Disegno No.8

Tipsy-making

London

22 May 2015

“There’s absolutely no design in this product. It’s an idea and an experiment rather than a design,” says Livia Lauber.

“The next step is already the production process,” her colleague Loris Jaccard adds. Lauber and Jaccard are speaking about the Tipsy glass, a product that over a period of four years has evolved from a limited edition of 10 pieces to a bestseller that in March saw its 10,000th glass shipped. All the while it has maintained its original concept of making.

The Tipsy glass is a ready-made. The raw material is an already well-known design: the Picardie 25cl glass tumbler produced by French glass manufacturer Duralex, a brand famous for its tempered, close-to-unbreakable glassware. What Loris&Livia brought to the product was a playful idea. “As it’s very durable, we thought it’d be quite funny to deform it, to work out a way to, not destroy it, but distort it a bit,” says Jaccard. The result is a somewhat collapsed Picardie – reheating the glass in an industrial oven causes its walls to sag a little. It looks familiar and yet “other”.

Tipsy dates back to 2011 when London-based Loris&Livia was one of 10 design practices answering a brief set by creative platform Design Marketo to make something of the Picardie glass for Bar Alto, an exhibition staged for that year’s London Design Festival. While other designers sandblasted, marked in permanent pen and covered Picardies in metal, Lauber and Jaccard did almost nothing, at least not on the surface of it. They found glassblower Richard Paton a short walk from their studio in north-east London and, using his oven and expertise, heated the toughened glass to make it soften and collapse a little. “We did tests upside-down, we put them on little slopes, to try and make the impact a bit stronger, but it was far too much,” says Lauber.

Loris&Livia carefully monitor the degree to which the tumblers are melted as part of the design

“It worked the best when the glasses stood on an even surface and we made the temperature just a little bit hotter,” Jaccard adds. “This way, they keep a shape where you can still use them as drinking glasses, without getting too abstract or collapsing too much.”

Interest in the glasses came in a steady stream after the London exhibition and Lauber and Jaccard found themselves consumed by ordering Duralex glasses from the company’s French factory, bringing them to Paton to melt in batches, then bringing them back to be packed and shipped from their studio. But when a call came from a distributor interested in larger quantities, Loris&Livia were forced to consider their options. “We were constantly running up there, then going down to ours with crates of glasses, and that’s something we weren’t really interested in doing. So we started to look for people that could help us,” says Jaccard.

Both Swiss, Lauber and Jaccard studied at ECAL in Lausanne, and Jaccard also attended the nearby L’Ecole d’arts appliqués de La Chaux-de-Fonds. They met in London in 2006 – Jaccard worked at design studio Barber Osgerby and Lauber was looking for input on her portfolio. “Loris liked my work and suggested that we could collaborate,” says Lauber. “A month later we worked almost the whole night to meet
a deadline for an upholstery competition in Switzerland that we didn’t win. But it wasn’t too disappointing, because we realised that we worked very well together.”

Their practice is small, it is just the two of them in their 30sqm studio, and they have become known for projects that rethink existing designs: their colourful Wogg 57 circular bookends go with Swiss designer Gerd Lange’s monochrome Wogg 1 bookshelf from the 1980s; and Lemon Toys is an absurd collage of lemon squeezer, rolling pin and sex toy, also created for an exhibition for Design Marketo. Theirs is a restrained approach: looking to existing designs and delivering their own interpretations. And here the Tipsy glass is the flagship product, although it’s a flagship that has brought the studio substantial doubt.

The Picardie tumblers pre-melting

“We don’t want to be known as ‘the melting girls,’” says Jaccard. Following the launch
 of Tipsy, the studio got a call from Swedish fashion brand Acne asking to use a similar technique to create a limited collection of vases for its stores, while other retailers suggested that Tipsy could be joined by similarly treated glassware. But any further melting is curbed by the studio for now. Although it’s understandable that Jaccard and Lauber want to use the technique sparingly, it isn’t actually the technique that
is Loris&Livia’s real demonstration of strength. Instead, it’s the act of bringing Tipsy from a small batch of 10 glasses to a product that now sells in its thousands without sacrificing the original concept of making or its ambition to remain affordable and accessible.

