What unites Mark Braun, Cecilie Manz, Sebastian Herkner and the design studios Ding3000, Kaschkasch and Speziell? That’s right: all these designers exhibited at Talents at the beginning of their careers and presented their skills to an international audience. For more than twenty years, the coveted promotional programme has been providing the young design avant-garde with tangible start-up assistance in the consumer goods market and has already seen a number of stars rise in the process. Next February, with Ambiente 2023, the Talents will be back. A great opportunity to see what career paths the participants of the past have taken.
One talent who has unquestionably made it to the top since his appearance at Ambiente 2006 is Mark Braun. With his studio in Berlin, he now designs products for clients such as Conmoto, E15, KPM Berlin, Mono, Nomos Glashütte, Raumgestalt and Thonet. The list of his design awards is also impressive. Nevertheless, the industrial designer and trained carpenter remains remarkably grounded as a person, which is also reflected in his handcrafted and sustainable approach to design. 16 years ago, he presented the porcelain series “Join” at the Talents, which was subsequently realised by ASA Selection. “The Talents are one of the most relevant platforms in product design for young designers in Germany and beyond. For me personally, it was an important step towards independence with valuable contacts that still exist today and with many products that went into series production. Most recently, the collaboration with Mono”, he reports.
Mark Braun can regularly be seen at the Frankfurt trade fairs with several designs: “Ring” is the name of one of his current favourite projects, in which he has further developed the iconic design by Peter Raake for Mono. In addition to his chair at the HBKsaar (Saar University of Fine Arts), Mark Braun is actively involved with the German Design Graduates, an initiative with the purpose of promoting young product design graduates: “I’m very pleased that I can link young designers with the Talents and promote them with my commitment to this platform. That’s how the circle closes.”
Many young designers dream of careers like Mark Braun. In the past few years, however, they have had to ask themselves more than ever how they can make contacts in the industry. Luckily, the Talents are returning to Ambiente 2023. Because platforms like these offer promising newcomers the chance to be in the right place at the right time and meet the decisive people. Just like Sebastian Herkner. He presented himself at the Talents in 2008 and earned a lot of attention with the design of his “Nan16” lamp. Today, he is considered one of the best contemporary designers.
Cecilie Manz was also an early participant. In 2004, she showed, among other things, a series of boxes and caskets: simple but truly noble treasure chests for jewellery, accessories and sentimental objects. This captivating simplicity paired with Scandinavian tradition still characterises her design approach today, as one of her current designs shows: the CMA CLAY collection for 1616/Arita Japan (2021).
The Speziell design studio also took off in 2004. Founded in 2002, the trio celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2022 – with the original line-up of Sybille Fleckenstein, Jens Pohlmann and Dr. Thilo Schwer. At Ambiente Talents in 2004, the friends presented their Flock project. In it, they explored the great potential of this hitherto little-noticed material – with success. From their presentation, two designs went straight into production: the TEO drawer cabinet, in which the flocking ensures smooth-running drawers (Schmalenbach), and the Cmyk rings (AnthologieQuartett) with their special wearing comfort.
The innovation “Kahla Touch” caused a real sensation. This was specially developed for the Thuringian porcelain manufacturer Kahla, who launched the series in conjunction with the Talents presentation at Ambiente. The highlight of the tableware: the soft flock coating insulates the porcelain, is dishwasher-safe and can be freely designed. “Kahla Touch” was not only an ad hoc hit but also became a long-running hit: in the 18 years that the much-acclaimed series has been running, it has sold around 30 million units and won numerous design awards, including the Red Dot Design Award: Best of the Best (2005), iF Material Award (2005) and Good Design Award (2004).
“It was crazy back then”, Jens Pohlmann reports. “Although we were quite young, our design approach was taken seriously and we received great enquiries from the media and manufacturers while still at the trade fair. We still benefit from this brilliant start today.” Thus, Speziell began designing for the Domo design brand only a little later. Among the designs are some of the current bestsellers such as the “Ally” trolly – also from the Flock project – and the “Porter” tray table. Today, design by Speziell can be found in brands such as Interlübke, Pulpo and Siematic. The creative team has received over 40 design awards for its work.
A new approach to tradition
In a similar way, new Talents in Frankfurt can always experience a real career booster. This was also the case for Florian Kallus and Sebastian Schneider with their design studio Kaschkasch. In 2013, they brought the “Bulb” glass wall hook as a prototype to the Talents at Ambiente and showed their innovation here for the first time. Only a short time later, their “Bulb” went into series production at Schönbuch. In the meantime, the successful duo designs for brands such as Rolf Benz, Lignet Rose and Norman Copenhagen and regularly collects the highest design awards. The Cologne-based designers returned to Frankfurt with exhibitor Blomus, among others, who celebrated the market launches of their “Ani” lamp (2019) and “Stay” outdoor furniture (2020) at Ambiente.
In 2007, the design studio Ding3000 showed that even something traditional like pastry can be rethought. Their S-XL CAKE baking tin suggests different sized pieces of cake – the right format for every appetite. The manufacturer Konstantin Slawinski Housewarming Objects took the bait and has been successfully selling the silicone baking tin ever since.
In the meantime, Ding3000 has not only made a name for itself, but also changed the same. Carsten Schelling explains why this was necessary, even though the founding team is still complete: “The name Ding3000 had a pure product design reference with a focus on the creation of things. But now we also work in other fields such as interior design or strategically in creative direction and innovation consulting.” Perhaps the name is a little more boring now, but also more open to further developments. And that’s a good thing, because the three of them obviously want to stay together, as the new company name shows: Rudolph Schelling Webermann (RSW).
