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Report 05

John Edelman Being Modern

One thing about modern pieces is they patina rather than wear out.

-John Edelman

In this episode Yorgo speaks with John Edelman. John is known as a visionary of the design community, from his formative years at Edelman leather to his recent contributions to the industry as CEO of Design Within Reach. He’s acted as ambassador to groups dedicated to enhancing the world of design and its international community including BeOriginal Americas and DIFFA. These days John is an independent consultant, Executive board member of Crypton and Co-CEO of mission-focused hospitality business, Fourth & Pride. John and Yorgo talk through everything from modernism to tech’s relevance in our daily lives.

The founding fathers of modernism, be it Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies Van Der Rohe, unquestionably embodied their time. Their perspectives are encapsulated in the pieces that they’ve left behind. Whether that spirit of form and structure is still alive today is up for debate.

Each piece created by designers of that ilk, during that era, has its own personality. Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair for example is a great, timeless design, illustrating the relevance of modernism to this day. These artifacts were designed with function at the forefront, without ego.

In today’s competitive design landscape, focus on market success can make contemporary designers restrained and frightened to try new things. There may be too much emphasis on the business of design in a way that there wasn’t when Charles and Ray Eames won the design contest at the MoMA in the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design.

We need to take inspiration from these modernist masters and not fear failure. Instead, we should be trying new things, as opposed to remixing and redoing what has gone before. As a designer, one should aspire to create something fantastic, something timeless. Often the trouble is designers don’t give their designs enough time to be successful.

Beyond sales and design, there’s also a movement in the industry towards cause-minded business and partnerships. John’s involvement with Fourth and Pride, a hospitality brand, has created what they hope is the smoothest vodka in the world, where a portion of sales go towards supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Creating the perfect vodka has just as many challenges as creating the perfect chair or the perfect textile.

Technology in the development of the creative process and the enjoyment of the finished product has its fans and its detractors. On one hand, it democratizes who can experience what and where. You don’t have to go to the big city, you can be discovered from being on your laptop wherever in the world. On the other hand, technology could be said to create a disconnect between people and reality. The false perception of ‘engaging’ with others that can be created by looking at a picture or watching a video can be misconstrued as the real thing, when it’s not.

While you may have only ever experienced a product virtually, you haven’t had the experience of sitting in that chair, and knowing what it feels like. It certainly makes experiencing the taste of the best vodka in difficult. But at least through the power of social media and other forms of technology, you might know become aware that it exists and who knows, it might inspire you to create a glass, a drink or an interior that’s even better.

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