Konstantin Grcicby Felix Burrichter
Konstantin Grcic (b. 1965, Germany) is a Munich-based industrial designer whose rigorous design approach combines deep research with an investigation into emerging technologies. Yet at the core of his practice lies a profound appreciation and commitment to craft—a principle Grcic picked up early on. After high school, Grcic moved to England to apprentice under an antique furniture restorer and later a cabinetmaker, where he learned the value of handwork and skilled labor. It was during this time that Grcic discovered his passion for furniture and industrial design, which led him to seek education at London’s Royal College of Art. Grcic’s teacher Jasper Morrison was impressed by the young designer’s ingenuity and hired him to work in his studio, where Grcic apprenticed for one year before returning to Munich to establish his own studio, Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design (KGID). Today, with the use of 3-D modeling software and precision engineering, Grcic designs furniture, lighting, and objects that redefine standard molds, replacing them with new, more logical solutions. His studio, located in a courtyard near Munich’s central train station, is warm and intimate, filled with eclectic objects—a somewhat surprising vision given the designer’s minimal yet technically oriented style. Amidst Grcic’s bike collection, stacks of books, and a trove of cardboard prototypes, we met in the KGID studio to discuss Grcic’s latest collaboration with Maharam: a collection of bags featuring lightweight yet durable materials that demonstrates Grcic’s unique vision and rigorous commitment to quality.
Felix Burrichter: What inspired you to design a collection of bags?
Konstantin Grcic: Michael Maharam invited me to contribute ideas to a new collection of bags to be launched as a sideline to their textile business. There was no particular briefing other than to design a bag that I would like to use myself. The great thing about designing bags is that it’s a very hands-on process; you can just make them. I have a Singer sewing machine in the office and that is exactly where all of the bags were conceived.
FB: Was there a specific requirement as to what material to use? Did they have to be made from Maharam textiles?
KG: No, Maharam didn’t ask us to use their textiles. However, the choice of material plays a big role. The Three Bag is a simple tote bag made from a waxed canvas, similar to that of the Barbour jackets. The feel of the canvas is very outdoors and heavy-duty, which I like. Then there is the Frame Bag, a kind of weekender made of a combination of two technical materials: a very thin spinnaker nylon and webbing straps. The webbing creates an outer basket or structural framework (hence the name) around the inner nylon bag. The construction is very efficient, which makes the bag robust and lightweight at the same time. The third bag, the Tube Bag, is made from a single piece of fabric, a nonwoven material. The fabric is sewn into a long tube that is then folded into two open-ended pockets or envelopes and completed by a long shoulder strap, which determines the bag’s use for cycling and so forth.
FB: What kind of bag do you use yourself?
KG: When I travel I use a dark blue duffel bag from Eastpak. I have had this for years and it seems to be absolutely indestructible.
FB: Was your ambition to design bags that would come close to your Eastpak duffel?
KG: Sure, I was interested in designing bags of superior quality. What gave me confidence in achieving this was the immediacy of the process: designing through making and being able to go over and over the same details until the result was finally satisfactory. We did not create sketches for any of the bags; we just let them evolve organically. This way of working isn’t untypical for me. Material and construction are key elements of my design process and are the determining factor for how the product ends up being and looking.
FB: How many dummies did you end up making for these bags?
KG: We probably made thirty to forty mockups and prototypes of all the different styles. Using a sewing machine is a very fast, simple process. Once we got the hang of it, we were able to knock out an average of two to three bags a day.
FB: Do you sew yourself?
KG: A little bit, but my assistants are of course much better at it. I want to know how it works, but in the end I don’t have enough time and practice to be efficient. But of course I am still very involved in all the details, because that is really what drives the process. Working out the precision of how to place a zipper or trying out alternative ways of creating three-dimensional volumes from a two-dimensional cloth are all essential steps in realizing the product. For me, it is very much about learning by doing and that is always great fun.
FB: Is it the first time you’ve worked so extensively with fabric?
KG: Yes, even though I have always had a strong affinity for fabric as a structural material, I was never really interested in using fabric in my furniture. The way sofas are made always seemed very primitive and uninspiring to me. On the other hand, I am fascinated by fashion and making clothes. Some years ago, I had a chance to do a project with Brioni, the well-known Italian atelier for bespoke suits. I had the privilege of working with their master tailor, a very gifted and skillful young craftsman. With his help I set out to design my own suit but realized that making a jacket is a very complex procedure, something I couldn’t possibly learn to do in the short span of our project. Though I do find it all completely fascinating—the way the tailor constructs certain parts of the jacket, the shoulders, or chest into a perfect three-dimensional fit. My way around this was to change the jacket into a cape. Then the construction became much simpler and I was back in control. The result actually turned out very unique—a great new concept for a cape!
FB: In addition to the bags you’ve also designed textiles for Maharam.
KG: Yes, we have been working on a collection of nonwoven materials for a few years now. The first two products, Drape and Rise, launched this year. Nonwovens are very industrial textiles, which are produced using a lamination process that builds up the textile in multiple layers. The sports industry uses them a lot and also the furniture industry for more performance-oriented applications.
FB: A big exhibition of your work will open next year in March at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein. Will this be the first big retrospective of your work?
KG: I prefer not to think of it as a retrospective since I am still alive and active. Therefore it is not about looking back at a closed oeuvre. It’s about looking forward. There have been major shows of my work at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009 and before that at the museum Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2006. But when the Vitra Design Museum approached me about doing a show I thought of it as an opportunity to create a substantial design project. Instead of presenting products on plinths, my idea is to create a series of full-size stage sets to resemble life in ten years from now. I deliberately challenged myself into doing complete environments—including architecture, products, lighting, sound, etc.—which is something I never really get to do as an industrial designer. The exhibition will be entitled Panorama, which gives you some clues about the very dominant, scenographic aspect of the show.
FB: And those three environments will be furnished with products from the past twenty years?
KG: Yes, most of the objects already exist today, but the future isn’t all made up of new things anyway.
FB: But everything is designed by Konstantin Grcic?
KG: Yes, with the odd exception, everything in the exhibition is designed by me.
FB: And the Maharam bags will be available in the Vitra Design Museum gift shop?
KG: Yes, of course.
Felix Burrichter is the founder and editor in chief of PIN-UP magazine.
Images: Photography by Florian Böhm and Konstantin Grcic, courtesy of KGID.