*Featured photo: Bodo Sperlein with Oliver Jahn, Editor-in-Chief AD Architectural Digest (left) and Marina Woschni and Johann Klopsch, Directors Neue Werkstätten (right) © Markus Kehl für AD Deutschland / Courtesy of Neue Werkstätten

Article by Roxana Florina Popa

 Interview with the Designer, Bodo Sperlein

Roxana-Florina Popa:  How did you and the House of TANE meet each other?

Bodo Sperlein: I once did a project for Mulberry and Sylvie helped with the coordination. Then we have not heard of each other for a few years. When she started working in Mexico for TANE, Sylvie got in touch saying she was working for a silverware company. I found it a very interesting and romantic company. She was interested to propose me as one of the designers to the Board. The collection had to be presented to the Board because the company is owned by a big group called Grupo Bal. It is owned by Mr Baillères, the second richest person in Mexico. He also owns a silver mine. It is a very powerful company overall.

I was invited to go to Mexico and see the company. This is how designers work. You go to see the workshops first and understand the company’s philosophy. There are ethical issues, as well, since I do not work with companies using child labour.

I was impressed with the workshops. TANE has an amazing social attitude in terms of preserving skills and craft in Mexico. Their aim is to train people from quite poor backgrounds into the craft of silversmithing. The father would teach the son and they would work together on projects. With all that knowledge, I went back to London to work on the design concept of the collection.


Moon Sconce, 925 Sterling Silver with Black Wallnut

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

TANE loved it and the rest is history. I got the job and I worked. The time goes quite fascinating because I signed with them in February 2014 and the first launch was in January 2015 in Paris. We worked really hard. It is such a substantial collection finalised in just 11 months. This is quite unheard of and you can do that only with companies like TANE and actually there aren’t many. They have the skilled labour, the workshops and they can deal with so many different techniques. This is amazing.

It is a great project for me because as a designer I am always fascinated by new materials or materials I have not been working with before. I like discovering things and I learn about the techniques and it is just fantastic.

RFP: Has the meeting with the House of TANE caused the shift from ceramics to silver?

BS: People think that I am predominant ceramics. This is not true. We also do a lot of lighting.

I do a lot of ceramics because ceramics is one of the materials I started off with. I was so fascinated with ceramics because I realised they are regarded as old fashioned or not nice. I found it fascinating to bring them back to life. I wanted to make them sexy again. That was always my aim and that’s why I started with ceramics. At the time I studied, 15 years ago, it was not particularly cool to do ceramics. They said it was quite hippie and I said, well, I am going to show you they can be very sexy and very stylish. That was the idea. That’s why we took it to the next level.

Bodo Sperlein, Roxana Pupa AD bei ... Tane in den Neuen Werkstätten Promenadeplatz 8 in München am 02.07.2015 Fotos: Markus Kehl / / 0049177 71 75 163

With Bodo Sperlein

Exhibition THE HOUSE OF TANE – Silber im neuen Licht, Neue Werkstätten, Munich

© Markus Kehl für AD Deutschland / Courtesy of Neue Werkstätten

It is not the first time that I worked with silver. I did a big project for Swarowski 5 years ago called the “Wedding Concept”. It was a project for Crystal Ice which is part of Swarowski and showcases crystals in order to give companies ideas about what they can do with them. What they did was to invite 100 designers, really top fashion designers like Valentino and Armani. They only chose 5 product designers to do for funeral and weddings. I was one of them. I came up with the idea of the cutlery. You can look at my website and see the forks with inserted crystals.

Silverware or cutlery was given in the past only to couples when they got married. 100 years ago, silver was such an expensive commodity and it was so special for weddings and celebrations.


Symmetry Salt & Pepper Grinders, 925 Sterling Silver with Black Walnut

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

They published a really great book on this project and there was a big show in Paris which then travelled to Tokyo and the whole world. This was the first entry to silver. I am familiar to silver and now we are taking it to the next level with lighting, for example.

RFP: Which elements of the brand code did you capitalise on in this collection?

BS: When I do a collection, normally what I need to do as a designer is to represent the company and do not change the DNA too much. As a designer, it is very important for me to bring the brand in the forefront, to combine the company’s DNA, to bring the best out of that. It’s like giving birth to a child. Generational DNA has to come out, but with the heritage being already there. The important thing in the case of TANE was to make silver sexy again.


Voliere Beakers, 925 Sterling Silver with Gold Vermeil

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

Generally, my goal is to show other companies that silver is a great material, very sexy. It can be really good for a new generation of customers who can be interested in silver products thanks to a contemporary silver collection at a time when no other companies seem to invest in. This is such a big substantial collection and also quite unique in terms of nobody else. My goal was to tell this beautiful story about TANE and bring silver back into the house. Silver used to be a very important part of everybody’s house. Historically, in times of uncertainty when one had to leave one’s house what one did was to take the silver and start a new life. We have forgotten how important silver was for our survival, to have a silver option, a currency.

