AK The other invention can be found on the underside of each item, where there is a ring and a little button in the centre. AH Normally, a plate has a central dent to secure your cup. We did the opposite and added a bump.
AK Tapio Wirkkala used this kind of dent in his ‘Captain’ series, which was specially designed for use on a boat.
AH Yes. Whatever you stack—another plate, cup or bowl—can be fixed on top of this little extrusion. AK Origo was revolutionary from the start, receiving prizes and entering design museum collections. But tell me, what about the coloured stripes? AH Everyone likes a bit of colour on their table. To get around flowers, which I am not so good with, I thought that a rainbow might add the ultimate decorative flair to the white series. Initially, we only coloured the egg cup. It went viral, and the entire first production run sold out in a few weeks. Finally, we coloured all the items and Origo became part of the Iittala collection.
AK Then came Essence two years later, the family of drinking glasses. Essence arrived at an important moment in Finnish food culture. Dining habits had started changing: outdoor dining became more elegant, the first Finnish restaurants were receiving stars, and people became wine lovers.
AH Iittala was catching up with this shift.
AK Until then, most of the wine glasses in the catalogue had all had sturdy stems. Take Wirkkala’s ‘Tavastia’ or ‘Tapio’ series, or ‘Kekkerit’ and ‘Jurmo’ by Timo Sarpaneva.
AH Yes, before those—we are talking about 20 years ago—Finns tended to use beer glasses or water tumblers for wine drinking, if they drank wine at all. With this background in mind, we again asked the question: what is the minimum number of items needed on a modern dinner table? The answer was seven, plus a carafe.
AK Essence is a very elegant collection of rather large, slightly masculine glasses created from a new and surprisingly durable glass material recipe.
AH Formally, I wanted a more masculine shape, so that Essence could differentiate itself from the wine glass’ traditional female form. The connection between the goblet and the particularly long stem had to be very delicate, and I wanted a completely flat plate.
AK What was the engineer’s first reaction?
AH They saw me as fairly young and naive. They asked me, “Alfredo, is this the first time you’ve designed in glass? We can see...” but they took on the challenge. The only solution was to work with pressed glass and develop a new material, one that’d be particularly hard and durable…
AK ...or even unbreakable, as Swiss artist Roman Signer demonstrated in one of his experiments.
AH (laughs) Yes. We produced 20 moulds that allowed for an elevated production of up to 25,000 pieces a day. All were composed of a pressed glass stem that could be attached to a different-sized goblet. Finally, everything came together. 20 years later, Essence is still part of many dinner tables, both in restaurants and in people’s homes.
De-Signer Roman Signer for Alfredo Häberli
In 2006 Alfredo Häberli was a guest of honour at the Kortrijk Biennale Interieur in Belgium, where he was invited to create a large personal exhibition. He decided to not only show his own work, but to showcase the long tradition of Swiss design, as well. Thus, he brought more than 380 exhibits from the design collection of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich to Belgium for the exhibition. To commemorate the occasion, he also published the ‘Design Live’ book, which gave seven Swiss artists carte blanche to play with Alfredo’s design pieces. One of the artists was Roman Signer (1938), who is known for his witty sculptures and performative actions, which often include countdowns, explosions and objects flying through the air. For the artwork ‘De-Signer’, Signer took an Essence glass, filled it with red wine, and placed it on the ‘Move It’ (Thonet, 1996) table, with a tilting top. The table, in turn, was standing above an electrical ventilator, of the kind typically used in agriculture to blow dry air into the barn. A shot of air catapulted the tabletop up and the wineglass fell to the ground. Alfredo recalls receiving a phone call from Signer with a single message: “Alfredo, you are right, the glass did not break.”
AK Two years later came ‘Senta’ (2003), another glass collection. Designed for everyday use, Senta was not as tall as Essence, but more feminine, and featured a very nice facette detailing that makes the glass seem to hover over the table.
AH At the time, we feared that Essence was too elegant. But by the time Essence and Senta were sitting next to each other on the shop shelves, people had already fallen for Essence. Let me also give away a little trick that, in my opinion, might contribute to Essence’s popularity, particularly—but not only—in places like Scandinavia. Because Essence is so big, a glass looks almost empty, but the amount of wine poured in the glass is actually a lot.
AK You expanded the catalogue even further, mixing materials and bringing in a whole new clientele: children. Just a year later, in 2003, Kids’ Stuff was released.
AH Around that time my son Luc was about two years old. The project came naturally. I understood many things, simply by observing him. For example, his hands were too small to hold a glass with one hand. But the solution was not to down-scale a regular glass by 20%. Rather, the problem was the vessel’s shape. So, I created a curvy silhouette. Similarly, the cutlery has an elevated bow, which allows for a child to easily grab a fork, knife or spoon and hold it securely. The tilted end keeps it secure on the edge of the plate and prevents it from sliding into the food.