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Through the Looking Glass: The Story of Holmegaard

It´s a woman’s work

Everyone will tell you that Holmegaard Glassworks began in 1825 which is when the first official production began, however the story actually started much earlier with something everyone can relate to – Taxes.

At the beginning of the 1800´s the King of Denmark made the decision to tax imported glass. Count Christian Danneskiold-Samsøe decided this presented an opportunity to create a locally owned glass manufacturer. He applied for permission from the King of Denmark to open his business. But sadly, time was not on his side – the permission was granted in 1825, two years after his death.

When the permission arrived, Countess Henriette Danneskiold-Samsøe, his widow, was the one who received the official permit. Henriette had a noble heritage and was use to entertaining the elite as well as raising her large family of 6 children. But it is said that her father was an enlightened man and had given Henriette practical life skills. Her tutor, Peter Deichmann, instilled the theory that you are required to use your own good sense to get things done.

So Henriette took a look around and decided that is exactly what she would have to do. At 49 years old and a full 45 years before the first wave of the women’s right movement in Denmark, there were not a lot of opportunities. But in her possession was a permission to create the first glass works factory in Denmark and a few pieces of land that her husband had struggled to find uses for. One of those pieces of land, the bogs of Holmegaard, seemed to be of little use until she did the math – the bogs are full of peat, peat can be burned and glass works need a lot of heat. Henriette had her own good sense and knew how to get things done.

So in 1825, Henriette fired up the first furnace full of peat and ignited an empire. Now, all empires have to start somewhere and while Henriette had big ambitions of bringing glassware to every home in Denmark, not just to the elite, it was a tough startup to create products that were elegant but always functional (which is what the everyday person really needed). Early production was simplified, focusing on glass bottles that were mouth blown by artisans. There would be a long journey to the legendary innovation that we know of Holmegaard today but the seeds were planted.

Other than being a female business pioneer, launching a major manufacturing empire and shaking up the theory of the class system – you know how it is – Henriette also drove forward the innovative concept of business social responsibility. All her employees were given health care, dental care and land nearby to build housing. But she also wanted to create a sense of culture in the community. Holmegaard was a good distance from Copenhagen, not a bustling town by far. So she welcomed, encouraged and invited tradesman to visit the factory and sell their goods to create a vibrant community that benefited both the workers and tradesman .

While Henriette lived to for 18 years after the opening of the factory, seeing many advances and part of her dreams realized, she never could have imagined what her innovation was going to become. It just took about 100 years after the start to become a household name – globally.

The Artistic Revolution

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Holmegaard was destined to create a design revolution. It was how the company began. So 100 years after the start of Holmegaard, the second chapter began as Jacob E. Bang ushered in Holmegaard´s design takeover of the world.

Interestingly, much like Henriette, Jacob had never worked in glass making until starting with Holmegaard in 1925. Coming off designing the Danish pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1925, he became the creative director for the glass factory. He understood Henriette´s vision and he knew to survive in the competitive market the products needed to be functional and accessible to the general population.

And in Denmark, the land of Carlsberg, nothing was more accessible than beer. He started by creating the well-known Holga beer glass line. By using optical effects to disguise minor defects, he was able to make beautiful glasses that could be produced for the masses. He followed up with Primula in 1928, a smoky glass which rocketed to success. He was able to keep things fresh over the next decade and create the stability that Holmegaard needed to reach the next phase. He retired in 1942. And that’s when things really took off for Holmegaard.

Successful and established, who do you turn to for the next stage of development? Again, defying the odds and keeping with the tradition of Henriette and Jacob, another outsider from the glass world took over.

This time designer Per Lütken took control of the Holmegaard creativity machine and like his predecessors had no glass making experience. Per´s reign as design chief lasted more than 40 years and he turned out more than 300 different series and 3,000 glass designs. One of the key elements that Per brought was infusing color into his innovative styles. But that was only the start. His design and flow of glass shattered people’s expectations.

The Provence series is considered a masterpiece that stands in Danish homes prominently. The soft curves of the bowl, stunning colors and functionality embodied his style and craftsmanship.

He became an expert glass blower, considered one of the best in the world. His most noted designs include the Selandia dish (1957), No. 5 (1970), Ship’s Glass (1971), Idéelle (1978) and Charlotte Amalie (1981) ranges.

Per remained dedicated to his work and Holmegaard, staying until his death in 1998. His work is sought after globally, rising in price year after year and hitting new heights at auction today.

The Swinging 60´s

As Per continued to work as the creative director, the company handed the general management over to a familiar name in 1968 - Mr. Bang, Michael Bang, the son of Jacob E. Bang.

Times were changing and Michael brought a fresh energy to the company but remained true to its legacy. A 1960´s hipster, he embraced the current trends while playing off the designs of the past. Using his father’s sense of style and Per´s embrace of color, he infused the soft flows of glass, innovative shapes and splashes of color to match the flamboyant style of the day.

Jacob Bang, Per Lütken and Michael Bang are known as the creative trinity that brought Danish glass design to the world.

The final chapter?

Lesia Zuk, started as creative director at Holmegaard in 2008. Her background? You guessed right, not glassware. She spent 25 years in the fashion industry. She stated firmly that lessons learned from Henriette must continue - it must be functional and fashionable. And given that 9 out of 10 people in Denmark have some piece of Holmegaard in their house, the public has cheered the company´s vision.

However times had changed and Holmegaard was struggling in the economic crisis. So in June 2008, the Danish design company Rosendahl, widely known for their own brilliant glass design, acquired the rights to the Holmegaard brand and designs.

Holmegaard´s name and back catalog continue to impress the world. The next chapter is yet to be written but the two Danish glass powerhouses fueled by functional Danish style and the desire to bring elegance to everyone seems like a recipe for an innovative new chapter.

It´s stylish, it´s functional, it´s history.

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