In early October, the House of Jensen opened its doors: located in an ancient courtyard house in the heart of Beijing, it is part of a revolution of the Georg Jensen brand that CEO David Chu has been working on since being appointed in 2013.
Chu’s first priority was to address the brand’s presence in key global markets. ‘When I got involved with this company, it had retreated from Germany and from the States. And it never went into China in a significant way,’ he explains. ‘These are the most important consumer markets in the world today, so I decided to rally our team and focus on them.’
The brand unveiled its Munich store earlier this year, and plans for refurbishment of New York’s Madison Avenue outpost are in place. A new boutique on Mount Street in London is opening before the end of the year, and more locations in the city are slated. But the space in Beijing is the most important step in the journey. ‘We are actually relaunching as a brand in China,’ says Chu, who noted that, while Georg Jensen’s presence in China had never previously gone beyond a few distributors in Shanghai, Chinese visitors are among the biggest buyers of hollowware at the company’s Copenhagen flagship.
The new space will introduce Georg Jensen to the local audience, while presenting Danish culture in a way that is new for the brand. Chu calls the concept ‘a total package of Danish design’: in addition to a boutique, with two showrooms for the hollowware and the jewellery collections, House of Jensen will also include three dining options, bringing contemporary Danish gastro-culture to the city, helping locals and visitors understand what the brand stands for. ‘People will have a full tour of Georg Jensen here,’ Chu explains.
The two-storey, 10,000 sq ft building, restored and updated, is located in a hutong on the banks of the Jade River in Beijing’s Lake District, next to curator Weng Ling’s Beijing Centre for the Arts, and was once part of the arts complex. It features an industrial, glass and steel roof and walkways covered with 300-year-old bricks, exemplifying the mix of tradition and innovation that Georg Jensen does so well.
Visitors enter through a pair of ancient wooden doors into a bright atrium, the core of the dining concept, which includes a library lounge, a bar-cum-café and a fine dining space, called The Georg, all headed by Canadian chef Talib Hudda, chosen by Chu for his experience at contemporary dining spots in Copenhagen. Danish design studio Space Copenhagen, a long-term Georg Jensen collaborator, and behind the interiors of the city’s Noma and Geist restaurants, has designed the ground floor, including the dining areas. Upstairs, jewellery and hollowware are on display in two intimate salons designed by Murray Moss, who acts as a design consultant for the brand.
In a serendipitous move, the opening of House of Jensen coincides with the unveiling of a new product – a silver tea set by Marc Newson. Georg Jensen has a long history of collaborations, designers from Henning Koppel to Arne Jacobsen having contributed, over the decades, to its archive. But the last collaboration for the silversmith department, in particular, was with Verner Panton in 1988, and Chu decided to revive the tradition, enlisting Newson. ‘When Marc told me he trained as a silversmith, I was very surprised,’ Chu says, ‘because of his modern design, which is always about different materials.’
Newson’s diverse creative background allowed him to work with the silversmithy in a way that celebrated its skills but resulted in a contemporary aesthetic. Newson’s design did, Chu admits, pose a couple of subtle challenges to the craftsmen and encouraged innovation. The first is the functional mechanism of the tea pot lid: it opens and closes by sliding underneath the pot’s surface. ‘It’s quite a simple principle, but to actually make it work in a practical, usable way is really difficult to do,’ says Newson. The other element, he explains, is the introduction of fine cane woven into the silver, something that hadn’t been done before. More traditionally, each piece in the tea set – which features mammoth tusk to create the handles – is entirely handmade in Copenhagen.
Chu defines the design as domestic, modest and functional. Newson agrees. ‘The purpose of the exercise is not to reinvent the wheel, but to celebrate a very well-established skill set that exists within Georg Jensen. Given the opportunity to work with such a company as this, I would always go the crafts way,’ the designer explains.
The project originated out of Newson’s passion for tea served the Chinese, ceremonial way, so it is fitting that the set (a limited edition of ten pieces, made to order) is ready in time to be served up as part of Georg Jensen’s Chinese renaissance. Chu sees the House of Jensen as an opportunity to create an artistic and creative hub in Beijing, contributing, along with the neighbouring gallery, to the cultural conversation in the city. ‘People interested in art, design and culinary innovation can come to experience the new Danish culture and design,’ Chu says. As an added bonus, he notes, having a lake in front of the building is considered good luck in China. ‘I am very excited about this opportunity: when things come together in the right time and the right place it is the right thing to do.’
As originally featured in the November 2015 issue of Wallpaper* (W*200)