Ralph Anderl Designs with Big Picture Thinking
Ralph Anderl is ready to die. And yet, he is far from somber. In fact, his is one of the freshest, most original minds in business today.
Anderl, owner of ic! berlin, is a visionary fueled by eastern philosophies, his approach epitomized by Taoism’s yin-yang symbol with its rising and falling forces, interlocked and contained within a circle. An artist and intellectual, Anderl himself embodies the fire of creativity, while also believing that the ‘drier’ aspects of business – accounting, managing, distribution – are part of a harmonious whole.
Let’s be clear: Anderl is not unwell. His ‘ready to die’ statement refers to ‘the art of learning how to die’ and this, he says, is what motivates him to continue in business. “At the beginning of the business the founder acts, creates, develops, but he doesn’t necessarily know why. Over time the process goes to another level and the company, as an entity, needs to know why it is doing what it is doing. I will die within the next 30-40 years, and that fact is integral to everything I do.”
Can a company be a work of art? Anderl sees his company as a form of installation art. The business of creating and selling frames is the fuel that keeps the organism alive. “Our company should be like a whole art piece, even the bookkeeping and logistics. At the end of the day, if all tasks are collaborative and well organized, everything becomes part of a beautiful whole.”
Balancing different interests can lead to battles. Anderl heads a team of five designers and he says, “sometimes the designers get pissed off,” when their vision is in conflict with the people whose job is to manufacture and distribute the frames. “There’s no good and bad,” he says. “It is a pleasure to create and make beautiful things, but in the end the company survives when it makes glasses that people buy. And customers need to receive the product in time, wrapped in a nice parcel, with the invoice.”
Handcrafting frames that last is a strong imperative for Anderl. To that end, he has established a manufacturing facility in the heart of Berlin where the frames are made, sometimes before the curious eyes of tourists who are invited into the factory to view production. “We spent so much money setting up the factory that we didn’t have much left for marketing. We thought that some of Berlin’s many tourists might like to see how eyeglass frames are made in an artisanal way, and so we give them tours. They take their knowledge of our company and our product back home and may become ambassadors for us.”
This handcrafting approach is in direct contrast to frames that are made for fashion purposes only, according to Anderl. “In the fashion industry, products are produced as cheaply as possible and purchased by the consumer with the intention that they will last for only one or two seasons. We work differently. When we design we think about how a colour or design innovation will stand the test of time.”
ic! berlin frames are a perfect balance of the traditional and the new. Their newest metal collection for women, Something I Want to Tell You, is perfectly embodied in the words used to describe some of the models: Elegant, Innocent, Mystical, Playful, Kissable, Awesome and Divine. Subtle, modern materials marry classic shapes from the 1950s and ‘60s: pantos, browlines and cat eyes. This collection was featured at this year’s Vision Expo West. The Katalog 2014, available for viewing through the company’s website (www.ic-berlin.de), reveals strong shapes and either vibrant or subtle colours designed to suit every mood and face.
Interestingly, the models wearing the frames are not nameless, and a few words about each person (some of whom are employees) gives the impression of a company that cares about the individual. And Anderl does care very much about others: “I want to work with people who want to learn and challenge themselves. If they don’t, they won’t be a good part of the art.”
The work of art that is ic! berlin is infused with a playful air. A singer, Anderl started a company choir that meets every Monday morning. The ic! berlin website has a ‘news’ tab that is decidedly ‘un-newsy’, featuring a photo strip contest, videos of Anderl’s trip to Brazil to see the 2014 World Cup of Soccer, and a list of favourite things to do and see in Berlin. One can immediately discern that this is a unique company, informed by a distinct philosophy. It is also one that Anderl wants to last beyond his lifetime.
“If the company is real and independent, then the founder can die. And if we are not considering the possibility of death then we are not creating a relevant work of art.”