Twenty. It’s the number of years that Cecilie Manz has taken to patiently hone her skills to emerge today as one of the most prolific design figures of Scandinavian design. Recently honoured with the title of Designer of the Year 2018 by Maison & Objet Paris, the Danish industrial designer, considered one of the leading Danish furniture designers of her generation, maintains a simple balance between civilisation and nature as the vital components behind her creative process.
She refers to her childhood and relationships with family members as fuel for her inspiration today. Smiling at the recollection, Manz confides that as a child, she would always slip away to the studio her ceramicist parents kept in their house just to sink her hands into the clay. All she wanted to do was ‘make something’.
This desire to ‘make’ things eventually saw her obtain a diploma in object and furniture design from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1997. She later moved to Finland to further her education at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. She founded her own studio in the heart of Copenhagen the very next year.
Throughout her career, the elegant 46-year-old has created everything from ladders that double up as chairs to speakers you can slide easily into a tote bag. Along the years, she has worked and collaborated with global brands including Bang&Olufsen, Duravit, Fritz Hansen and Muuto. Her strokes are defined by her minimalistic approach, capturing the essence of true Scandinavian spirit through her immaculate style and craftsmanship.
In an industry that’s predominantly dominated by men, it’s a huge coup for Manz to land this coveted award. But she remains refreshingly humble. The attractive Dane says modestly: “We’re breaking the boundaries and blurring the lines of our global practice today. I believe that Scandinavian design belongs to the global scene and it’s my duty as a Scandinavian designer to deliver this message across.”
What attracts you to the realms of design and creativity?
Design is my work. And I guess I see it in quite a rational way. Design isn’t only about weird ideas and intuitive moments; it’s also a lot of hard work. But I love the entire process of being creative and solving problems at the same time.
What’s it like living in Scandinavia?
I think we’re quite fortunate with our living conditions in Scandinavia. It’s calm and peaceful; women are working full time while sharing domestic work with their partners. In a way, we’re very spoiled but we just don’t notice it that much. We often complain about bad weather and other less important things. It’s rather slow in pace.
It’s easy to ‘keep it simple’ when faced with a design brief. What are the components that take your designs beyond the boundaries of simplicity?
Yes, it’s easy to say ‘keep it simple’ and it’s easy to just reduce; but it’s difficult to keep the character or a context in a simple product. How do we maintain an identity? That’s the challenge. I’m exercising every time I do a new project; to continue the story or create a new narrative in each of my designs while keeping it relatively ‘simple’.
You’ve collaborated with so many brands and people in your career. What are the challenges that come with collaboration?
I need to listen to the manufacturer. I need to understand their DNA. I need to read their minds and challenge them at the same time. In some way, they should do the same with me; read my language and speak my lingo. Old fashioned collaboration where you exchange ideas and share knowledge is still working fine. Sometimes, the right timing and match are important too. But in reality, both parties are not always on the same page. The challenge is to always compromise and adapt.
What would you consider to be your greatest collaboration so far?
My husband! In all honesty, I think you never know who you can actually work well with. Sometimes, the perfect candidate could turn into a disaster. I always admire studios where two people or more are working together. And I also see this with my parents (who worked together sometimes). You really need to give and accept, be firm and flexible at the right times.
Your affinity with colours is fundamental to your creative process. Can you explain how your use of colours helps to accentuate and express Scandinavian heritage and aesthetics?
Muted colour tones describe the Scandinavian concept well. I think one’s colour preferences have to do with personality, emotion and behaviour. The colours represent context, culture and conventions as well. There are not too many colourful buildings in Scandinavia. Maybe I could design a pink building; that would definitely start a debate!
What do you enjoy designing the most?
Everything can be exciting to work with. You just need to find the right ‘entrance’ to the design task.
How would you describe “Danish design” today?
Danish design is about sensibility towards materiality. It requires a designer to understand materials, to know what goes where and what works well with the other. It’s not about using a material because it’s trendy; it’s more about using the right materials in the right place to put sense into design.
After decades of success, what do you consider to be the highlight of your career and life?
I think it is how I’ve managed to be a mother to my young children while juggling work commitments and building up my own company.
Best advice someone has ever given you?
I was raised with passion to do what I love to do. So don’t be afraid and always stay passionate in everything that you do.