Interview with Renny Ramakers by Yatzer

Posted: June 30th 2010

Interview and text by Apostolos Mitsios for Yatzer.

Renny Ramakers - Droog

What can we say about Droog design, a company that since 1993 opens new paths to creativity and has produced some of the most iconic design pieces of the last decades? Some weeks ago Workshop-Dionisis Sotovikis and Mariolopoulos-Kanaginis Foundation for the Environmental Sciences presented at the Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece, a retrospective Droog exhibition called “Greek green greet” (June 4th – July 25th 2010), being the largest Droog exhibition in the world since 2007. Athens came closer to the design world and Renny Ramakers, the heart and soul of Droog, of course could not miss the event. Yatzer was there, eager to know all those little stories hidden behind a successful company that make the difference. Renny Ramakers talked to us in the most sincere way, offering one of the most interesting encounters we have ever had. Get ready to get inside the headquarters of one of the most significant design companies of all times!

First of all, Mrs. Ramakers, did you like the exhibition at the Benaki Museum?
It is fantastic the fact that you have made everything by yourselves, I only delivered some items, it is awesome! The organizers wanted more and more products, initially they had the fear that there would not be enough products to fill the space, but finally everything went perfect. It is always very interesting to see the way other people interpret your work. Sometimes I take a look at a certain piece and I say to myself “look, I hadn’t realized it looked so nice!”. It was also so pleasant to see prototypes that I hadn’t seen for a lot of time, for years, like the Cosy chair by SMAG that we had showed at Milan many years ago and I didn’t have the chance to see it again since then.

If Droog was a child, back in 93, which would be the references that would define you? Who would be your parents, who would be your brothers and who would be your heroes?
The father and mother of my company are me and my partner Gijs Bakker, who left us recently, so I would say we are divorced (laughs)! I do not think we have many brothers and sisters because we are quite unique. The source of inspiration is the designers themselves, the children of the company. As soon as we like something, we ask directly the designer to collaborate with us. The way the designers react to an original idea of ours often makes the project much bigger. We are inspired by the designers, but the designers are also inspired by us. It is all about collaboration! There is a retro alimentation open to surprises. If you have good designers, they bring the whole project to another level.

Who was the first designer that you have collaborated with?
Jurgen Bey is very inspiring for us, he has been with us since the beginning, before we even started. He and his partner Rianne Makkink in 1992, when I was organizing small exhibitions at that time, were designing our exhibitions, but the first product was of Marcel Wanders. In 1988, after Wanders graduation from the School of the Arts Arnhem, I bought a prototype of him and this became the first product of the company. His breakthrough to fame was a chair he made for us, the Knotted Chair (1996).

Could you say you are Marcel Wanders’ design mama?
Yes (laughs), but do not tell him!

Having in mind that we often define ourselves against something, against what did you define yourself at that time?
It was not against something, it was a new direction in design. If it had to be against something it would be against a superficial way of designing and copying others, against the lack of original ideas.

What about your Lego version by Mario Minale of the iconic Red blue chair by Gerrit Rietveld?
Let me tell you the story behind it. The designer, Mario Minale, originally wanted people to make the Lego chair by themselves. He wanted to go against copyright and at the same time to create an open source. We wanted to make it accessible for everybody, but since it was not possible to mass produce it due to copyright reasons, we produced it in a copy of 5 and it became an art project!

Since our names identify ourselves, in which way your name (droog=dry) identifies your existence?
My partner, Gijs Bakker came up with this name; originally we wanted to find an English name but then we said “why not a Dutch name?”. Droog means dry and his girlfriend at that time said it sounded so nice and we definitely had to use droog, it sounded kind of mysterious. I must say here that dry for us has the sense of straightforward, what you get is what it is, there are no “extras”, there is no bling bling. Also dry refers to our humor; we definitely look at the world through another perspective! People recognize our humor, they see in our creations something familiar that at the same time is not that familiar. They understand there is always a concept behind it.

How would you describe the Droog philosophy? What are the difficulties of maintaining a certain philosophy behind a company and behind each product? Which are the main temptations you have to fight against?
As far as maintaining a certain philosophy, it is not difficult because I feel it is me: the way that I look at the world, the way I say no to commercial things (that sometimes has a cost, I must admit). I always do the things from my heart and this is not difficult. Taking a look at the history of Droog I notice also that I did not change so much, although I learned a lot of things and I grew up. What definitely did not change is my curiosity, I always like to get new information and this can be very inspiring.

Tell us something about your last customizing project, Saved by Droog, at Milan where 14 designers reinterpreted creatively 5135 items that came out of liquidations.
Our last project at Milan was inspired by the big amount of liquidations in the Netherlands since each month 500 companies go bankrupt. In another hand, at a certain moment I was thinking that the production process lasts so long, it takes so much energy and so many people are already producing objects, millions and millions. Why not do something with that?

