Interview - The restart of Czech design abroad

Interview - The restart of Czech design abroad

HomeWhat's NewInterview - The restart of Czech design abroad
Czech designer and lover of nice old cars Michal Froněk has taken part in innovating twenty famous brands. The co-founder of the Olgoj Chorchoj atelier designed not only beer glasses for Pilsner Urquell that are sold in Europe and overseas.
Froněk´s team devised a small pocket knife made of recycled material, where the global company Nespresso and local Czech company Mikov joined forces. “There’re a lot of brand factories in our country that have been producing high-quality design for decades. Definitely there are many things which we can build on and innovate”, says Froněk.
 
You travel a lot all around the world. What will come to people’s minds when they hear Czech design?
It depends where you ask as, for example, Czech classical music, literature as well as Czech glass are well-known in Japan. They’ve been trusting our quality for a long time, and it’s no problem to present our brands there. But if you ask in America or in Europe, it’ll be a different situation. For example, there’s broader awareness of the Škoda car manufacturer and the Pilsner Urquell brewery there. These are companies that have been exporting abroad for decades. Over the past thirty years, there has been a fundamental change in the designers’ community in our country. The year 1989, when the Communist regime came to an end in Czechoslovakia, was followed by a very complicated situation. Traditional Czech companies were not in a good situation. Owners were changed, production was discontinued and a lot of brands ceased to exist. Some companies got over that uneasy period, came up with new ideas and, as a result, retained their regular clientele and won new customers. New companies that are internationally known today, such as the Lasvit glassworks and the lighting fixture manufacturer Brokis, were formed as well.

 
You mentioned Pilsner Urquell. What did you devise for this famous brewery?
We designed a special beer glass, a so-called goblet, eighteen years ago. The assignment was clear: create a product that will help promote the beer to high gastronomy, where it definitely belongs as far its quality is concerned. The beer pint glass isn’t suitable for gourmets, so we designed a glass on a tall stem made of tritan glass for the company. It is very thin, resistant and, above all, beer foam will last in it for a long time. This glass is sold all around the world and roughly 30 million customers have bought them.
 
The collaboration with the Czech firm Mikov, which has been manufacturing knives since the 18th century, was interesting as well. Many generations of Czechs know their fish-shaped pocket knife. How does your model differ?
In 2018 we were approached by Nespresso, which had joined forces with Mikov. They wanted us to come up with a way of how to use the aluminium recycled from coffee capsules. We devised a new version of the legendary fish-shaped pocket knife. This model had been manufactured at Mikov from the 1920s, and perhaps everyone throughout Czechia know it. Our model has its handle made of recycled aluminium. On the Nespresso website is a limited edition of five thousand items, with proceeds from the sale going to charity.

 
You also took part in the formation of the watchmaking firm Bohematic. Their offer includes men’s watches named after Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar. What impressed you about him?
Ladislav Sutnar is a legend of Czechoslovak design. He worked for famous brands, he emigrated to the US in 1939 and continued successfully in the field there. In 1958 he designed an alphabet which we used for the Graphic – Sutnar series. Typographer Tomáš Brousil proceeded on the basis of the letters and numerals in this alphabet and used some of the elements in the dial and hour hand. I like the fact that the Bohematic brand combines traditional procedures in watchmaking with modern design. Individual watch components are manufactured all around Europe with the final phase taking place in our country.
 
We talked about local products all around the Czech Republic. Where would you invite foreign visitors that wish to see how quality Czech design is produced?
They should definitely go to Karlovy Vary, where the world-known Moser glassworks have been in operation since the mid-19th century. An excursion to the furniture company Ton, which has its factory in Bystřice pod Hostýnem, would be very interesting. You will see the method with which wood is bent and how chairs are made from it. The museum of the Baťa shoe company in Zlín and Engelmüller, a company that continues the production of gloves in Dobříš, are very nice as well. And an excursion to the Škoda car factory is definitely worth it. I visited a Mazda factory not long ago and I dare say that the Škoda factory is much more interesting and modern. So, if you’re interested in designer’s work, there’s surely a lot of to choose from in Czechia.

Where in our country do you like it most and where would you invite tourists when it is possible?
I am a patriot from the Letná district of Prague. It is an interesting place because from here you can see what is happening in historic Prague from above. And then partly on the horizon you can see even the modern part of Prague which I hope will be significantly profiled. Soon, for example, we will have a competition for a new Opera, which will be one of the opportunities.
And of course I really like the places where I have a cottage in Vysočina region. I like to go by bike from Kamenice nad Lipou towards the historic town of Slavonice where half empty roads meander through a beautiful landscape and you will relax from civilization.