What some might write off as tongue-in-cheek or gimmicky in fact has a rigorous approach to both concept and production research. Tipsy has proven to be the kind of product young design practices dream of – something that supports a studio and which allows it, rather than a manufacturer, to control its process and manage wholesale orders. Lauber agrees: “To find a good production technique for something, that’s also the role of a designer.” In support of her point, other designers in the original Bar Alto exhibition also came up with the idea of melting the Picardie. Yet unless the technique employed is perfect, the glass will shatter. Only Loris&Livia took the idea through to final execution. “It’s so important that you find the right people to work with and to find a way to make it happen,” says Lauber. “It started with one glass, and it’s now thousands, and they are still all different. And I think that’s something that we’re quite happy with; that we found a solution to make this happen and to bring it to a bigger scale.”

Early on, Loris&Livia was approached by a US distributor, but due to the cost of shipping and the quantities that the distributor was interested in selling, the only solution for making the Tipsy on this scale was to use a mould in the shape of a collapsed Duralex glass. “Maybe we should have gone that route,” says Lauber. “But then we would have lost the initial idea. I mean, not every glass would be different and the hands-on approach would have been lost. We would have had to make too many compromises on our original concept. Even though maybe no one else cares, we do.”

Melting in process in the glass manufacturer in Teplice, Czech Republic

It wasn’t until autumn 2013, two years after the initial project, that Loris&Livia worked out a way of making the glasses, concept intact, in a more industrial fashion. Lauber and Jaccard were introduced to an industrial catering glass manufacturer in Teplice, Czech Republic that can fulfil orders of hundreds at a time. Pallets of individually packaged Duralex glasses arrive at the factory in Teplice, where they are unpacked and polished by hand, much like the original process in London. Any fingerprints will cause the glass to stain in the heating process as oil from the skin reacts with the glass. “They can make about 280 to 300 glasses in the oven at the same time, compared to 9 to 12 in London,” explains Jaccard of the significant difference in scale of production. It’s a difference that means the studio is now largely supported by its Tipsy glass sales.

Tipsy released two coloured Picardie glasses last year – in blue and amber. “It’s a way of extending the range without changing the packaging,” says Lauber. Having worked as a product developer at design brand Established & Sons for three years, she is well versed in how diversification can quickly alter the way a product is shipped and sold, as well as the importance of fulfilling orders. In January, following lengthy negotiations, the studio received its first order from Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford. It’s an introduction to the buoyant Asian market and it’s vital that the studio can deliver.

The most obvious way forward for the Tipsy might seem for Loris&Livia to start working directly with Duralex and its production facility in Orléans, France. But although Duralex is synonymous with drinking glasses in France, the company suffered badly from years of mismanagement in the early 2000s. Following a buyout led by industrialist Antoine Ioannides in 2008, Duralex is focused on simply surviving, with scandalous reports about working conditions in its factory hitting the press in 2013. Lauber and Jaccard recently made a last-minute order for a pallet of Picardie glasses in order to deliver to a new client on time. What is usually a quick email purchase turned into a lengthy phone call, during which Lauber directed the Duralex sales agent to the Loris&Livia website. The agent fell silent for a moment. “You know that the Picardie doesn’t come in that shape,” he replied. It demonstrates the importance of designers working with manufacturers who understand their products. It is often this relationship between designer and producer, rather than the design itself, that determines if a product will be a commercial success.

Packaging for the Tipsy glass

Independent, self-initiated ventures like the Tipsy glass have become an increasing fixture of the design world in recent years. Take, for example, designer Martino Gamper and his Arnold Circus stool, which his London studio manages production and sales for. Since its launch in 2006 the stool has sold in its thousands. On the other end of the spectrum is New York- based lighting designer Lindsey Adelman, whose Branching Collection from 2006 has evolved into more than 50 standard models and made Adelman a small fortune.

Even designers with long track records of only working with established design brands are considering the option of self- managed production. In February, Swedish architects Claesson Koivisto Rune launched Smaller Objects, a brand that produces its own tabletop designs. There are likely multiple reasons behind the launch of Smaller Objects but it’s highly probable that the opportunity to keep more than the standard three per cent royalties on products sold is among them. It’s the same calculation that Loris&Livia made years ago.

“We try to keep track of how much we have invested and how much we have earned in this project,” says Lauber, “and I think we make 15 to 20 times more in one year from the Tipsy glass than having one product in production with a manufacturer paying us in royalties. It’s a significant change. Sometimes it can be quite frustrating when you work a long time on a project and a brand tells you: ‘OK, I don’t think we’re going to produce it.’ With the energy that we put into Tipsy – even though I must say that it’s sometimes very tedious as you might write 10 emails and only get one positive answer – we know that the time that we have invested will somehow be paid back to us.”