we become more aware of our own strengths.
There many more Panton designs in the archives, and we will be launching loads of new Panton products over the next three to five years, so basically, our assortment will continue to grow. At the same time, we want to reach an even wider audience of customers. We would especially like to spread our products into those segments where Panton’s products make the most sense. And luckily for us, that involves a lot of segments.