Pieter Kool, Creative Director of G-Star RAW from 2013 to 2015, talks about why the Dutch denim brand used products by Jean Prouvé to furnish its new headquarters in Amsterdam and how this led to the development of a unique edition in cooperation with Vitra.
Where does G-Star’s love for Jean Prouvé stem from?
Prouvé’s no-nonsense designs, created with focus on functionality, as well as his choices in material and colour, have always been an inspiration to G-Star. Our philosophy is ‘Just the Product’, so the democratic purpose and usefulness of Prouvé’s designs match that of denim. With age Prouvé’s furniture develops character – as does jeans. Our mind sets are similar in that our goals are based around creating products with a long life expectancy – functionality and aesthetically. G-Star, Jean Prouvé and Vitra share some common values around democratic designs, craftsmanship, quality, functionality, aesthetics, innovation, and technology. The crossover project Prouvé RAW Office Edition allows us to carry out a unique design experiment, blending our design DNA with that of two industry icons whom we admire.
Various pieces of your furniture will be available as a new Edition. What was the motivation behind this?
We also wanted to reinterpret and relaunch the classic Prouvé designs in collaboration with Vitra and Catherine Prouvé and make them available and accessible to more people – not only the happy few who find or can afford to collect Prouvé’s furniture.
There must have been discussions using historic task chairs instead of full functional task chairs, which cover all topics of modern ergonomics. What made you go this way and are you and your staff happy with this decision?
From the beginning, our approach to the collaboration has been to keep as close as possible to the original designs and to not make any concessions when it came to material quality. With the first RAW-Prouvé Crossover being a home collection, there were minimal obstacles in this approach. However, with an office collection, because of regulations and modern needs of an office environment, this was more challenging – how can we integrate into Prouvé’s line of thinking height adjustability, a cable gutter, or a 5-legged office chair base? Using new production techniques we reconsider the ergonomic aspects of the designs. This led to size corrections in the chairs, particularly to make them more suitable for the modern (taller) man or woman. Out of the entire G-Star Head-quarters project, interior and exterior, we expected the office chairs to be most likely to cause disturbance to our employees. We used the prototypes for response groups and took their input to improve the chair ergonomically, and to generate understanding of our ideas. The office chair doesn’t have the endless number of features and functionalities that many contemporary office chairs have – but is does comply with all guidelines required by European law – and that is exactly what we wanted. We stripped the chair to the essential functionalities and did it really well. The rest we didn’t. The result: no complaints, and an affordable, beautiful chair.
Are your staff happy with this decision?
Yes. Beyond just the comfort of the chairs and desks, their aesthetics are highly appreciated.
If your working environment breathes what you stand for as a brand, it will serve as a constant source of inspiration for your entire team.
You also integrated a specially made piece of furniture – a nearly 1 km long interpretation of the Vitra ‘Silent Wall, by Arik Levy– to fulfill your needs in keeping the architectural space and ensuring storage for all the work materials. How did this come about?
In our previous buildings we displayed our own products, sample collections, inspiration materials and prints, meaning a lot of visual impact. Therefore we wanted the new interior to be supportive of this while not becoming the centre of attention, hence the monochrome colour scheme of the interior. The existing wall systems we saw in the market didn’t support this withdrawn visual language. We wanted a wall system and nothing more. Cabinets are merely a thicker wall with doors on them, so the wall system should have two thicknesses; a 10–15 cm thickness for simple walls, and 40cm for walls with storage functionality. The Arik Levy system is good as a wall system, however the cabinets are separate units. We opted to integrate the storage into the wall. We added connector units to maximise the freedom of placement. The outer panels we redesigned to match our design language, and the buildings colour scheme.
You have been working in this space for nearly ¾ of a year now. How is the culture of G-Star evolving?
Before moving, the G-Star departments were spread over three different locations within Amsterdam. Any of our creative output we consider to be product engineering – whether it is 3-dimensionally constructed jeans with ergonomic knee pads, or a table for our retail environment – so we wanted the different departments to influence each other. An environment where specialists from different crafts can really inspire and stimulate each other. So, to optimise our creativity, we wanted a space where everybody comes together to work on a strong product. Our new headquarters accommodates these specific needs; it consolidates G-Star’s existing facilities around Amsterdam into a single building and encourages the interaction of various departments.
Would you recommend other companies to include classic pieces in their environment?
At G-Star we are firm believers in staying true to your own DNA. If your working environment breathes what you stand for as a brand, it will serve as a constant source of inspiration for your entire team. The Prouvé RAW range does this for us.“Our philosophy is ‘Just the Product’, so the democratic purpose and usefulness of Prouvé’s designs match that of jeans. With age Prouvé’s furniture develops character – as does denim.”
Discover more interviews, features and case stories in 'Classics in the Office'. 'Classics in the office' is the first issue of the newspaper about work series– a collection of studies about office culture and the future of the working world.