From James Watt’s invention of the steam engine and the completion of Beethoven’s Ninth to the moon landing of Apollo 11 and the creation of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn: such iconic moments are part of the historical context in which German company Gaggenau, manufacturer of luxury home appliances, has operated – and are just as diverse as the outfit’s activities since its foundation in 1683. Together with many other highlights from the past, these events formed a timeline that ran through the brand’s EuroCucina booth in Milan this year, where the company celebrated its 333rd anniversary: a definitive number that gave reason to reflect on three defining moments in the brand’s history.
Although an achievement not many companies can equal, the milestone comes with a number of expectations, says Sven Schnee, head of global brand Gaggenau. ‘For the brand, it’s a clear statement: if you have a strong attitude and philosophy, you can make it for a really long time. But there are certain responsibilities that come along with longevity. If we want to be here for another 333 years, we’d better listen to our customers. We need to stay hungry and agile in order to evolve – and, while continuing to innovate, still stay true to our identity and DNA.’
But how do you maintain such a strategy? Schnee compares the evolution of Gaggenau’s appliances to the transference of family genes. ‘It’s like mother and daughter. There is continuity in terms of DNA. Each newly developed product is bound to our history in a way. Take the 90-cm-wide oven EB 300, which we launched in 1986. We are presenting an updated version this year and, in commemoration of our anniversary, calling it the EB 333. Despite the 30-year gap, the new model looks very much like the original, but it’s not at all the same. A full 90 per cent of the components are new. It’s like the journey made by Porsche 911. It changes technically, but in terms of design it remains true to itself.’
Trends, societal developments and changes in demographics are always on Gaggenau’s radar, but they don’t necessarily influence the products directly. More so the brand. ‘To develop the brand further, we have to be aware of trends in society,’ explains Schnee. ‘We have to know that in ten years’ time, 50 per cent of the world’s households are going to be single households. We have to understand that increases in organization and mobility will require more modular concepts, and that different generations ask for different brand experiences. So yes, we need to make note of trends and to understand society. We want to know what people dream about and what they wish for. Not even half of what we learn has an impact on our products, though. Products are just a tool. It’s about serving a certain lifestyle.
‘How can we be extraordinary, authentic, progressive and cultivated? It’s an important question and one that can be tricky for our designers. We have to reinvent ourselves without losing our soul.’ The vision Schnee describes is evident through all stages of the company’s transitional journey, which started at an ironworks and has led to the private kitchen.
Laying the Foundation
‘The ability and the will to rely on craftsmanship and people that work with their hands are what defines Gaggenau,’ says Schnee. Strongly rooted in the Black Forest, the company started as an ironworks – Eisenwerke Gaggenau A.G. – in 1683, first forging nails and, a short time later, producing agricultural machinery. Values formed in these early stages remain at the core of the brand. ‘It’s during those years that we learned how to treat processed materials and to create long-lasting pieces made from solid metal. We still use solid elements. The stainless steel in our 90-cm-wide oven weighs about 20 kg. We haven’t done this to make the oven heavy, but to manufacture an appliance that’s substantial. Even today, the way we work with metal is a tribute to our origins.’
Gaggenau builds its brand on a rich heritage. The craftsmanship acquired in the early years, when the company was an ironworks, remains a core quality of the brand.
Possibly the most surprising turn of events in Gaggenau’s history took place at the dawn of the 20th century, when the company’s focus temporarily shifted to ‘Badenia’ bicycles and enamel advertising signage. Although such items seem about as far removed from kitchen appliances as you can get, traces of their existence are present in Gaggenau’s current product range. Enamel first used in signage seeped into the design of ovens – coal ovens followed by gas-fired and electric ovens. ‘We understood that enamel offers good protection against humidity and high temperatures. Its properties even speed the process of heating the oven. Once we’d made a decision to manufacture self-cleaning pyrolytic ovens, we knew that enamel – a material we were already familiar with – would serve the purpose well. Enamel had protected advertising signage, and it would protect the trays, racks and walls of an oven during the pyrolytic cleaning cycle. When you open a Gaggenau oven today, you see an interior that features our signature blue enamel.’
The interior of a Gaggenau oven features the company’s signature blue enamel, a secret recipe that can be traced to a period in which the company produced enamel advertising signage.
‘Without the involvement of the Von Blanquet family, Gaggenau would not be producing home appliances in 2016,’ says Schnee. ‘I would say they were key to the formation of Gaggenau as we now see it. They initiated our journey towards gastronomy and its importance for us.’ The family acquired the company in 1931, and it was son Georg who displayed a passion for cooking. ‘They started making sound, sturdy, high-performance appliances, besides having an eye for niche markets that grabbed nobody else’s attention.’ The desire to be the first to introduce products that can change people’s lives continues to lie at the heart of Gaggenau. Schnee mentions the combi-steam oven with cleaning function. ‘Even though adding a cleaning function to a steam oven seems to be an obvious choice, no one had done it before. Sometimes the easiest idea can be the most crucial – and the most difficult to envision.’
The Von Blanquets also initiated the move to custom-fitted kitchens, the type of personalized, built-in units that are still being installed. However, when freestanding appliances became available – ovens, for instance, that could be surrounded by other pieces of furniture – customers had the opportunity to further individualize their kitchens. Today, the private kitchen is the result of a comprehensive design. It’s not a combination of appliances by chance but a planned, highly integrated space based on a strong strategy. Every tool becomes a part of the entire orchestration, and Gaggenau enables the final composition, offering domestic chefs variety and flexibility.