janni vepsäläinen unpacks ‘the new era of play’ at iittala
Renowned Finnish design brand Iittala steps into its bold era by appointing a new Creative Director, Janni Vepsäläinen. Bringing with her a wealth of experience from her background in luxury fashion, Janni is ready to redefine the brand’s approach to the world of design, all while reinforcing its artistic and artisanal glassmaking heritage established since 1881. ‘My fashion experience has helped me bring clear collection thinking into Iittala’s design processes,‘ she tells designboom during our trip to Stockholm Design Week. As part of its ongoing evolution, Iittala also introduces a new logo this month, accompanied by a typeface dubbed Aino, a name that pays homage to one of the pioneering women in Finnish design, Aino Aalto, and Iittala’s longest-running series, the Aino Aalto glassware collection (known initially as Bölgeblick, 1932).
Iittala PLAY collection | all images courtesy Grand Relations
reimagining ARTISTIC COLLABORATIONS AND COLLECTIONS
Stepping into this new role, Janni Vepsäläinen understood just how strongly Iittala is emblematized by its Glass Factory, its artisans, and its long-standing tradition of inviting artists to play with the brand and channel their creative eye through glass. In a pioneering move, the new Creative Director reveals a collaboration with Damsel Elysium, an experimental sound and visual artist based in London. Damsel has created, jointly with Janni Vepsäläinen and Iittala’s master glass blowers in Finland, a series of sculptural mouth-blown and handcrafted glass instruments and objects inspired by Iittala’s playful vision and a century-long tradition of artisanal glassmaking. The products were unveiled during Stockholm Design Week 2024 in a spellbinding performance by Damsel, set against an industrial backdrop, glowing in the dark with fiery hues.
Complementing the collaboration is Iittala PLAY, the first collection designed under Janni’s creative direction, which launches in stores in March 2024. This project reimagines how we interact with design in our daily lives by presenting a line of colorful, versatile, and playful objects — ranging from glass objects to ceramic tableware, textiles, and candles (a new addition to Iittala’s portfolio). Lastly, a renewed retail experience is expected to launch, aligning with Iittala’s long-standing vision. Read on as we delve into this bold and promising relaunch with Janni Vepsäläinen.
Iittala x Damsel Elysium collection
interview with janni vepsäläinen
designboom (DB): What encouraged you to take on the role at Iittala, and how does your background in luxury fashion contribute to the brand’s relaunch?
Janni Vepsäläinen (JV): I do indeed have a background in fashion. In knitwear design, to be specific. Fashion gave me a good creative playground for many years, and I loved it. What initially made me fall in love with knitwear design was that, through knitting, I was able to craft my own fabric and to mix yarns and materials freely. The same sense of hand-crafted material manipulation is present in mouth-blown glass. When I was approached about the Iittala position, I saw an amazing opportunity to work with a brand that has such a beautiful heritage and history. I could see endless opportunities to bring the Iittala story alive and to the modern era. My fashion experience has helped me bring a clear collection thinking into Iittala’s design processes. I think and create with speed. I make quick decisions and follow my intuition. I always think of a muse or a certain person when I design. I think about their home, how they spend their time, and what kind of rituals they have in their daily life.
the brand’s new Creative Director, Janni Vepsäläinen
DB: Could you share the creative process behind the new brand identity, including the redesigned logo?
JV: During the first months of my time at Iittala, I spent time researching the history of the brand. I read everything I could find about the designers behind our most iconic pieces and understood that in Iittala’s heart, there is this avant-garde design ethos that has always been pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo. Around this energy, I started to build an expression, our bold new identity. The new brand color yellow is the color of molten glass, just waiting to be shaped. Yellow, in most cultures, has positive attributes such as joy and creativity. What could be a more suitable color for an expressive and experimental brand like Iittala! The new logo is also inspired by Iittala’s long history and a certain logo from the 19th century. The flared serif style in the letters also indicates the idea of melted glass. I want the logo to express the craft and heritage in the heart of Iittala. It was designed by Helsinki based graphic designer Aleksi Tammi.
reimagining glass craftsmanship at Iittala
DB: Talk to us about your collaboration with Damsel Elysium. How did it unfold?