Now, we understand it again. I think the new generations are interested. They grew up with investment portfolios and they understand the investment value when they buy a property. That’s the idea. Silver is expensive, the products are expensive, but it would keep its value. It is an investment. It is not something like an Alessi stainless steel bowl is as long as the shop is worth the fame because there are millions of them around and they can only deliver probably 30% of the actual purchase value.

Thanks to silver, you get an awesome piece. It is not a mass scale and it cannot be physically produced on a mass scale because you do not have enough craftsmen. On a time scale, one of the bowls takes a week to make.


Ravine Bowl, Recinto and 925 Sterling Silver

© Graeme Duddridge / Courtesy of TANE

…so we are looking at rare products…

…Rare to a certain extent. We have a spoon of around ₤ 300 to a chandelier of £120,000. The spectrum of the collection is quite big here. That’s very important. It’s not everybody who can afford silver expensive things, but they can afford £300.


Pearl Spoons available in iridescent colours: silver, vermeil, turquoise

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

We debated what luxury is, what the future of luxury is, where it is going. People are encouraged to buy less, but better. The big brands at the moment are becoming too trashy, too supermarket. It is supermarket luxury in our opinion. A brand like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, you can buy at every corner whether it is in a small village in China or somewhere else. It’s not special enough anymore.

Luxury is going to be more about discovery now.


Symphony Beakers

© Graeme Duddridge / Courtesy of TANE

… a discovery of treasures…

…Exactly. A discovery of workshops, of “I am in the know” like I can go there and I have been waiting for this so long. It is different now. Like luxury in the past, when Louis Vuitton turned the clock, 100 years back. That’s when luxury was really there. That’s why people travelled to Paris to order their luggage. They did not buy it online or with the catalogue. They went there, they had the whole service, they looked at the leather and had it shipped to wherever they lived. And while they were in Paris, they went to a perfume house and had their perfumes created and had a beautiful gown made and went to a jewellery shop, as well.

It is this whole romanticness and this is where it is going. I think we need romance because it is a world of uncertainty at the moment. We are romanticising about a refuge at home surrounded by products you feel very comfortable with, you feel at ease with. Silver is part of that because it gives you that sense of “ok, if anything goes bad, I still have my silver” and that’s really interesting analytic way of looking at products. I doubt you can survive on a Gucci bag.


Chorus Bells

925 Sterling Silver with Black Walnut

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

RFP: When creating the collection, did you apply principles of high gastronomy?

BS: What I did take into consideration is that in Mexico there is a big fine-dining scene and no Mexican porcelain company. The brand TANE, as Tiffany and other brands in the past, used to have porcelain as part of the portfolio. I think this is a nice start for TANE to go into porcelain. This fine dining comes hand in hand with it and it is very successful, it works really, really well.

16-Rhythm Candlestick and Ravine Bowl

Rhythm Candlestick, Ravine Bowl & Lotus Creamer Materials

925 Sterling Silver with recinto volcanic stone

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

RFP: What was more challenging: to combine silver with recinto for the House of TANE or pewter with leather for Mulberry?

BS: I am relying on the craftsmen. If they are there and very good, you do not have to worry too much. They do good work and then, you learn and you are trying to find solutions together. It’s all about finding solutions.

RFP: The collection is currently available for purchase on your website. Do you act as both designer and consultant for the House of TANE?

BS: The collection is also available in galleries like Mallett Antiques on Madison Avenue in New York. We want to be very selective with where the collection is going.

Regarding consultancy, that’s where I am really, really interested in. I am interested in marketing and brand building aspects. That’s very fascinating for me. I am not the type of designer who just gives you a product to look at, but I do a product which has a story and I have control over that story. It is very important for me because my name is attached to the product. That’s why I present it. I can open the door for companies on markets they want to enter on. My work does not end with the design process. It’s always on-going.


Lotus jug, tea strainer and cremera

925 Sterling Silver

© Matteo Manduzio / Courtesy of TANE

…so, you are one of the few designers on the market offering also consultancy…

Quite a few. Hopefully, this will trigger something in designers and this is my advice to any of the designers. You cannot rely on your creativity alone anymore. That’s a lazy attitude. You have to run your business. You have to understand the market. Companies employ you because they need help and market knowledge. It is the most important thing and they have to understand that.

TANE Munich Launching, 2 July 2015

Special Thanks go to Sylvie Ligonie, Bodo Sperlein, Neue Werkstätten and Simone Nickl Public Relations

Read the interview with Sylvie Ligonie, General Director of TANE

This article has been selected into the book “Beauty Elegance Creativity – 12 Interviews on the Act of Creation” published by Roxana Florina Popa


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