Did you sell everything?
I am happy that we did not sell everything. The whole project lasted 5 days, in the first day we sold so much and I watched it and I was saying to myself “I do not like it!”; I had only eight mirrors and in the first day three of them were sold and that’s why I raised the prices, in order not to sell everything the first three days (laughs). You can always sell products, you do not necessary have to sell them during Milan… I saw people disappointed because prices were doubled, especially the blue objects were sold so fast! In another hand, we had to lower prices for objects that were not sold. It is all about interaction! I must say here that the blue items were the leftovers of our project since no designer wanted to customize them. So we said that since we do not want to throw them we’ll do it by ourselves and we are going to cover them in blue powder. And it was such a success! In the first hour the whole collection was sold to a Museum. We are going to present a part of the whole project at Basel as well, as a limited edition.

I find very interesting the stories behind those particular objects and the relationship people establish with them.
It is true. We are even thinking to create a community in the Internet where the owners of the objects can contact each other, a sort of Facebook, where they can interchange their objects as well! We are also preparing a lot of surprises as far as our website is concerned…

Which were the initial responses to products like the “do hit” chair or the “do break” vase? Do you think that consumers are more open nowadays to use their creativity and imagination, to be more active in the way they analyze the information received and to dare to establish a more interactive relationship with the products and their environment in general?
Some people dare to establish an interactive relationship, but most of them want the product finished, they feel insecure and they do not dare even to touch the product. I must say here that the “do break” series cannot be produced anymore, no one can produce it, there was a factory in Portugal but unfortunately it bankrupted… People sometimes are afraid that they will destroy the products and that’s why they do not interfere. People are afraid let’s say to sketch their own interventions, they tell us “we are not artists, if we sketch something then we cannot remove it!”. Sometimes there is also a certain respect for the designer. We are actually working on a project called “downloadable design” and the idea is that the design can be downloaded and can be produced locally, in that way you can have an influence on the design. It can be either produced digitally, let’s say digital printing, or you can just build it yourself.

And you will have to pay for it?
We are thinking on a business model. In fact there are two ideas, we haven’t finished it yet, either you don’t pay or you pay, but then we will have to see how we can get a profit out of it… We are thinking to launch it in the beginning of the next year and hopefully to present it at Milan.

Dutch design has been under the international focus lately. Do you think that this helps creativity and innovation? Is publicity an extra factor or it can turn the opposite way?
Both things… A product you have seen so many times can become famous but also can become dead because of over publishing.

What’s your opinion about Internet? I saw you have your own twitter account. Do you prefer magazines to Internet?
I like them both. I read magazines and follow the net, they are two different experiences. I read The New York Times and follow some designers in the Internet. Internet goes very fast and magazines slower. And you can always use magazines for other purposes (laughs)!

Which is the relationship between Droog and its designers? Which are the criteria you are using in order to choose them? Is it possible for a new designer to come in touch and collaborate with Droog?
There are no criteria. The only criterion is that the designer fits in the project. Of course designers can come, but we always want to select them by ourselves. We see many designers, go to a lot of exhibitions… But selecting a specific designer is more like an instinct. It is a feeling… We just came from Dubai where we presented Droog al Arab. For each project we try to select the ideal designers, thing that is not very easy since you have to think about the mentality of the designer and the way it will match with the person that is leading the project.

Who is your favorite designer?
I don’t have a favorite. Don’t ask a mother to choose her favorite child! But I have to admit that I have a big respect for Castiglioni. I had the luck to interview him and I still remember that his hands were moving all the time and he was smoking all the time, almost putting fire to the napkins of the table! Unforgettable experience!….

What’s your opinion about the copy hysteria? Could it be a measure of success? Do you find that alterations on the original idea can be sometimes creative?
That’s what it has been said… But I find copying annoying. A copy is almost always something worse… and cheaper. But sometimes copying can be inspiring, there was this designer that made a project where he copied our “85 Lamps” chandelier by Rody Graumans and made a picture of it and created a new lamp out of the picture. His idea was about people that could not afford this expensive piece and in this way they could finally do it. I liked it very much and we showed it at our exhibition in Milan five years ago.

If everything can be a material, like you have said, then everything can be an inspiration. From where do you get yours?
From the world… Not from a special source, it can be anything, it can come from nature, from politics, a conversation, a new material, from something I have seen…

Do you think that we can talk about a “Droog factor”? Do you ever get jealous of a specific design? How do you feel when you see something that it could fit the Droog philosophy?
It is either way around! Designers think they are doing something very Droog and we always say: “We have done this before, do not come with a second do that project!”. We always want to move forward, not to repeat ourselves. When we did “Saved by Droog” in Milan some people said to us: “You are doing again the reuse thing”, but we said that it is totally different, this is about new products and new models out of the parasites of the companies, we have never done this before. Nevertheless, when I do something new I find out that in a magical way it remains under the same spirit for some reason…

What are your future goals? Is there something left to achieve?
Yes, absolutely, there are so many things: the Droog lab, to build this platform for downloadable design; I want to continue with my projects all around the world, to go to new countries…

Read the original publication here.


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