JV: The project with Damsel Elysium has been an absolute dream. We found a common creative voice very quickly, and we shared inspiration and ideas with each other through endless video calls and direct messages. We continued ideation and making prototypes during Damsel’s visits to the Iittala glass factory. The unique art pieces, the glass instruments created in the collaboration, are showpieces of the PLAY collection. The big story behind this collaboration is to reinforce the collaborative philosophy in the core of Iittala. With this project, I wanted to challenge the boundaries of mouth-blown glass and create cultural conversations. I liked that Damsel and I came from such different backgrounds and came together to create something unique using the traditional craft methods. We are reimagining glass!
DB: The relaunch also centers on Iittala’s glass craftsmanship; how are you reimagining this artisanal heritage within a forward-thinking and experimental framework?
JV: My project with Damsel is an excellent example of how I want to marry glass and craftsmanship with multitalented artists who don’t come from a traditional design background. In my creative work, I always seek connections between different cultural elements. I think the most interesting projects are always a marriage of the unexpected.
Damsel Elysium’s performance at the Iittala Relaunch event during Stockholm Design Week
DB: What are the defining characteristics or themes that we can expect to see with the unveiling of the new collection, Iittala PLAY?
JV: I wanted to look into the home rituals we have. We rarely sit in front of the table anymore but more often in front of a TV or on the floor. We eat everything with one hand, most likely from a big bowl. How we spend time in our homes is changing, especially among the younger audience who usually live in smaller spaces. It was super important to me that the collection involves multifunctional objects that serve as little home treasures. I also wanted to create a more lifestyle-focused collection with new categories, like candles.
DB: Combining all of the latest initiatives (new collection, artist collaboration, and retail concept), what key features do you think will resonate most with consumers and the design community?
JV: I try not to think about that too much. I follow my instincts and I stay true to my path and never sacrifice creativity.
the PLAY collection by Janni Vepsäläinen displayed at the relaunch during SDW 2024
DB: Walk us through your creative process in a day-to-day setting. What or who inspires you?
JV: I am inspired by anything and everything from music to film to watching people. I am fascinated by urban culture, but I need to mix that with something harmonious that I usually find in nature. My workdays are never the same, but I always dedicate time to creativity. That means I sometimes have to say no to meeting requests and prioritize. I split my time between my studio in the headquarters and the Iittala Glass Factory. The glass workshop is my happy place, and I try to go there as often as possible. At the factory, we ideate, experiment, and prototype with the glass blowers. That is my happy place! My creative process, in general, is very fluid. I usually start with image research, and I build concepts around ideas I take from things I experience and see around me. Art is a continuous inspiration to me. After researching, I start working around design ideas.
DB: Is there a particular lesson, advice, or practice that you believe has fundamentally shaped your path as a creative?
JV: I learned many important lessons during my early career. I moved to Paris right after my BA degree. I didn’t yet have a smartphone at that time, and I didn’t know anybody in the city. It was a struggle at first, and I had to hustle a lot. But then I got to know someone who knew someone who knew someone, and soon, things started to work out for me. I have always been extremely persistent. I had setbacks, but I didn’t give up and continued to work my way into the industry. I had to work extra hard since I didn’t have the fancy international degree under my belt or the financial freedom to do unpaid internships. I still have that same uncompromised work ethic.
DB: Looking ahead, what are some other long-term goals and initiatives for Iittala?
JV: You mentioned the retail concept. That will be the next big project and I look forward to get it going.
the installation was set against an industrial backdrop
detailed shot of the glass curvatures
new brand logo design by Aleksi Tammi
the Damsel series features sculptural mouth-blown and handcrafted glass instruments
DESIGN INTERVIEWS (38)
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