Lights, camera, where’s Sebastian? It’s mid-morning on the Tuesday of Milan Design Week and this month’s cover star is a man most in demand. An ever-changing phalanx of press, buyers, friends, associates and other well-wishers surround Sebastian Wrong as he patiently negotiates his way towards our photographer. The occasion is the launch of wrong.london, a dedicated lighting branding and partner to the highly regarded Danish brand Hay, with products from both brands on show in the cavernous La Pelota former sports hall.
Wrong’s first encounter with Rolf and Mette Hay, the firm’s founders, was thanks to designer Stefan Diez (who graced the OnOffice cover in November 2013): “He said I should meet them, as it would be an interesting meeting of minds.” An initial phone call on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall after a day’s teaching at the RCA was followed by a face-to-face meeting in Copenhagen a month later. By January 2013, the Wrong for Hay brand was taking shape and in September its debut collection took the London Design Festival by storm.
“What Hay was missing was lighting – there is lots that they do well in terms of furniture and accessories,” begins Wrong. And the new brand is an evolution of Wrong for Hay. “What they liked about starting a new company was a non-Scandinavian association. Having a London-based sister brand could add a little bit of diversity,” he says.
The .london in the branding refers to the company’s URL. Though he was born and raised in Hertfordshire, Wrong has made the capital his home ever since and is proud that his new venture bears the city’s name – despite sometimes wistfully thinking about the quality of life his friend Diez enjoys in somewhere smaller like Munich.
As creative director, Wrong has overseen a new collection of lighting for 2016, including the PC lamp by French designer Pierre Charpin, which he is photographed with on this month’s cover. The task light is made from extruded aluminium with a polycarbonate head, concealed gas springs that enable the arms and head to hold their position wherever they are moved to, plus an integrated touch dimmer switch. It was presented in Milan in black and white, with plans for other colours to appear at this year’s London Design Festival.
The design morphed from an original response to a brief for a clip light sent out to half a dozen designers. “Pierre’s light was interesting and quite a relevant aesthetic for a task lamp,” says Wrong. “The real starting point was looking at and appreciating icon pieces and carefully deconstructing them to try and understand what made them special. There’s a character and strength to the light that doesn’t scream technology – it’s not overly engineered or cold.”
Other products in the wrong.london collection include the 30degree lampshade in veneered oak by Johan van Hengel, Stefan Diez’s flexible Rope Trick floor lamp, Joel Hoff’s Turn On table lamp, which lights up by rotating the base, Lars Beller Fjetland’s domed Cloche table lamp, as well as wrong.london’s in-house designed Drum and Accordion shades, and Cast floor lamp.
A collection of the PC lights has been placed near the entrance to the exhibition, providing one of the many oh-so-Instagrammable images of the exhibition and giving an almost sculptural feel. In fact, sculpture was the medium in which Wrong began his creative journey, studying at Camberwell School of Art and graduating in 1993. Looking back to his earlier creative years, he talks of one-off pieces and installations, before design-art really had a become a thing. Lighting formed another cornerstone of his career back in 2001, when his Spun light was originally launched at 100% Design. It was subsequently manufactured by Italian heavyweight Flos, becoming one of the company’s most recognisable designs.
One of the best known parts of Wrong’s career was his involvement in Established & Sons with Alasdhair Willis, Mark Holmes and Tamara Caspersz. The brand burst onto the scene in 2005, quickly becoming known for the quantity of designs launched and the quality of architects and designers in its stable, with names ranging from Amanda Levete and Zaha Hadid to Ross Lovegrove, Barber & Osgerby and Konstantin Grcic.
Equally, it has to be said, it was synonymous with the extraordinary parties that accompanied each collection launch. I remember one London event where suddenly (Willis’s wife) Stella McCartney appeared, linking arms with Liv Tyler, with flashbulbs popping as if this was a Hollywood premiere, not the launch of some very expensive furniture. “It was a confident period when we did some amazing things – it was very entertaining,” Wrong says. “It was a moment.”
