Designer Henning Koppel’s masterful eye dared to envisage the future by challenging convention. His visionary sensibilities lifted the commonplace to the sublime through a fundamentally Scandinavian approach to design.
A trained sculptor and graduate of the Royal Danish Academy, Henning Koppel made his mark as a designer. In 1945, aged 27, Koppel began working at Georg Jensen where he remained until his death in 1981. During his time at Georg Jensen he experimented with sculptural forms to create jewellery, hollowware and flatware designs that were a radical departure from the brand’s existing product portfolio, and which began what was to become a new era in Danish design.
Pioneering what is today regarded as Danish design functionalism–making everyday objects practical as well as beautiful–Koppel’s pared-down simplicity showcases the very essence of elegance and his purist approach to his medium. An outstanding draftsman, Koppel’s drawing skills were honed since childhood: His assured brush strokes and creative genius, coupled with the skilled craftsmanship of Georg Jensen’s renowned silversmiths, led to the creation of what was later to become some of the most iconic and timeless designs from the hand of Koppel.
His characteristic clean forms and understated elegance marry function and minimalist form. And devoid of non-essential elements, Koppel’s design is a lasting symbol of refined elegance and artistic perfection. Like the master designer Georg Jensen, organic, natural forms found in nature inspired Henning Koppel’s designs. His smooth, elegant lines and sculptural excellence pioneered the modern design movement and later served to renew the silversmith traditions of the time.
From the organic vertebrae-like forms of his silver jewellery to the meticulously clean forms of his hollowware, and the iconic elegance of his wristwatches, Henning Koppel’s work today remains highly sought-after. The monumental design of Koppel’s Fish Dish, a design triumph that placed Scandinavia on the global design map, is a work of art; his eponymous wristwatch is a lesson in confidence and enduring luxury; and his hollowware pitcher embodies the essence of luxurious, sculptural craftsmanship.
Henning Koppel won many significant accolades throughout his career as a designer – including the prestigious Milan Triennial and the International Design Award of the American Institute of Interior Designers. Yet, arguably, his greatest achievement and most poignant legacy is the democratic Danish silverware designs he created during almost four decades at Georg Jensen. His designs have made their way into millions of homes across the world, and their elegant simplicity ensures that the individual expression of each home is never overshadowed by them but is instead perfectly enhanced.
The late architect Zaha Hadid once said: “Women are always told: ‘You’re not going to make it, it’s too difficult, you can’t do that, don’t enter this competition, you’ll never win it.’ They need confidence in themselves and people around them to help them to get on.”
Hadid was not lacking in confidence. She won myriad awards for her visionary designs and was a pioneer for female architects and creatives around the world. Hadid, who died at 65 of a heart attack in March, left a legacy of extraordinary buildings, including the Wangjing Soho near Beijing, known for its three curved sails which are meant to evoke the image of carp swimming around each other in a pond.
It was this building that inspired what is thought to be one of Hadid’s last completed collaborations, with Danish design house Georg Jensen. The collection of sculptural silver rings and cuff bangles (which will be available from this month) was unveiled at Baselworld in March, just days before Hadid died. At the time Hadid said in a statement to Forbes magazine: “Our starting point was the Danish house’s design links to nature ... There is an inherent integrity within the organic structural logic found in nature and we often look at the coherence of natural systems when we work to create environments. Our challenge was to translate that into something that can be worn; to reinterpret the rich history and tradition of Georg Jensen’s design approach into something new.”
Georg Jensen CEO Eva-Lotta Sjostedt
The merging of one of Denmark’s oldest luxury silversmiths with a female pioneer of modern design is a bold collaboration, and one that new Georg Jensen CEO Eva-Lotta Sjöstedt says perfectly reflects the brand’s aesthetic of today.
“Zaha always thought bigger and tried harder, at the same time not holding back, and she knew who she was,” says Sjöstedt. “And strong people come through and they stand on their feet to push boundaries. Those are the type of people and collaborations we love to work with.”
Hadid’s feminist ideologies reflect Sjöstedt’s personal vision for the company, which the CEO was keen to discuss when we met in Milan during Design Week in April. There, Sjöstedt was hosting the launch of another strong female collaboration: the art deco-inspired cylindrical ribbed stainless steel range designed by Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola.
