07 May 2018 • Interview
Making moves: Muuto’s new perspective
With a name derived from muutos, the Finnish word for ‘perspective’, and its roots in the glory days of Scandi design, Danish brand Muuto has grown explosively since its birth in 2006, thanks to a combination of high quality and a stylishly contemporary take on modernism. Following its acquisition by Knoll, which aims to double the size of the Copenhagen-based company, what should Muuto fans expect? CEO Anders Cleemann and design director Christian Grosen Rasmussen offer an insight into Muuto’s expectations.
You’re now part of Knoll. Will life ever be the same again?
ANDERS CLEEMANN: It’s business as usual for us. Knoll doesn’t want us to change. We’ll keep our own separate identity and way of working. After all, they acquired us because of our success, which they want us to continue. Knoll stands for luxury, whereas Muuto is affordable luxury. Knoll sees how fast the affordable-luxury market is growing, so we’re an ideal strategic acquisition. We’ve always had a private-equity partner, and now we have a permanent one. It’s a great fit for us. Knoll is an icon in our industry with a real vision. And, of course, they are the US experts.
The Unfold Pendant Lamp by Form Us With Love welcomes additional colours.
Are you saying that Muuto is poised to take the American market by storm?
AC: Currently about 20 per cent of our sales are in the US, and we have our own team in place there, so we have a good foundation. However, it’s a huge market and our visibility is relatively low. The hope is that Knoll will hugely increase our speed of penetration with its market knowledge and network of dealers and interior designers. We want to increase the accessibility of the Muuto brand. Our ambition is to be truly global, and Knoll believes we have huge potential in the American market.
It’s been an amazing journey to get to this point in just 11 years.
AC: We think so. I joined the company a year after it was founded, in 2007. That year our turnover was half a million euros. Today it’s half a billion Danish kroner [approximately €67 million].
CHRISTIAN GROSEN RASMUSSEN: When I joined three years ago, I was employee number 52. We now have about 150 staff.
Inspired by industrial storage, Thomas Bentzen’s Enfold Sideboard sees punched and bent-steel sheets wrapped around solid-wood panels.
How has Muuto avoided the pitfalls of rapid growth?
AC: By not taking risks. It can be tempting to follow market trends, but we’ve always been true to our vision: bringing new and modern perspectives to the Scandinavian design tradition. You have to be aware of what you’re doing and stick to it the whole way through. It’s about making deliberate choices. We have two channels: wholesale and retail. We made the deliberate choice to not open our own stores. These kinds of decisions reduce your risk.
CGR: We’re also as passionate about business as we are about design. At Muuto, there’s a really close dialogue between the two. You need a holistic approach. No matter how good you are at design, you need to factor in the commercial stuff at an early stage.
Independent designers add fresh blood to our brand
Marketing plays a role, too – right?
AC: We’re dedicated to social media, especially Instagram. We have half a million followers – an impressive number for our position in the industry. Everything is done in-house by our social-media team. We put a lot of energy into it. We want to share our ideas and our aesthetic – in part, by creating dialogues with members of our target group around the world.
Stateside, what concrete plans do you have so far?
AC: In June, together with Knoll, we’ll have a big exhibit at the NeoCon fair in Chicago to highlight our collaboration. We have specific plans for increasing awareness – and plenty of people to tell our story. Our goal is the contract market, but residential is also important.
Mattias Ståhlbom’s E27 Pendant Lamp contemporizes with four new colours: clay brown, burgundy, beige green (pictured) and pale blue.
In Milan we’re seeing new Muuto products by Thomas Bentzen, Cecilie Manz and Studio Tolvanen, all of whom are independent designers. With a strong brand like yours, why not use in-house creatives?
CGR: In a way, it’s easier to have in-house designers. They know the brand, and we can increase our innovation speed. However, we believe it’s better to use independent people so our brand can benefit from different interpretations of Muuto’s design values. What’s more, some designers are good in one category – sofas, say – while others excel at something else. This way, we get a more interesting product range. Independent designers add fresh blood to our brand. Sometimes we want to break the rules or to be challenged.
Muuto is affordable luxury
How do you safeguard your brand values?
CGR: Working with external designers helps, as it forces us to be aware of who we are. Our brand is based on the heritage of the golden age of Danish modernism and its values: quality, craftsmanship, functionality and democracy. We want to stand on the shoulders of the greats but, at the same time, to add a new perspective and to write new chapters. We’re not a fashion brand; we want a lasting aesthetic. People should keep our furniture for many years.
We spend time with our designers prior to the brief – getting to know how they work before we collaborate. We have to be aligned from the beginning. Then it’s an iterative process: they propose something; we give feedback. The result has to accord with both Muuto’s design values and the personality of the designer in question.
The Muuto aesthetic has become pretty pervasive. Do cheap copies bother you?
AC: Last year we had to remove 450 copy products from Alibaba. We’re aware of the problems that imitations pose to our brand and are doing everything we can to tackle the issue. Copies and adaptations confirm what we’re doing, though. They’re a sign that we’re successful. Our products are manufactured in Europe, so we can deliver the quality we want. We have no ambition to be a cheap brand. We want to be affordable, and in the end it’s all about the cost-value ratio. When a customer buys a product, they should feel that they’re getting a great experience for the price. Marketing, packaging and the like are all part of that.
It can be tempting to follow market trends, but we’ve always been true to our vision
Augmenting the Workshop collection is Cecilie Manz’s coffee table, which pays homage to Danish masters through its craftsmanship and detailing. The tabletop, for instance, is carved into the frame.
Will we ever see a Muuto store – or even a hotel?
AC: It’s definitely possible. There will never be hundreds of retail stores, but maybe down the road we’ll do a concept store that invites people to experience Muuto unfiltered.
What’s the brand’s vision for the future?
AC: To be the global leader in affordable luxury. We already have a strong position. Maybe we’re already there – we try to focus on our own work without looking at our competitors too often.
Anderssen & Voll’s Outline series – a comfort-focused collection characterized by clean lines and architectural elements – gains a corner sofa, a three-and-a-half seater and a pouf.
Finally: any tips for the wannabe design brands out there?
CGR: Don’t focus just on design; be equally passionate about the commercial side.
AC: Understand that to be successful in business you need to understand business. You have to sit down and think: in which area of the market do I want to be best? You have to try to be unique. Always ask yourself, how can I differentiate myself? How do I stand out? It’s not rocket science. The world doesn’t need lots of new products; it needs brand stories that make sense.