Design Academy Eindhoven: Salone del Mobile 2009

'the new luxury'

by louise Schouwenberg


Luxury no longer lies in the star designer’s flashy name. Nowadays the new luxury is embedded in the attention to the making process. This requires a new vision of designership, which in turn requires a new vision of education.

At the end of 2008, fashion designer Alexander van Slobbe was appointed artistic director of Design Academy Eindhoven. In close cooperation with business director Anne Mieke Eggenkamp he will determine the course that the academy is going to follow in the coming years. This course will be a completely different one because according to Van Slobbe en Eggenkamp the present-day world places different demands on designers.

little wonders/skin by sayaka Yamamoto - photography boaz Cohen

A different vision of success, more attention to the various degrees of quality, and above all: more attention to making. These are some of the spearheads of Van Slobbe’s plans for the academy. ‘My predecessor, Li  Edelkoort, has positioned the academy internationally, for instance through exhibitions in Milan, New York and Tokyo. Design Academy Eindhoven became a brand name. That was fantastic, and it suited the spirit of the
times of boundless optimism and unbridled faith in the blessings of globalisation and economic expansion.
However, we now live in a different time. To some extent, we will pursue the present course and continue making international presentations in the future. At the same time, we aim to add something. We do not only train stars; success can be defined in many more layers than we were prepared to do in the past years. Designers are needed at all levels of society, in all large and small businesses that require design skills. These designers mostly remain anonymous, but that doesn’t detract from the satisfaction they derive from their work. The spirit of the time demands that we develop an eye for all aspects of the design profession. We therefore intend to put the emphasis on the quality of designership, on the making process, and on the development of professional skills. After all, we’re not a company that delivers products but a school that puts designers in the world!’

fluid by ilse Waltjen - photography rene van der Hulst                  corpus 2.0 by marcia Nolte

Craftsmanship and technical skills do not only contribute to the designer’s happiness. More attention to the quality of the making process also constitutes an important answer to the issues of our time, Van Slobbe thinks. “We have in recent years confused consumerism with luxury, and consequently caused major damage to the environment and disregarded the essence of quality. The financial crisis has brought us back to earth. It compelled us to reconsider and put things back in perspective.”
Are we talking sustainability then? “Frankly, I don’t give a toss if the world survives or not. But as long as we’re here, we have to strive for quality. Not all ideas have to end up as products; the design domain can be so much richer. And if you’re designing products, you have to choose better materials and the most beautiful techniques. Only then is sustainability more than a response triggered by guilt and more than a passing trend. Doing or not doing something out of moral considerations just doesn’t work.
Look at what happened to the food industry. Ultimately, it is the quality of life, the quality of being, that matters. That’s what I call the New Luxury, NL. It’s a nice coincidence, though, since NL also stands for The Netherlands.”

"To achieve the new luxury, we urgently need to revise the designer craftsman relationship", says Van Slobbe. With the birth of the star designer, the work of the maker has disappeared from sight, has even been neglected. Authorship is a lie! Every designer is dependent on the professional team he’s working with.


new nature by melissa Peen                                                             preservations by anke Louwers - photography rene van der Hulst

"In the past decades, the name of the author seemed to increase the value of a garment or a piece of furniture. But those days are over; consumers can’t be fooled anymore and they’re able to distinguish between quality and non-quality. A consumer notices the attention paid to the realisation of a product. It is therefore the designer’s task to reinstate the master craftsman. Involving a professional in the design process means adding something to it. It means that you leave room in the work for things like coincidences and mistakes. If you don’t recognise and appreciate these, you will never make use of the gifts embedded in craft techniques."

With his vision of the new luxury Van Slobbe returns to the vision of Design Academy Eindhoven. "Now the time has come for us to reflect on things instead of indiscriminately making products for an overheated market.
We don’t want to be world improvers. We just want us to be doing something meaningful, and that requires a shift in thinking."
The expertise of the academy in the domain of design and education is of an important value for the local, national and international industry. This expertise can make a meaningful contribution towards the reinforcement and development of these industries. Ultimately, luxury is never in the thing itself but always in the visible attention with which it is made, the intimate relationship that you as a user can build with it, the symbolic gesture of giving it. "If I knit a shawl for you, the real present is not that little piece of fabric. The real gift is the attention I paid to making it, and the gesture of presenting you with it. If you as a designer can’t recognise this, you miss the essence of this profession."