Design in Luxembourg
Form or function? Design takes many forms and that is no accident: as a discipline, it strives to achieve either one or both of those ideals, while always remaining a force for innovation. By its very nature a hybrid of multiple disciplines, design has one foot in the arts and another in the business world, on which it financially depends.
For several years, the Luxembourg design sector has grown at remarkable speed, while also gaining significantly in prestige. For example, in 2017, the Creative Industries Cluster was founded as a group bringing together the country’s entire ecosystem of companies operating in the creative industries. It caters for 12 branches of the creative industries, including design, fashion and crafts. By pursuing its mission of providing information, promoting creatives’ work and fostering synergies between them, this cluster offers solid foundations for the growth of these trades. What is more, its virtual platform, creativecluster.lu, offers (inter)national-level visibility for the creatives featured on it.
The design sector is split into various disciplines: product, service, fashion and even photography. The graphic branch in its broader sense – traditionally, the best represented in the Grand Duchy – works hand in hand with illustration, web design, animation and motion design, to name but the most common connections. That is why the sector needs a body like the business association Design Luxembourg, which can both bring together these threads – which appear, at first glance, quite disparate – and offer them all support. Design Luxembourg has a very specific purpose: making political, business and cultural decision-makers as aware as possible of designers and their skills. That involves recognition of design as a key driver of the country’s economic growth and sustainable development. Every two years, Design Luxembourg organises the Luxembourg Design Awards. This contest, which spotlights Luxembourg’s best design work, complements the Media Awards, which are held at the same time by publisher Maison Moderne and broadcaster RTL, and are dedicated to creativity in advertising.
Development of design culture
Under the leadership of Marie-Claude Beaud, first Director of Mudam (the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg), real thought was given, right from the concept stage, to the creative aspect of design in the context of the museum. One example of this is the fact that designers, including Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Charles Kaisin, Konstantin Grcic and Nitzan Cohen, were brought in to create the furniture for the museum’s various spaces before it opened in 2006. All these pieces now form part of the Mudam collection.
In addition to that, is the stated desire to also include design in Mudam’s exhibitions, which has made the museum an important catalyst for the development of design culture in Luxembourg. As such, since the creation of the non-profit Design Friends in 2009, the museum has supported it by putting up posters advertising its programme of conferences and other networking events. Design Friends quickly became established as one of the leading platforms in this area, in terms both of the quality of the events run – with over 50 international designers guesting to date – and of its work promoting the local scene. The events side is complemented with highly curated publishing that contributes to raising awareness of design among the general public, bringing together both professionals and amateurs, both knowledgeable and casual.
In 2010, Mudam worked with the Municipality of Luxembourg City to set up the Design City festival, which was put on every two years from 2010 to 2016. This flagship event for the sector interwove work by local and international designers at exhibitions, urban installations, workshops and other events bringing creatives together. In fact, the programme was opened up to other institutions and even businesses in Luxembourg City.
Among the events and other highlights of this pivotal period were the Colophon festival (2007 and 2009) dedicated to independent magazines; the Tomorrow Now – When Design Meets Science Fiction exhibition at Mudam (2007); the Resolute – Design Changes exhibition at Casino Luxembourg (2015), in partnership with the Graphic Matters festival of Breda, Netherlands; the Local Craft Meets Design exhibition (2016), organised at Cercle Cité by the non-profit In progress; and The Open End, a collaborative festival dedicated to graphic design (at Kulturfabrik, Esch-sur-Alzette, in 2016, and at Rotondes, Luxembourg City, in 2019). Autoreverse (2004-2005) by Paul Kirps was incorporated into the design collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and was one of the things shown at the Rough Cut: Design Takes a Sharp Edge exhibition in 2008.
As for master artisanship, it has been brought into the spotlight, thanks to the commitment of the De Mains de Maîtres Luxembourg association, which has been holding an eponymous biennale since 2016. This discipline has even been exported abroad: a significant amount of Luxembourg design has been on show at the Grand Palais, Paris, in particular at the Révélations International Biennale of Crafts and Creation.
Although master artisanship, the decorative arts and the graphic arts have a prominent place in the collections of Luxembourg museums, Mudam and the National Museum of History and Art (MNHA) also own some works of contemporary design (national and international) that simply cannot be ignored.
On top of the furniture ordered for Mudam that has now made its way into the museum’s collection, it now houses some 20 pieces by international designers, such as Patrick Jouin, Laurent Massaloux, Maarten Baas, Ora-Ïto and Peter Newman. In addition to those, there are 36 fashion creations, by designers such as de Hussein Chalayan, Hiroaki Ohya, Martin Margiela and Walter van Beirendonck. An early-1930s bedroom suite by Alvar and Aino Aalto completes the set.
As for the MNHA, its interest in contemporary design is driven by a desire to place its acquisitions – which are few but very specific – in their historical context. For example, the MNHA has acquired the deckchairs originally created by Georges Zigrand for the Justus Lipsius building, Brussels to mark the 2015 Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
It is not unusual for Luxembourg design to attract the attention of international experts, or even for the country’s creators to land prizes in prestigious competitions. The graphic design agencies A Designers’ Collective, cropmark, kontext, ID+P, Rose de Claire design and Quattro Creative all won prizes at the 2020 German Design Awards. In the same year, the agencies Dubl Design Studio and Claudia Eustergerling Design won two prizes each at the DNA Paris Design Awards. As for Luci magazine, produced by the agency ampersand.studio for Luxembourg for Tourism, it picked up a Red Dot Design Award, a German Design Award, a C²A Creative Communication Award and ICMA – International Creative Media Award.
In the field of fashion, Jil Jander, a young creator, freshly qualified from the University of Art and Design Lausanne (ECAL), made it through to the final round of the Fashion Accessories Competition at the 2020 Hyères Festival.
While it is true some people are able to work in design within the Grand Duchy, a fair number of prominent figures in the profession outside Luxembourg have grown out the country’s fertile soil. One example is the prolific Max Steffen, who now works as Design Director for Equipment and Accessories at The North Face, in the US. Another talent is Christophe de la Fontaine, who started his career by joining the studio of Patricia Urquiola, and has also done freelance work for Moroso and even Rosenthal. Since 2012, he has been working with artist Aylin Langreuter at their company DANTE – Goods And Bads. Lastly, designer Dunja Weber earned her stripes at Cassina and with Italian designers Marco Ferreri and Stefano Giovannoni, before joining James Irvine’s studio. Specialising in furniture, she now works in Luxembourg.
In Luxembourg, higher-level education relating to design is concentrated in two establishments: the Lycée des Arts et Métiers (School of Arts and Crafts) and the University of Luxembourg. The Lycée des Arts et Métiers offers several higher-education technical diplomas (BTSs), in subjects including game art and game design, and graphic design. As for the University of Luxembourg, its courses include a Bachelor’s in Design and a Master’s in Architecture.
Opened in 2021, Casino Display (formerly Konschthaus Beim Engel, the exhibitions of which are now run by Casino Luxembourg – Forum d'art contemporain) offers guidance and advice to students interested in pursuing a career in the creative industries. At display.ed, an annual forum for meetings and discussions, representatives from schools of art, design and architecture in Luxembourg and its neighbouring regions meet to present a selection of their curricula and courses.
Head of Communication and Press at Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain
This text was written in April 2021 and offers an overview of design in Luxembourg over the last 15 years or so. There is nowhere in Luxembourg dedicated exclusively to design.