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The 150-year-old Danish design house Australians love

As it celebrates its 150th anniversary today, we look back on Fritz Hansen and this Danish design house’s ongoing love affair with Australia

By Robyn Willis
Mon, Oct 24, 2022 4:25pmGrey Clock 2 min

Fritz Hansen may not be a household name beyond design circles but chances are you’re already familiar with the work of this Danish furniture company. From the first Danish steamed ‘bentwood’ chair created by the founder’s son in Copenhagen in 1915 to the work of 21st century Spanish designer Jaime Hayon, Fritz Hansen has built its reputation on innovation and collaboration.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of this iconic furniture house.

Cabinet maker Fritz Hansen gained his trade licence in October 1872 and by 1885 he opened his own production company creating high quality furniture. For the next 50 years, the business thrived, as Hansen, working alongside his son Christian, gained significant contracts from the likes of the Danish Parliament and the Supreme Court at Christiansburg Palace.

As he continued to innovate, working with steel in the 1930s and then stockpiling walnut in the post war years when timber was scarce, Hansen also sought out collaboration, working with architect and designer Arne Jacobsen and fellow master craftsman, Hans J Wegner, among others.

Between them, this trio are responsible for some of the most recognisable furniture pieces, not just in Denmark, but around the world.

This included Wegner’s China Chair, which was released in 1944, followed by fellow designer Børge Mogensen’s spoke back sofa a year later. They were instant hits and, like many mid century pieces from Fritz Hansen, both designs are still in production today.

Other pieces followed, including Arne Jacobsen’s Ant Chair and the hugely popular Series 7 chairs, which have become synonymous with stylish corporate environments.

While they were consistently in demand internationally, the Fritz Hansen catalogue really took off in Australia with the resurgence of mid century design at the turn of the 21st century.

Director of Australian designer furniture company Cult, Richard Munao, said when his business began to represent Fritz Hansen more than 20 years ago, Australians were familiar with the classics, such as the Egg chair and Swan chair, but it was clear that there was much more to draw on.

“We changed the whole language,” Mr Munao said. “Everyone knows the classics but we wanted people to see Fritz Hansen in a way they hadn’t seen before.”

Now more popular than ever, the classics have continued to be strong sellers, especially among the hospitality and commercial office sectors. Mr Munao said despite the distances there’s a certain synchronicity between nations.

“There are a lot of shared values between Denmark and Australia,” he said. “They also love the outdoors and they are really relaxed with a similar sense of humour.

“And they like to surround themselves with beautiful things.”

As the Fritz Hansen range gained ground here, other Danish brands have followed, including HAY, PP Møbler and Carl Hansen & Son.

Even as the company marks its 150th year, Mr Munao says Fritz Hansen continues to strive for beautiful, functional pieces that will live on.

“They don’t want to be seen just as a heritage brand,” he said. “In the past five to 10 years they’ve picked up Jaime Hayon, among others.

“Everything has a beautiful story and that makes our job so much easier. People keep coming back.”

To mark the anniversary, Fritz Hansen has released a range of special edition pieces in limited edition upholstery and finishes, including the Egg chair, Swan chair and the Series 7.

“Our biggest sales last year were Series 7 chairs,” Mr Munao said. “It was a government project for 1800 chairs.”

Some things never go out of style. 


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China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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