Born in Copenhagen in 1923, Nanna Ditzel had a remarkable, multifaceted career at a time when design was the sole domain of men. Trained as a cabinetmaker before furthering her studies at the Kunsthaandværkerskole (now the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, The School of Design), Ditzel established a design studio with her husband Jørgen in 1947, where she concentrated on furniture design, with forays into ceramics, jewelry, and textiles.
New materials and production methods were a postwar boon to Ditzel's designs. Her deep understanding of furniture making not only allowed her to experiment with innovative materials like fiberglass and foam rubber but also enabled her to reexamine and refine traditional techniques like wickerwork. While Ditzel’s forms were often organic, her designs were practical and expressed a well-honed functionality. Abstaining from design for the sake of design, Ditzel often created things that she herself would use in daily life, as in the round and supportive Oda Chair, also called the "Nursing" chair, from 1956.
Of her many iconic designs, the textile Hallingdal has been in continuous production since 1965. It is Kvadrat's first and most successful textile: nearly six million yards have been sold to date. It is so prevalent in homes and public spaces throughout Scandinavia that it’s come to symbolize much more than its homespun appearance would suggest. Archetypal in its simplicity, Hallingdal is a balanced plain weave that combines two colors of wool and viscose yarn in an extremely durable construction. In describing Hallingdal’s durability, Anders Byriel, Kvadrat’s CEO, uses the colloquial term hufterproof, a Dutch expression for "virtual indestructibility," and adds, "We don’t make products like this anymore." In a culture fixated on the next new thing, Byriel says Hallingdal "will still look perfect in twenty years even while everything else around it has fallen apart. . . . It is a product created out of craft, designed and engineered and built to last for decades."
Recently Hallingdal was restored to Ditzel's original color palette from 1965. To mark this occasion at the 2012 Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, Kvadrat invited seven international curators to identify emerging local talents and commission them to reinterpret this iconic textile in a modern way. The curators included Tord Boontje, Ilse Crawford, Constance Rubini, Søren Rose, Andre Fu, Hans Maier-Aichen, and Jeffrey Bernett, with oversight by Patrizia Moroso and Giulio Ridolfo.
While it’s incredible that a nearly fifty-year-old fabric could act as a springboard for a new generation, the brief stipulated only that the designers use Hallingdal as a starting point, and the thirty-two resulting projects are surprisingly diverse and imaginative. As an exhibition, Hallingdal 65 offers a platform for the next wave of industrial designers while providing an overview of new design directions. And although Nanna Ditzel, the "First Lady of Scandinavian Design," once remarked that "if a design is timeless, it is never relevant," she would surely be gratified to see herself proven wrong.