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Pure Talents Contest 2021: the winners of the imm cologne’s competition for up-and-coming designers

This year’s winning entries represent a highly creative new generation of designers that urgently needs a stage.

The works by the young designers the jury of the Pure Talents Contest 2021 selected as the best of the 26 nominees are surprisingly poetic, playful and light-footed: a light sculpture with a highly emotional impact, a bookend that doubles as a reading light, an ultralight wooden chair and a modular food cart are the winners of the 18th edition of imm cologne’s international Pure Talents Contest. In difficult times, they create an appetite for interior design and the new ideas for the sector.

It goes without saying that this was no “normal” Pure Talents Contest, because the organiser, Koelnmesse, had to cancel the international furniture and interiors fair imm cologne that usually takes place in January due to the pandemic. That also meant there was no presentation platform at the trade fair, where industry players, the professional community and design enthusiasts from all over the world gather every year to get an overview of the market and present and discover the season’s new launches. That’s why, normally, imm cologne provides the ideal platform for up-and-coming designers to present themselves to the public and potential customers in a professional and attractive setting.

Online award ceremony and extensive online presentations

Consequently, imm cologne turned to digital presentation formats instead and, in addition to presenting the nominees and winners on its website, also announced the winners during an online press event on 9 February, where the names of the prize-winning entrants were revealed by imm cologne director Claire Steinbrück and juror Sebastian Herkner.

imm cologne and LivingKitchen Selection: two lighting designs, a chair and a mobile kitchen

Luiza Guidi was awarded first prize for the Maya Collection, a series of light sculptures that add a new dimension to the wall. Second prize went to Dirk Vosding for Elina – a design which, in a time when the focus is on digital communications, shines a light on the quintessential analogue medium: the book. The jury awarded third prize to Tatu Laakso’s Olivia chair, a lightweight and universal wooden chair that successfully balances a slender structure with a comfortable sitting experience. And finally, in the LivingKitchen Selection, a prize category that only features in the Pure Talents Contest every two years when the LivingKitchen event is held parallel to imm cologne, first prize went to Erik Mantz-Hansen’s Guerilla Kitchen, a compact modular street food kitchen. The winners were announced during the imm cologne trend briefing on 9 February.

An expert jury praises sophisticated and sensuous product designs

In October 2020, a total of 862 product entries from 59 countries were examined by the jury of this year’s Pure Talents Contest, consisting of Eva Marguerre (Designstudio Besau-Marguerre), Jennifer Reaves, CEO of international design trade show blickfang, designer Sebastian Herkner from Offenbach and Norbert Ruf, creative director and managing director of Thonet GmbH. The 26 nominated designs represent the product categories furniture, floor coverings, wallpapers and textiles, lighting, smart home, home accessories and kitchens.

The jury’s conclusion: the distinguishing features of this year’s designs were a high degree of product maturity and an appealing, sensuous and extremely likeable charisma. “When it comes to the judging criteria, it’s important to acknowledge not just the idea, the composition and the quality of the design, but designers’ ability to create commercially viable products as well,” says Jennifer Reaves. Many of the entries submitted for the latest edition of the Pure Talents Contest, she adds, showed little sign that they were often the work of students.

Framing light: an emotional door-opener

That’s certainly true of the Maya Collection by Luiza Guidi from Brazil. The individual pieces form a group of light sculptures that add a new dimension to an otherwise flat wall. Like opening a window, the LED-lined frame can be swung away from the wall – a totally self-explanatory gesture that gives rise to a sensuous play of light and shadow. Every movement of the frame changes the light in the room. “We found the sensuous way the design plays with light particularly moving – both on the level of a sculpture and as a functioning product. We were fascinated by the simplicity with which the designer stages light in such a sensuous way,” says Jennifer Reaves in explanation of the jury’s decision on the winning entry.

Let there be light: an illuminated bookend

Interacting with light and its variability is the theme behind the design of Elina by Dirk Vosding too. When closed, Elina is a bookend; but when the glass disc inside is slowly pulled out, it begins to glow and sheds more and more light on the surrounding books. When pulled out completely, the adjustable illuminated circle can be used as a reading light. “The design is reminiscent of clamp-on lamps for bookcases, but with way more charm – a small, simple but subtle product that looks equally good as a table lamp or bookend on a sideboard or bedside table,” says designer Eva Marguerre of the jury’s decision.

A lightweight chair that’s anything but a lightweight

The jury was also full of enthusiasm for the Olivia chair by Tatu Laakso from Finland, the winner of the third prize in the Pure Talents Contest 2021.His design explores the balance between lightness, sturdiness and ergonomics in moulded plywood, resulting in a light yet sturdy structure. “We loved the way this attractive model plays with moulded plywood and speaks a design language that’s not only light and sensuous but makes reference to Finnish design as well. It’s a very self-assured design for a term project, and it exhibits the kind of quality that you wouldn’t even necessarily expect from a finals piece,” says designer Sebastian Herkner.

A toolbox for cooking: a different way to experience a kitchen

In the LivingKitchen Selection category of the Pure Talents Contest 2021, it was the Guerilla Kitchen by German designer Erik Mantz-Hansen that convinced the jury. Intended as tools for preparing street food in urban spaces, the compact and mobile modules are easy to transport through crowded cities and provide a space-saving solution for diverse usage options. The individually combinable modules can respond flexibly to users’ every requirement and are suitable for preparing a wide variety of dishes. “This design is a perfect fit with LivingKitchen’s goal of making food and cooking an experience to be lived,” says Norbert Ruf. “The product speaks a very functional and tool-based design language that makes it seem very robust. It’s easy to imagine it having a long and useful life as a functional object. It’s also a very likeable design: with its various functionalities, it’s not just extremely well thought through, it’s also a great way of bringing the idea of tools in the kitchen and for cooking into the public space.”

Young designers are lacking a stage

The imm cologne’s prize presentation also raised the subject of the precarious situation that many young designers currently find themselves in. There’s a lack of platforms where they can present themselves and their work and network with the business world, says Sebastian Herkner of the consequences of major trade fairs like imm cologne being cancelled. For the competition entrants too, being promoted in the press is particularly important in these difficult times.

Held and organised by Koelnmesse, the Pure Talents Contest is specifically aimed at designers who are either still at college or have just completed their training. As the number and internationality of the product entries for the current competition go to show, it is among the most renowned international contests for young design in its field. This time round, the young designers come from 59 countries and represent a total of 240 design schools.

For information about the winners and all the designers nominated for the Pure Talents Contest 2021, go to: www.imm-cologne.com/events/pure-talents-contest

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