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Earlier this month, Vitra released its Autumn 2020 collection with an Instagram video that showed the new pieces – an upholstered chaise by Konstantin Grcic, a simple chair by Jasper Morrison and a reissue of a Jean Prouvé classic – in evocative room vignettes at its Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

We asked Melissa Shelton, Vitra President, North America, what it was like to launch a collection relatively quietly – without the fanfare of Salone del Mobile and the opportunity it offers for people to get up close and personal with the product – and what the future holds when it comes to doing things differently.

What was the biggest challenge, given the current circumstances, in launching the collection? Were the individual furniture series completed before the crisis? Or has the factory been operating continuously, with designers providing feedback remotely?

Melissa Shelton

Imagine taking a traditional, physical product launch presentation – such as the Salone del Mobile stand – and transforming that into a purely digital launch presentation. For us this was an incredible opportunity. Vitra’s 2020 product launches and corresponding presentation concept had already been developed to debut at Salone del Mobile in April. When we learned that Salone would be cancelled, we took the opportunity to question a long-standing launch model and pivot that into an experimental digital launch strategy.

Simply put, we took the four unique interior environments that were planned for our stand at Salone and erected them within the SANAA hall on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany. In doing this, we essentially developed a sound stage from which we created digital assets of the Autumn 2020 Collection, such as training videos and product imagery. All of these assets could be captured and sent directly to clients who are sheltering in place around the world.

Before COVID-19 came to Europe, Vitra took a proactive approach to prepare for potential supply chain issues. We worked closely with our suppliers across Europe to ensure that the necessary components needed to complete production were available.

Inside Vitra’s SANAA-designed hub in Weil am Rhein.

Related to the above – and I’m particularly wondering about Citizen, which is much more complex than the other pieces – were new modes of “collaboration” set in place? For instance, how did the final details get worked out with Konstantin Grcic?

The relationship of trust between these authors from all corners of the world and Vitra, who shares their ambitions, is at the very heart of the company’s product development process. Collaborations are always a subtle synthesis of artistic freedom, production know-how and industry knowledge. This philosophy has shaped the company’s culture since its early partnerships with seminal designers like Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson.

Konstantin Grcic’s Citizen lounge chair features a seat suspended on three cables affixed to a steel frame to facilitate a swinging movement in all directions.

The Jean Prouvé Chaise Tout du Bois is sublime. How much time and what new manufacturing methods, if any, went into reproducing it?

The manufacturing process for the Jean Prouvé Chaise Tout Bois uses the same techniques as when it was first designed in 1941. During the Second World War, certain materials, such as metal, were scarce, forcing  Prouvé to search for alternative solutions. In that spirit, the chair remains completely constructed out of solid wood, and doesn’t require a single screw.

Originally designed in 1941, Jean Prouvé’s Chaise Tout Bois comes in light or dark oak. Its construction doesn’t require any screws.

What new opportunities does the company see in launching its pieces online – through Instagram video and other means?

We see value in investing in the long-term digitization for our company – not only in product launches but in all areas of our business. In the past several weeks we’ve seen how being agile and adapting quickly to a digital work mode has helped our teams stay connected with each other and has given us the ability to share information quickly with our clients who in North America span across five time zones. With travel restrictions likely lasting for many more weeks, we will need to interact with our clients remotely and do so in an inspiring, innovative way. Thus, we’ll be introducing new methods for how we perform our daily business and serve our clients.

Moca is a representation of designer Jasper Morrison’s “super normal” style.
It is made with a steel tube structure and veneered plywood seat and back shells.

Anyone in our industry knows that constraint leads to design and necessity to innovation. We have an abundance of both right now. Vitra has developed a series of hypotheses that’s driving our future business decisions. These hypotheses are focused around the idea that people will work from home more, travel less and have an increased need for flexible products and shopping methods. The opportunity is to recognize these shifts in our industry, evaluate their causes, and pivot our business accordingly.

The launch of Vitra’s Autumn 2020 Collection on Instagram gave us the opportunity to invite the whole world into our campus in Weil am Rhein. The Campus is the heart and soul of Vitra, it brings together architecture, design, museum exhibitions and manufacturing in a central location. The conversation through Instagram allows us to have a broader dialogue around the power of good design and how it can shape the way we live our lives.

Vitra Goes Virtual: A Q&A with Melissa Shelton on its Instagram Product Launch

The Swiss brand just launched its Autumn 2020 collection – with pieces by Konstantin Grcic, Jean Prouvé and Jasper Morrison – on Instagram.

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