Innovation needs space
The success of Talents is largely due to its rather unique approach. The promotion programme was launched in 2001 by Nicolette Naumann, who was responsible for the management of the leading international consumer goods fairs Ambiente and Tendence at the time. The special feature: In contrast to similar offers, the presentation in the attractive Talents areas is still free of charge for the selected participants. And that’s not all. For many of the young designers, this appearance is their first international and financially viable trade fair experience. That is why they are actively supported by an experienced trade fair team in Frankfurt.
“From the very beginning, we have seen Talents as an investment – both in the next generation of designers and in the future of our industry,” says Nicolette Naumann, explaining her approach. “Innovation needs freedom. This is exactly what the support programme provides for the international design talents. In Frankfurt, they can present their creative ideas and design approaches to a high-calibre professional audience – without cost pressure but with a lot of support from the organiser”, says the committed art and design connoisseur.
Talents designs over time:
1 Mark Braun (2006) with “Join”, later with ASA Selection.
2 Kaschkasch (2013) with “Bulp”, later with Schönbuch
3 Juanjo García Martín (2015) with “tiempo de caramelos posterior
4 Design studio Speziell (2004) with “Kahla Touch” for Kahla
5 Christoph van Bömmel (2005) with “Bravit” candle, later for Authentics
6 Takafumi Nemoto (2017) with “Bonsai”, later for Design House Stockholm
7 Ding3000 with “S-XL CAKE” (2007), later at Konstantin Slawinski
8 Büro Famos with the “Opp” tableware series
9 Cecilie Manz (2004) with her treasure chests from 2007 to 2011 at Mooment
Experiment, try out, find yourself
This experience is also shared by Hanna Litwin and Roman Heide, who took part in 2014 with their Büro Famos. “The Talents areas offer the chance to be perceived and to become clear to oneself how one wants to be perceived. To this day, there are still good contacts for a friendly exchange. And all this without having to take a financial risk, which helps design studios a lot, especially in the start-up phase,” Hanna Litwin recalls. They presented their porcelain series “Opp”. The design, which reinterprets the theme of décor through the different surface structures, stands for their creative and thoroughly playful approach to design. One of their current favourite projects are the wall hooks “Logs”, which they realised together with the brand Ton. These are made from leftover pieces of bentwood furniture manufacturing that could not be used for any product until now. Their LOGS series won the Red Dot Design Award in 2020 and was nominated for the Ecodesign Award of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Thanks to this special kind of start-up support, young designers repeatedly succeed in making the leap beyond their continent. In 2017, for example, Takafumi Nemoto fascinated the public with his fragrant eye-catcher “Bonsai”. Design House Stockholm pounced, included the room fragrance series in its programme and made the Japanese designer known in Europe as well.
At the same time, the commercial freedom regularly makes the Talents areas a treasure trove for extraordinary, conceptually strong works like those by Juanjo García Martín. In his works, the jewellery artist experiments with different design disciplines and thus moves out of the niche of classic jewellery design: “Jewellery should be much more than decoration of the person. Similar to art, it’s about telling stories and moving to a higher level.” He still finds his Talents participation in 2015 valuable today. “The programme gives you valuable insights into how fairs are run and how professional actors work. For me personally, the event has helped in various ways to make good contacts for future sales, galleries, museums, etc.”
Artist Luba Lukova, who presented parts of her travelling exhibition “Designing Justice” at Ambiente in 2005, had a similar experience. In the course of the last few years, it has been shown at the Museum of Design in Atlanta, the Smithsonian Affiliate Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the Jewish Museum Milwaukee and the Thermos Foundation in Taipei, among others.
Part of testing and trying things out is also being able to reinvent oneself. And that’s why you can always find the product designers from back then in new industries. Like Formfjord, for example. At the Talents, the studio presented itself with a tea light holder, among other things. In the meantime, the team is making a name for itself in the areas of smart homes and electro-mobility. Mark Gutjahr has also taken a different route. He started out at Talents with furniture and object design. Today he is one of the leading colour trend researchers for the international automotive industry.
Other participants caught fire for a certain topic early on, including Christoph van Bömmel. In 2005, he showed his design “Bravit” at the Talents, an extremely flat candle whose elegant translucency makes a complex wick structure visible. The original design described the course of a dinner: from a lively aperitif, with many flames burning at the same time, to a quiet phase for the starter, to the brightly lit main course, which finally leads to a relaxed fade-out. Reactions to this unusual product idea came from the international press as well as from manufacturers. At the forefront was Authentics, an exhibitor at the time, which included the Bravit candle directly in its product range. Several design awards followed.
Two years later, van Bömmel took over the art direction of Engels Kerzen, where he still heads product and brand development today. With success: in 2018, Engels Kerzen was the first candle manufacturer to receive the German Design Award for a candle product. In addition, he inspires the industry with his then-founded agency van Bömmel Studio Germany with ever new luminous product ideas. “If you like, Messe Frankfurt with its promotional programme has had a significant influence on my entire life and brought me to where I am today – 17 years after Talents “, sums up Christoph van Bömmel.
Take your chance: Apply now as a talent at Ambiente 2024
The programme has now been running successfully for over 20 years. As before, around 30 international university graduates, designers and design studios are given the opportunity to advance their professional future at each trade fair. The next opportunity to exhibit as a talent in the field of tableware and accessories or interior design will be at Ambiente from 26 to 30 January 2024. The application deadline for applicants is 16 October 2023. Click here for the application forms.
Header image: Lappa Studio, Prague, acoustic panel with indirect lighting, Talents 2020