A Game of Tennis

Words by Oli Stratford, Disegno.

Jasper Morrison and Gregg Buchbinder reflect on three years of collaborations.

Since the launch of the Alfi collection in 2015, Jasper Morrison has become one of Emeco’s most trusted and consistent collaborators. In 2017, the two launched the 1 Inch collection, while in 2018 Morrison expanded both Alfi and 1 Inch, as well as designing Emeco’s stand for the Salone del Mobile – a summation of the two’s work together to date.

During the course of the Salone, Disegno editor-in-chief Oli Stratford met with Morrison and Emeco’s chairman Gregg Buchbinder to discuss their three years of collaboration. On the table for discussion were the benefits of cooperation; the relationship between designer and manufacturer; and the importance of constraints in the design process.

Oli Stratford: This year, everything on the Emeco stand has been designed or edited by Jasper, including the stand itself – there are Alfi chairs, the 1 Inch collection, and then a series of aluminium birds created by the designer Yun Li, which Jasper edited. What does that kind of focus on a single designer bring to a display?

Gregg Buchbinder: When you look at this whole collection from Jasper, you can see a consistency and a continuity in approach. The Alfi chair, for instance, is the most comfortable chair we've ever made, and what I really appreciate about Jasper is his dedication to the details which make that possible. He takes something and makes it better, and he’s always offering solutions. So this whole collection by Jasper is transforming Emeco and it's making Emeco into a company that is prepared for the future. In the past, we couldn't show more than one chair design at a trade fair, because all the different pieces made the stand looked like a patchwork. Now, however, all the designs feel as if they belong together.

Jasper Morrison: It is so important to have a good stand, and to have the right stand for the product, especially in Milan. It's certainly much easier knowing that it’s more or less only your designs that are going to be on display, because then it becomes a whole project. If you design the product and then have the luxury of designing the stand, you get ultimate control. There are other companies I work for where I have zero control, for instance, and that can be a nasty experience – you don't know what to expect. 

Oli: Has working together over an extended period created a different dynamic in your relationship? Have you found shorthands during the development process, for instance?

Jasper: Every partnership between a designer and a manufacturer can have good and bad chemistry, but it really helps if the first product you do together is a success. If the product isn’t a success, then you might as well just shake hands and forget it. But there are those special occasions when you get on really well and you have a shared philosophy of how to do things where it just makes everything so enjoyable. 

Gregg: Well, not so enjoyable! The reality is that Jasper is tough. It's like playing tennis with someone who's a very strong partner. There are designers I work with who don't return the ball, whereas Jasper not only returns it, but he hits it harder. He pushes and pushes and pushes, and it forces us to do better and be better. We're a better company because he challenges us and he cares about every detail. It’s remarkable to work with someone like that and I appreciate him. But it's not always easy.

Oli: What do you want that relationship to communicate about Emeco, Gregg? How has the collaboration changed Emeco?

Gregg: We always want our company to be sincere and transparent. We put all of our focus on one designer every year, and for a few years we've been working very closely with Jasper. Our total and complete attention – and that’s true of everybody in the company – is on one product, which we completely dedicate ourselves to. Jasper puts a tremendous amount of effort into what he's doing, and he needs to work with someone who partners him on that, because that kind of dedication builds trust. When we both have the same goal and are really doing the very best we can, the results are great. Recently, for instance, I saw a display of Jasper’s Air-Chair for Magis, which he designed in 1999, and which is still relevant today. I am so hopeful that the things we're doing today will still be appreciated 20 years from now too.

Oli: And how does Emeco’s approach shape your work, Jasper? For instance, the company is extremely interested in sustainability, and has launched a number of projects using recycled materials.

Jasper: I was speaking to another designer the other day and asked when the last time they worked for a company that discussed issues of recyclability was? There's so little discussion in the business around these issues. It can only be a good thing that Emeco is discussing these ideas, and they make you begin to realise that economy in every point of the design process is important. If you as a designer just let yourself go on what something is going to look like or where you got the idea from, then everything is open and you can stagger around looking for something that feels rather feeble. But if you work with constraints and have that sense of economy throughout, then you get more rigorous results.

Gregg: Our world is changing so much and there's the new sharing economy, which I think is terrific. People can share bicycles and cars and thereby use less, so we’re now trying to figure out how to share our chairs too. Someone might use or lease them, and then bring them back to Emeco. Right now we’re working on how to make new chairs out of old chairs. The idea of any company taking full responsibility for whatever they bring into the world is exciting for me. //

Read Part 1: Place Making
Read Part 2: The Story of the 1 Inch Reclaimed

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