No wonder so many of them, little by little, have been absorbed by larger groups, often no longer owned by the founders but by investment funds. Design purists often criticise such happenings as they often mean a more commercial twist for brands that had originally made themselves a name through experimental research.
On the other hand, clustering capabilities and technological know-how between two very different realities – provided they both stand at the top of the ladder in their field – can result in a profitable new course for both the acquiring brand and for the acquired.
It was with this thinking in mind that – after being approached by many large groups and investment funds – the niche lighting company Luceplan finally decided to give in to Philips’ acquisition proposal last year.
With the lighting world changing ever-so-dramatically at the moment, with new technologies like LED and OLEDS becoming ever-more important in future developments, teaming up with the largest lighting technology manufacturer in the world surely cannot be anything but a good a idea for a player like Luceplan.
Alessandro Sarfatti, CEO of Luceplan, spoke to Laura Traldi, Curve’s Europe editor, about the acquisition and the future.
What did teaming up with Philips bring to Luceplan?
Many asked me to acquire our company for years. But I was never tempted by financial partners like private equities or investment funds. Philips is an industrial reality: it’s very different from Luceplan, being a Dutch multinational providing mass-market solutions rather than an Italian design brand addressing itself to a niche audience. Yet the language we speak is similar: it is that of those who make things, it is the language of products.
I was tempted by the possibility of being part of such a large and technology-oriented reality, as having a privileged access to new low-consumption technologies is a must in today’s market-place. The ban on incandescent sources – which had been anticipated for years – has dramatically changed the way consumers will experience light, and the shift cannot be managed by simply replacing previous sources with new ones with a retro-fit.
New types of lights have to be envisaged and developed, starting with a thorough understanding of technologies. Part-nering with Philips is certainly a help in this sense. And also in commercial terms. Luceplan has a very strong brand positioning in Northern Europe, especially in the contract segment: we certainly help Philips penetrate into the high-end spectrum of consumers and into luxury contracts. By contrast, Philips is perceived almost as a luxury brand in Asia, where Luceplan has, a very small presence. We are certainly stronger together.
What are the objectives of the partnership?
The Philips–Luceplan project is an industrial one, stemming from the lighting revolution that is occurring at this very moment and that will further accelerate in the years to come, with LEDs and OLEDs leading the way. Leveraging on this, we envisage the doubling of our turnover in the first four years and a much bigger presence in India, Eastern Europe, Asia and South America.
What is Luceplan’s offer and how has its portfolio changed since the acquisition?
Since its beginnings in 1978, Luceplan has been very active in the ‘no-man’s-land’ of lighting: set between pure architectural lighting and consumer-driven, decorative styles. We basically pioneered, in the early 1980s, the idea of custom-made lighting projects for contract solutions. Yet the quality of our design, focused on providing emotional as well as functional solutions, has often made it possible to turn our products into iconic bestsellers for the home, like it happened with Costanza. When I took over the company from my father in 2005, I placed extra focus on architectural lighting, and on the development of ever-more customisable, modular solutions. This positioning will be maintained also now that Luceplan has turned into the premium segment by Philips.
What is likely to be the greatest change in lighting in terms of design?
New light sources no longer require elements such as the shade, the bulb-holder, the diffuser: LEDs are basically pure light, and so what I envisage (and what is actually happening at this very moment) is light sources that become the body of the light itself. We have already worked towards this direction with some of our products and concepts.
Are new lighting sources creating greener products?
This is not only due to the new sources. At Luceplan we have been acting since the early 1980s to minimise our impact on the environment when we introduced the disassembling concept with Berenice in 1984. And in 1998, we proposed alternative energy sources such as the use of photovoltaic cells for Ross Lovegrove’s Solar Bud. Obviously now most of our products (even the classics) are available in LED versions but we believe that it is not only by replacing the old sources with the new, low consumption ones that you create a culture of respect towards the environment.
We have, for instance, worked towards providing a cultural acceptance of LEDs (often disliked by domestic consumers because it’s perceived as cold) by using technologies to create modular coloured LEDs (with a spectrum ranging from cold to warm, with Otto Watt by Alberto Meda) or by shaping lamps like traditional, archetypical standards, like we did with Archetype by Goodmorning Technology: it looks like it contains a standard bulb yet it integrates a LED source.
Your designs seem timeless – what’s your secret?
We believe in transversal solutions, in thinking up ideas that could very well fit in a home yet are also geared up with the functionalities that are normally required in a contract environment. The challenge is to work on the technical quality of light and to design it (hence, to design ‘the light’) together with the lighting equipment itself. The new sources today require a holistic approach to design to marry light, technology and beauty with flexibility and adaptability.
In terms of design, we clearly like to work with designers who put more emphasis on the object and the function rather than on the aesthetic trend. It is not by chance that so many of our products recall traditional shapes and forms and provide them with a contemporary look and an updated function.
Just think of Hope by Francisco Gomez Paz and Paolo Rizzatto. It was clearly inspired by chandeliers, with polycarbonate ‘petals’, actually flat Fresnel lenses, featuring excellent reflective and refractive qualities, ideal to amplify the light effect and reduce consumption. This year it was awarded the Compasso d’Oro and the Prize of Prizes for Innovation.
It is not by following fashion that you make achievements like these!