Iittala Enters New Era With an Opus on Glass

Iittala’s refresh, nay reassertion as an auteur of artistry in glass can only be described as an opus for the heritage glassmaker hailing from Finland, circa 1881. The occasion – a year in the making – is marked by a tantalizing audio-visual exhibition celebrating new creative direction, the release of an updated logo, and two new collections with a surprising collaboration that showcases only a sliver of the enchantment to come. The combined efforts of all persons involved position the company and its customers for a jubilant future full of play through pioneering craft.

Picture of a woman under a spotlight.

Janni Vepsäläinen

The Leader

Avant-garde in approach, an affluent ideator, and always on-the-go. Janni Vepsäläinen, the newly appointed creative director at Iittala, brings her creative dexterity from the world of luxury fashion to shatter the preconception that glass – a medium seemingly rigid in comparison to textiles – can be just as fun. “Because I don’t come from the traditional design industry, in this case that of product, I feel this disruptive urge. And because I don’t know what’s expected… I don’t know what’s the conventional way of doing things… I’m naturally following my intuition,” Vepsäläinen admits. “When I started working on this, I delved into the archives. I looked at the most treasured pieces of their design history and quickly realized that these things came from avant-garde, expressive, and boundary breaking thinking. And that to me was the leading vision.” In a time of novelty goods, commodified services, and in some countries a throw-away culture, to learn from history is far more radical than reinvention.

Slogan on a wall that says "this is the new era of craft"

Photo: Julia Viklund

The Label

As part of its ongoing evolution, Vepsäläinen tasked graphic designer Aleksi Tammi to create a custom typeface for the new logo, which was completed by typographer Göran Söderström, under Tammi’s direction. But it would be remiss to label Iittala’s contemporized wordmark and refreshed visual collateral a “rebrand” when this too is informed by, and builds on, well over a century’s worth of storied existence. Drawing from historical versions, they combined the ligatures found atop “T,” centered the logotype around the letter “A,” and added the year of the company’s founding at a reduced scale allowing for the word above to cantilever over each side. Particularly compelling is the way in which the characters tow the line between type styles – clearly contemporary in display while flirting with the idea of having serifs. Together, the two created a character set that aligns with the brand’s new creative vision, continued values, and evolving expression.

Branding

The Launch

With this new leadership at the helm, Iittala enters an era of play in a medium often overlooked by being branded far too delicate for enjoyment. In an effort to strengthen their commitment to craftsmanship, creative innovation, and the craftspeople who realize their designs, Vepsäläinen invited another interdisciplinary disruptor into the arena to help exercise these muscles. Damsel Elysium, a London-based experimental sound and visual artist, lent their pipes and a plethora of instruments in this convergence of art, design, and expertise at an extraordinary scale. Roughly five stories deep in Swedish bedrock at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Reactor Hall – a defunct nuclear bunker turned museum and research center – guests followed a winding footpath passing piles of sand with objects from Iittala’s newest offerings.

Piles of sand with glassware in it.

A glass ornament atop a textile draped over a stand.

A woman holding glass cups.

A glass vase with paint brushes in it.

A glass vase atop a messy shelf.

A glass ornament.

An empty glass vase.

Glassware and ceramics strewn about a dresser.

Pastel colored ceramics.

Pastel colored ceramics.

Along the initial journey weary travelers had the opportunity to see elements from PLAY, the first collection designed by Vepsäläinen as the brand’s creative director. Slated to launch this March, the range includes glass objects, tableware, textiles, and even candles artfully designed in pastels. The shapes are contemporary without being austere, glazed in saccharine hues that look like eye candy. Every cup, bowl, vase, and throw seemed set aside with care as if a child had stopped mid-play to rest with an intent to continue later – almost inviting public participation. And this translates to modern utility as each form accommodates new, often casual dining habits with edges that cater consuming food holding the dish with one hand while chatting on the phone, reading, or watching TV. Items may also serve as tabletop accents and trinket trays.

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Sand trickling into a pit.

Photo: Julia Viklund

The procession culminated as visitors were released into the most voluminous space of the bunker to view a live performance by Damsel Elysium who demonstrated how musicality is intrinsic to glass – quite literally – playing each artifact like an instrument. Artistry In Glass launched this month, and used in the showcase, included various horns, bells, and bottles that borrowed organic shapes in dazzling tones like light lilac, peachy pink, red, and clear. Six unique pieces from this set will be available for purchase in March as well.

Glass ornaments on a stand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand under other glass objects suspended from above.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand under other glass objects suspended from above.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Photo: Julia Viklund

Glass ornaments in sand.

Glass ornaments in sand under other glass objects suspended from above.

Glass ornaments in sand.

Glass ornaments in sand.

Glass ornaments on a stand.

Woman holding glass objects.

The Lesson

Respect for one’s living quarters and belongings transcends monetary value. Some people find home accessories of any kind to be clutter while others simply do not care. But those who want to live beautifully will find value in every investment. “Home for each of us is such a personal space and I don’t think we talk enough about self-expression around that. Because obviously with fashion it’s so clear,” Vepsäläinen adds. “But I think in the home we just need to invest in tiny treasures that stay with us. Multi-functionality is super important to me. I think at least one single piece needs to somehow serve a dual purpose… With Iittala there is this idea that a cup is not just a cup, it has several different purposes. And that really interests me.”

To learn more about Iittala, visit iittala.com.

With professional degrees in architecture and journalism, Joseph has a desire to make living beautifully accessible. His work seeks to enrich the lives of others with visual communication and storytelling through design. Previously a regular contributor to titles under the SANDOW Design Group, including Luxe and Metropolis, Joseph now serves the Design Milk team as their Managing Editor. When not practicing, he teaches visual communication, theory, and design. The New York-based writer has also contributed to exhibitions hosted by the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture and Architectural Digest, and recently published essays and collage illustrations with Proseterity, a literary publication.

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