Sjöstedt is proud to be one of the only female CEOs of an international luxury brand. And while she is also very proud of Georg Jensen’s strong collaborative history with male designers – from the iconic Henning Koppel collections through to last year’s butterfly-inspired pieces by Australia’s award-winning designer Jordan Askill – Sjöstedt also wants her tenure at Georg Jensen to harness female empowerment, both in the design and the corporate structure, and for the customer.
“It would be my dream to empower, and especially for women to be empowered by wearing and using and being a part of the community by sharing the products and being with us,” she says.
Zaha Hadid inspired Georg Jensen cuff
“So even if you don’t know what you stand for, or who you are, you can be inspired by people like Zaha, or others, and I think that is my objective or purpose. I know it’s very ambitious, and I know they are products, but I would love for people to be empowered by them. It’s in the design language at the end of the day: wearing what you want to wear and how you carry it all and how people perceive you when they look at you. When I wear pieces on myself or have pieces in my home it’s a statement, the simplicity and the design language, but I’m also wearing the pieces because they complement me. I carry the pieces, they don’t carry me. I know what I am and what I want to be. And that is what fascinates me about the brand.”
The Sweden-born Sjöstedt is a mother of three, and, like many Nordic women, has a rather modern family: her husband decided to become a stay-at-home father while she scaled the corporate ladder when the family lived in Japan for several years.
I ask Sjöstedt if she wants to translate her progressive approach to family to how she wants to lead Georg Jensen. “I’ve never seen myself as limited: I can do what I want to do and I can still be a great mother,” she says. “There are so many perceptions of how you should be and I would like to break conventions and rules that have been established. As a woman you can be very successful, you can have a lot of make-up, you can be loud, you can be bossy. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to a tight frame.”
This year we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the iconic Acorn Collection of silver flatware and serving pieces.
Legendary Georg Jensen designer Johan Rohde created the Acorn pattern in 1915, and its elegant restraint demonstrates his masterful ability to simplify and modernize. His designs, marked by a stylized sophistication, stand somewhere between the naturalistic lines of Art Nouveau and the strict geometry of Art Deco.
With its remarkable likeness to the architectural ornamentation found in ancient Greece, and crafted of radiant silver in the Georg Jensen smithy, Acorn has never gone out of production and continues to be a favorite of designers, collectors, and, hosts.
The House of Jensen is proud to honor this graceful design, its renowned creator, and its long history by debuting this handsome champagne saber as well as reissuing nine pieces, and looks forward to the next chapter for the Acorn Collection in the Georg Jensen family.
Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe, 1927-2004 The master silversmith, happiest when using her hands to craft her signature jewellery, pioneered a design language that embodied simple expressiveness and purity of form.
Born in Malmö, Sweden in 1927, Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe graduated from the Academy of Industrial Arts in Stockholm to become Sweden’s first female silversmith to establish her own workshop. Intuitive, disciplined and courageous in her approach to work as well as life, Vivianna worked with uncompromising passion to create compelling jewellery designs deeply rooted in nature. When she later settled in France, Vivianna quickly became known internationally for her innovative and elegant jewellery, and developed a loyal following that included artists that included Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Pablo Picasso.
Designing for Georg Jensen from 1967 until her death in 2004, Vivianna’s legacy lives on in her products. Perhaps best known for her iconic and eponymous wristwatch, Vivianna sought to defy time by creating a watch without numbers, with a mirror face – to perpetually show the face of the wearer and serve as a constant reminder of the Here and Now – and an open-ended bangle, symbolising freedom from time. Her jewellery, crafted from polished sterling silver that gently wraps around the female form, is a perfect balance between quintessential form and function, and its bold simplicity has universal appeal.
For almost five decades of design, the innately inquisitive and infinitely creative Vivianna looked to the world around her for inspiration– beach stones, rich in texture and colour, were to Vivianna more precious than diamonds. Her designs referenced infinite movement: With no obvious beginning or end, gently undulating forms and subtle twists and turns seen in the movement of a figure skater’s balanced curves; the trajectory of a bird in ascent; and the sensual contours of the female form manifested themselves in her expressive designs.