Virgil Abloh has partnered with German consumer product company Braun to redesign one of its products in commemoration of the brand’s 100-year anniversary.
The partnership has seen the American designer and entrepreneur rethink the company’s Wandanlage, a wall-mounted stereo system first brought to market in 1965.
“Hung on the wall like art”
Comprised of a series of pieces designed by Braun’s legendary head of design Dieter Rams, the original Wandanlage includes speakers, a radio tuner and a reel-to-reel tape player.
Sitting horizontally on the wall, it was always a piece that “blurred the lines” between art and function, according to Braun industrial designer Ben Wilson.
“It was hung on the wall like art, but performed a tech role in the homes of many,” he says.
Abloh’s rethinking of the product seeks to blur the lines further, Wilson explains. The new Wandanlage is finished entirely with a chrome surface, and features new typography labelling for its buttons and dials.
It is a piece of “functional art”, according to Abloh. While updated in aesthetic and made with materials that are to “ensure it lasts for the next 100 years”, the mission was to ensure the original hi-fi audio remained the focus of the piece. The technology works the same as it would have in 1965, Braun says.
“A huge mutual passion for the Wandanlage”
Abloh is perhaps best known for his work in fashion, working as the artistic director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections and as the CEO of his own label Off-White.
However, as Wilson explains, he also has a background in civil engineering and is a fully trained architect. All these qualifications marked Abloh out as the perfect person for Braun to collaborate with, Wilson says.
Work first began on the collaboration in February 2020, ahead of Braun’s centenary this year. Wilson flew to Chicago to meet with Abloh, taking with him a selection of classic Braun products as conversation starters.
“What was down in the diary as being an hour-and-a-half chat turned into a four-and-a-half-hour dialogue,” says Wilson. “We found a huge mutual passion for the Wandanlage and the fact it still works as well now as it did back then.”
“Change as little as possible while still making a huge impact”
Abloh is known for his collaborations with brands, and has previously worked with the likes of Nike and IKEA to reimagine products. From this, Wilson says the designer has a well-respected rule of “only changing 3% of a product” while redesigning it.
The entirely new chrome finish on the Wandanlage at first appears to go against Abloh’s 3% rule, Wilson says. But he says the rest of the change is “minimal and magical”.
“Virgil is an engineer so understands how things work – he knows how to change as little as possible while still making a huge impact,” says Wilson.
There is a significance to the chrome finish beyond just aesthetics, according to Wilson. The Wandanlage now acts as a mirror in the home and evokes different associations for dependant on who looks at it.
“Some might see a chrome surface and associate it with hip-hop music,” says Wilson. “While others might think of modernist designers from the mid-century and their products.”
“It’s like dancing”
The process for creating the new Wandanlage was one of “back and forth”, according to Wilson. The strain of the pandemic served as a challenge.
“There are huge complexities involved in making any custom design piece at the moment,” says Wilson.
But Abloh is a “quick thinker”, he says, and alongside support from his London-based art studio Alaska Alaska, the team was able to work through the challenges.
“It’s like dancing – we had to get to know each other and get the moves down and then we found a groove,” says Wilson. “Virgil uses lots of emojis and so we knew if he was sending us smiley faces in sunglasses, we were on the right track.”
“Some people might say this object goes against what Braun is about”
Braun’s collaboration with Abloh, and the reinvented Wandanlage itself, seek to bring the German company before a new audience and start a dialogue, says Wilson.
As part of their centenary celebrations, Braun commissioned research into how Gen-z consumers feel about buying products. Findings showed that young people’s attitudes towards sustainability largely line up with Braun’s attitude of “do it once, do it right”, he adds.
Wilson says he imagines there will be heated dialogue as the Wandanlage is seen by more people in the design world.
“Some people might say this object goes against what Braun is about, but the functional reason we’ve done this – to expand to new audiences and start conversation – show that isn’t the case at all,” he says. “It’s going to raise some eyebrows in the design scene and that’s exactly why we’ve done it.”