Just last month we shared the news that Fritz Hansen was bringing Arne Jacobsen’s Drop Chair out of the archives after 56 years and finally putting the simple, drop-shaped chair into production for the first time. The chair originally was produced alongside the infamous Egg and Swan chairs that were made for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, but unlike the other two, the Drop wasn’t ever available for purchase… until now.
Originally, only about 200 of the chairs were made for the restaurant at the hotel. At the time, Fritz Hansen felt that it was too much to put all of the chairs into production, as the molded foam technology was so new and revolutionary.
We spoke with Fritz Hansen’s Head of Design, Christian Rasmussen, and Arne Jacbosen’s grandson, designer Tobias Jacobsen, about how the relaunch came about, as well as to learn a little insight into the chair’s history and how it’s made today.
Is there any knowledge as to Jacobsen’s thoughts on the design of the chair or why he went with the drop shape?
From Christian Rasmussen (CR): The form is, of course, inspired by a drop. But there’s also a functional dimension to the shape – it’s not pure aesthetics. The Drop is designed for the restaurant at The Royal Hotel in Copenhagen – one of Arne Jacobsen’s masterpieces. In the restaurant there was very little space so they needed a chair which was very space efficient, hence the tapered backrest, so you could easily slide into the seat without moving the chair too much.
From Tobias Jacobsen (TJ): There’s a philosophy of simplicity behind it. If you see all of the things made for SAS Royal Hotel, the drop shape, you can see it through the cutlery, the salt & pepper shakers, the tableware, the glasses. If you see the wine glasses, it’s a drop. So clear.
How did the decision come about to bring the chair into production? Why now after all these years?
CR: We felt that the timing was right. Also the fact that we were allowed to make it in an upholstered version as well as in plastic which would make the chair relevant to a much bigger audience convinced us that now is the time.
TJ: It was also my decision. I’ve always loved it. I think it’s kind of the little sister of the Egg and the Swan – it should be a family. It’s funny because they actually approached me this time, but when my father was alive we always talked about this chair. We would ask Fritz Hansen, “Why don’t you try to make it?” but maybe it was too early for them. It seems like the simplicity is important for the time right now.
We understand that there were no drawings. How difficult was it to reproduce the chair for modern times with no drawings to go from? Did you have to take one apart to figure out how it was made?
CR: It’s true that we had no drawings so we had to take one of the original chairs apart and 3D scan it. However, it also took quite a lot of modeling by hand by our skilled model makers to achieve the original appearance.
How long did the process take from deciding to bring it back to it being for sale? How long did it take to figure out how to make the chair itself?
CR: It’s hard to say exactly how long it takes but around 1½ year from we started out.
Are there any new updates/differences for the new model, as opposed to the original?
CR: The shape of the chair is exactly the same as the original. Originally the chair was only offered in an upholstered version. So the fact that we were allowed by the Arne Jacobsen Foundation to make it in plastic is new. It makes the chair much more relevant to many people today.
TJ: I’m the grandchild of Arne so I was very much into it, finding what we could find, to figure out the shape. The old ones are very damaged so it was very difficult to see how what they actually looked like and how they were made. It was a very long process of working together to find the essence of Drop.
How do you think Arne would feel about the new plastic version?
TJ: This is my everyday question. What does he think? That’s an everyday dialogue that I don’t get any feedback from (laughs). Well, I wouldn’t have said yes if I thought he wouldn’t like it. He was very interested in new material and new ways of producing things so I think he would probably love it. I think he could see that this chair would be important in plastic.
It was a difficult decision to make because plastic is kind of cheap and the chair upholstered in leather is very expensive. So do we actually destroy the Arne Jacobsen brand coming up with a chair that is “cheap”? That was my biggest concern. But, actually after working with it for a while, as a shape, as a piece of art, as a sculpture, it’s much more precise than the upholstered one. It’s more of a clear shape because it has all kinds of curves. It has much more of a drop shape in plastic.
Do you think he’d be proud that the Egg and Swan chairs, and now the Drop, are still hand-stitched despite the advancements of technology that could probably make the process much faster?
TJ: I think it doesn’t matter if he is happy. My job is to keep the spirit of his craftsmanship of shapes, especially the sculptural designs, exactly how he did it. We never know how he feels so the most important thing is how I feel that it’s the right thing to do.
How long does it now take to make each chair from start to finish?
CR: The plastic version which is injection molded in two pieces and afterwards glued together. This is a much more industrial and rational process as opposed to the upholstered one, which is hand stitched with more than 500 stitches which takes a lot of time.
Fritz Hansen was kind enough to give us a peek into their factory to get a taste as to how the Drop chair is made. Take a look:
The Drop assembly area at Fritz Hansen. All components (shell, legs, and grommet) are inspected before assembly. Legs are mounted using a special made machine. After the final inspection, hangtag and labels are mounted, and the chair is forwarded to the packing area.
Look inside the injection mold machine, just after the front shell is removed from the mold. The robot, which is removing the shell, is visible in the centre of the picture. The tool part on the left is producing the visible front surface of the Drop.
Front shells placed on conveyor for cooling. At the left the injection mold machine.
Inspection of the shells, and removing of the runner (part where the material is injected into the mold).
Assembling jig for gluing front shell and the console.
Assembled front shell and console are curing before further proccessing.
Final assembly of the shell. Glue is added to the shells, using the robot (yellow robot in the background), and they are paired. This shows a test run where shells of different colors are mated.
More insight into the prototyping process of the chair:
Many thanks to Christian Rasmussen and Tobias Jacobsen for their knowledge and insight on the history of the Drop Chair.
Images courtesy of Fritz Hansen.