Wrong, for his part, was responsible for a number of Established & Sons designs, among them the 2009 A Buggs Life lighting range – which contained versions entitled Block Head, Cone Head, Logger Head and Pendant Light – as well as 2007’s Font Clock, and 2008’s Heidi stool, along with the Studio chair in 2012. He was also behind a number of products for the brand’s diffusion line Estd – among them Butt, 2010’s stackable plastic stool, the Loaf bread bin, the Serve range of trays and Potto kitchenware.
But one of the most instantly recognisable Established & Sons designs actually predated the firm by a few years. The Wrongwoods series of a night table with a spring-touch drawer, a chest of drawers, a long low credenza and a wall unit with their colourful, pop art exterior are found in “at home” projects in weekend supplements to this day. The concept came about after Wrong came across Woods’ work in Art Review. Fortuitously, a mutual friend introduced them. “The first thing we did was a long, country-style kitchen table which was clad in offcuts from Woods’ printed panels. It looked amazing,” says Wrong.
Some early iterations of this collaboration were exhibited at gallerist Kenny Schachter’s Rove space. This then evolved into several pieces for Established, such as the Wrongwoods in 2007, the Bricks and Mortar in 2009 and 2011’s Hay Bale. Aside from the wrong.london collection, it’s the project Wrong is most animated about, as we reconvene in the beautiful townhouse belonging to Hay co-founder Troels Holch Povlsen that serves as the UK Hay HQ: “It was very simple shapes like G Plan with an edge design with a printed wood-block pattern which was highly functional – humorous with a strong, cheeky British thing.”
At the time, Wrong said: “This aesthetic puts the idea of ‘DIY’ back into design and adds decoration with a twist. The utilitarian feel of the furniture that we have made is somewhat at odds with the cartoon graphic surface that covers it, and I feel this marriage illustrates perfectly the success of the collaborative process.”
The possession of a thick cardboard invite to Established & Sons’ Milan parties became a coveted trophy among the design cognoscenti queuing outside La Pelota to get the right side of the velvet rope. It must have been strange then for Wrong to return to the space? “Established & Sons put this place on the map,” he says. “It’s the premier venue outside the fair. Any company that comes here, there’s some expectation.”
And judging by the positive appreciation being felt, Hay and Wrong have met those expectations in spades. The exhibition design is exemplary, and one some of the bigger shows could do well to emulate. A “highline”, as Wrong calls it, around a series of roomsets below enables visitors to peer over and literally get a different perspective – strategically positioned stairs enable closer inspection.
The styling and attention to detail is excellent. I spy Rolf Hay pressing the flesh with foreign buyers, with assistants trailing with clipboards – while in the accessories shop business is brisk. In 2014 Hay was the Milan party to attend, so the glamour surrounding Established & Sons followed Wrong in his next endeavour. But, as he says: “People are much more cost conscious now, compared with back then – it was more free spirited.”
“The more I have been in the industry, the more interested I am in business,” he observes. When I ask if designers coming in to the industry should have that more commercial awareness, he says: “I think it is a balance. To have a knowledge of the business of design as well as design itself is much more of an attribute for a designer approaching a company. You have to know the cost of production. I’ve said before, it’s easier to design a very expensive product than a cheaper one.”
One thing Hay has been very successful at is keeping competitive on price, while maintaining a desirable, design-led proposition. In Milan two years ago, it felt like just about everybody had the Wrong For Hay patterned tote bag, and its stationery and objects are just as covetable. Timing is very important, says Wrong, and 2016 felt like the right time to offer a collection of lighting that he says is “a great product at a great price”.
Former sculpture student Sebastian Wrong was much in evidence at this year’s Milan Design Week, with the launch of wrong.london, his lighting venture with Hay, which mixes a sharp aesthetic with sound commercial nous. OnOffice caught up with him at the scene of many past successes as one of the founders of one of the big names of the extravagant noughties, Established & Sons…