Poetry lesson

Austrian design group, Eoos produces results that exactly match the values behind the brands it works on

Eoos – ten years old this month – isn’t short on strange ideas. Phone its Vienna office, and you’re put straight through to a CD of chanting Himalayan monks before anyone picks up. Ask about the thinking behind the consultancy, and Eoos say, ‘We work on the principles of a rock band.’ What, drink, take drugs and fall out in public? Apparently not. Rather, a united creative vision. ‘As soon as one direction emerges, we design everything together,’ they say.

But the group must be getting something right. Praise doesn’t come much higher than Rasshied Din’s take on Eoos’ A1 Lounge concept store in Vienna, which scooped Design Week’s Retail Environments award last month, together with Din’s own Pringle Showroom in London. ‘It’s probably what the Apple store should have looked like,’ said Din. Martin Bergmann, co-founder of Eoos, laughs. ‘That was great. We were very happy, yes. It was a great surprise to win such a big prize in the UK, and it’s good for our little Austrian office.’

In a thick Austrian accent, Bergmann cheerily describes the concept behind A1 Lounge concept store and I’m trying to keep up. Customers enter the mobile phone store through a huge cloud of smoke, generated by three ‘fog machines’ sourced in Hollywood, into a bright, naturally-lit, south-facing showroom. They’re given a transparent Plexiglas block the size of a mobile phone, with an embedded chip. They take this to giant touch-screens, find the mobile, services and add-ons they want, download the information into the chip and take it to the counter. At least, I think this is what happens – without seeing it in the flesh, and with Bergmann’s slippery grasp of English, it’s hard to tell. But there’s certainly a bar and restaurant in the store open til midnight to encourage people to hang around and make it a ‘destination’ (the store itself shuts at 6pm due to Austria’s strict opening hours).

The concept behind the fog is simple. ‘It represents the switch from one world to the next, stepping from the present into the future,’ says Bergmann. It’s all very sci-fi; indeed, inspiration came from science fiction books and films. And it’s retail theatre of the highest order.

The 12-strong consultancy, led by Bergmann and his two co-directors, old university friends Harald Gründl and Gernot Bohmann, believes philosophy, rituals, stories, ancient images and poetry should form the backbone of all design. ‘Eoos’ is drawn from the name of one of the winged horses in Greek mythology. A quick whizz around the wordy Eoos website leaves you breathless. It preaches, ‘Design… is an articulation of people’s desires and fears; it’s a poetic discipline [vital for] for the definition of man in the universe’ and so on. Eoos has even patented its own ideas system – Poetic Analysis – by which it describes the philosophical background to everything it designs, from chairs to flagship stores. The ‘PA’ behind its latest piece of furniture, the Crystal chair for Walter Knoll unveiled at Cologne in January, is snowflakes and thrones, for example. Pretentious mumbo-jumbo or a useful creative tool? And what do the group’s clients make of it all?

‘Poetic Analysis is just a means of helping us get more deeply into the brands we work for,’ says Bergmann. ‘Most of our clients understand how we work and like it. Brands have to tell interesting stories, and we aim to tell stories with objects. If clients don’t like it, we stop the relationship – we’re not arrogant, it’s just we have to agree on our concepts and ideas.’

At the start of every project, Eoos’ three founders hunker down with their giant archive of images, cuttings, stories, books and films – sourced by its full-time researcher – and brainstorm. This process can take ‘from a day to a year’, according to Bergmann. Isn’t that uncertainty a bit frustrating for clients? ‘Not really, we tell them how we work before we start,’ he says. ‘We completed a kitchen concept for Bulthaup, and the ideas stage took three months. We only end up working with clients who are interested in this way of working, and willing to understand us. It’s generally clear from the first or second meeting. We attract like-minded people.’

Possibly, but its roll-call of clients certainly isn’t at the beardy-weirdy end of things: rather, Eoos works with some of the biggest brands in the business: manufacturers such as Walter Knoll, Matteograssi, Mabeg and Montina as well as clothing companies Giorgio Armani and Adidas, for which it has designed stores. Its Poetic Analysis helps it ‘push furniture design to the limit’, says Bergmann, who admits Eoos’ core philosophy is ‘transformation’: its Jason sofa for Walter Knoll transforms into a daybed, and its console table for Artelano turns from a flat table into a private work area by tilting one half of the table up through 90Ëš.

British group Pearson Lloyd also works with Walter Knoll, and crosses paths with Eoos regularly at fairs. ‘They take themselves very seriously,’ says founder Tom Lloyd, ‘and think of themselves as poets and wisemen. We find the consultancy’s interiors work more inspiring than its furniture, but what they do well is reduce things to their simplest level.’

For Adidas, Eoos designed the Originals (which consists of 1950s and 1970s clothing) worldwide store concept, which was based on the idea of a street market – clothes laid out flat on large, low tables and all bathed in a blue light that is the same shade as the Adidas corporate colour. Its on-going work with Armani perfumes has led to the roll-out of its concept stores to 40 countries this year, including Japan. On the product end, Eoos has just designed an attractive adjustable spotlight for Zumtobel, a company whose values Eoos shares and deeply admires, says Bergmann.

Eoos has never moved from Vienna, and doesn’t intend to. ‘It’s beautiful and old, and while it’s less exciting than London, the standard of living here is high,’ Bergmann muses. ‘There are lots of architects and artists, but fewer designers.’ He denies there’s any UK or Austrian – or, indeed, any national – design style, and believes retail design looks pretty much the same the world over, particularly as global brands are available everywhere. ‘Our Armani stores have the same details in every city,’ he notes.

In the pipeline for 2005 is a task chair for Canadian company Keilhauer, which will ‘revolutionise the chair market, really’, and a first class airport seating project for Moroso. Oh, and the tenth birthday bash this summer in Vienna. Expect the unexpected.

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