Classicon: A Podium for Design Objects



The brand name Classicon, a blended word deriving from classic and contemporary, alludes to the designs the establishment showcases.

A bleak industrial zone close to the Munich trade fair grounds sports the usual anonymous buildings. An unremarkable concrete block with loading ramps in an open courtyard sits between two of these functional constructions. However, just on the other side of the building there is an impressive two-story glass facade that presents the vibrant world of Classicon: Armchairs by Eileen Gray, glass tables by Sebastian Herkner, a stool by Eckart Muthesius, seating objects by Konstantin Grcic, and the Nymphenburg coat rack by Otto Blümel. The slogan “Classic Contemporary Design” stands for creative style fusions and perfectly combined elements.

"If you ask me about what I dreamed of becoming when I was a child – I would say exactly what I'm doing now," Oliver Holy tells us. The young man is quick to show his enthusiasm, and when he smiles, he looks like a mischievous boy. Holy was born into a very successful family; his father Jochen and uncle Uwe converted their grandfather's tailor business for professional apparel into an international conglomerate, turning Hugo Boss into an iconic brand.

Looking back, Oliver Holy notes how much he has been formed by his family: the interest in art as well as the never-ending desire to take on new challenges runs in his blood. "My family’s views and values have been very influential on my path through life, with two big exceptions.” Holy has never been interested in succeeding in the fashion branch, and despite being intrigued by larger enterprises like Boss, he wanted to operate an establishment of a more manageable size.

I know my employees, the names of their children, their passions – I believe that is important.

Quite impressive for an enterprise that is now represented in 66 countries and has showrooms in Zurich, Seoul, Sydney, and Tokyo.

Valuable treasures

Stephan Fischer von Poturzyn, former board member of the legendary Vereinigten Werkstätten in Munich, founded Classicon in 1990. The enterprise’s most valuable assets were its licenses to produce famous workshop classics, for example: Eileen Gray’s iconic designs. But Fischer von Poturzyn also brought contemporary designers on board, such as the young, still relatively unknown Konstantin Grcic. When Oliver Holy's family took over Classicon in 2000, he already had clear ideas about what he wanted to do. Initially Hugo Boss's great grandson had dreamed of a career as a designer or an architect, but when he became aware of the professional realities designers face, he lost interest. Instead he decided managing a business that offers designers a venue to showcase their work would be vastly more satisfying. And so, he decided to study law. Possibly a somewhat esoteric decision for a design aficionado, but ultimately a sensible choice. "Studying law has turned out to be an extremely inspired choice. You learn to take a multifaceted approach, not the usual direct path that is more common in business. This way of thinking has proven itself to be incredibly useful." Oliver Holy started working at Classicon just before the start of the millennium; since 2003, he has been managing director. Before being promoted to managing director, Holy spent a stint in every single division, starting in the warehouse and getting to know the business from the bottom up.

The exceptional Eileen Gray

Classicon's director starts rhapsodizing when talking about his designers, most especially Eileen Gray, whose work he promotes with great passion: "Eileen Gray was clearly unique. Architecture, photography, design, furniture, carpets, art; only very few people retain this diversity and clear-sightedness into old age." He goes on to explain: "Eileen Gray was very much the autodidact, much more intuitive than the more analytical Bauhaus designers. Art Deco is lighter, more playful. This woman dared to be independent, used materials that nobody else was using. And she was a millimeter person, not a centimeter person," Oliver Holy relates with a fond look, then hastens to add that his young designers are also producing very interesting work. "I love Konstantin Grcic – his clear, sharp-angled shapes, that are very complicated at times. But, once you've gotten used to them, you fall absolutely in love with his work."

Quality has been an essential criterion from the start – both in selection and execution. "An establishment like Classicon has to assume an ecological responsibility. This also includes deliberate choices as to which materials are acceptable and which are not." Oliver Holy's keen appreciation for quality is not limited to Classicon's own products, and he names several other brands that impress him, for example, Nymphenburger porcelain, George Nakashima, USM Haller, Armani, or Stone Island. "I love what I'm doing here." A careless smile belies the strong determination this man had to develop at an early age: Since a serious skiing accident at the age of eight, he has been relegated to sitting in a wheelchair. But, the experience didn’t stop him from loving the mountains or the exhilaration of skiing, and he still skis today, albeit with specially constructed equipment. He is equally determined not to let anything get in his way off the slopes, either, and is always on the go.

Our generation is driven less by financial success than our parents’ generation. We prioritize other things in our lives, like family or traveling.

"Cell phones and laptops give us unprecedented mobility, so I don’t see why I should be tied to my desk day in, day out. I always say: It has to be fun." The company's location in Munich is important to him. “We have everything here: good weather, great restaurants, art, beer gardens, an international airport with good connections.” Asked about other cities he likes, he spontaneously names New York – "There's always something new to discover there, the city is permanently changing, like now with those cupcake stores" – and Paris. Shanghai fascinates him, too, the gigantomania, the contrasts, the breathtaking modernism juxtaposed with traditional history: "A throbbing vibrancy that sweeps you with it." The Far East fascinates him; he exclaims: "That's where the future lies.”

And the future of Classicon? Naturally the company will continue to promote existing ranges and new designers, but would Classicon consider expanding into other areas? "I see many things on my travels. I want to promote ideas that fit in with my taste, that I can pour my passion and my enthusiasm into." How about a Classicon magazine? The suggestion makes Oliver Holy laugh and he confesses: "Well, the thing is, I love to eat. I go wild about great food. Once or twice a year, when I feel I really deserve a treat, I dine at Tantris, which is one of the best restaurants in Germany. The way they follow things through, from the plates down to the details in the furnishings, impresses me every single time. So I could imagine establishing a Classicon restaurant in that vein." And what if Classicon hadn't been a success? "Maybe I would have gone more in the direction of fine arts, as a gallery manager, however, not an artist. My role is more that of an agent." When asked whether he has done everything right, Oliver Holy hesitates briefly, considers, then nods. "Yes, I think so. Maybe not to the last detail, but yes." And smiles.

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