It’s one thing to design a product, but quite another to find a company that wants to market it. Maarten De Ceulaer’s recent collaboration with the Spanish lighting company Vibia is truly inspiring, and the idea first began to take shape during the Flanders DC Expert Day eighteen months ago. The result is the Gradient collection, presented this week at Milan Design Week.

Maarten De Ceulaer ‘s career as a designer began some years ago. We were introduced to him at Design Academy Eindhoven with his graduation project A Pile of Suitcases (2008), and during Art Rotterdam. He was immediately picked up by the well-known Milanese gallery Nilufar.

Maarten De Ceulaer Fendi

Pile of Suitcases, Maarten De Ceulaer © Nico Neefs

Maarten De Ceulaer Transformations Fendi

Fluid Benches — Transformations, Maarten De Ceulaer for Fendi © Nico Neefs

Shortly after he developed a close collaboration with Alexis Reyngaert of the Brussels design gallery Victor Hunt, with his Balloon Bowls. This was followed by other projects such as Liquid LampsMutation Series and Transformations (for Fendi), which continued to set the tone. His experimental work was much admired and in 2012, it even earned him the prestigious Henry van de Velde Young Talent Award.

Maarten, who is passionate, demanding and a perfectionist, constantly experiments and innovates with shapes and materials, and never shies away from stepping outside his comfort zone. Thus he developed his distinct identity and finally felt ready after all this time, to shift his attention to industry. Ideally on an international scale.

Building a network

In September 2017, Maarten registered to participate in the Flanders DC Expert Day on internationalisation. It was where he met Vincent Meurisse, who had been invited to join the event in his capacity as an expert. Vincent is managing director of Collective and has years of experience as an agent for international, high-end design firms such as MDF Italia, Paola Lenti and Vibia. Following a discussion with Maarten during the Expert Day, Vincent realised that he had encountered someone that thought in a very strategic manner and applied a systematic approach to his craft. “His portfolio predominantly consisted of products offering an extremely high artistic object content. I immediately saw a commercial value in the Gradient project he showed me at the time”, concluded Vincent.

Maarten had previously contacted the Spanish lighting company Vibia, but with no result.

Maarten realised that Vincent, being an agent of the company, could be the vital link. Several discussions followed and confidence gradually grew.

Maarten De Ceulaer

Maarten De Ceulaer © Teri Romkey

Vincent Meurisse

Vincent Meurisse © Juan Wyns

The same DNA

“In the past all you had to do during a fair was approach a company’s stand with your portfolio and introduce yourself. Twenty years ago, Xavier Lust did just that at MDF Italia’s stand, where coincidentally, I was too at the time. I knew Xavier well, and realised he had approached the Italian firm at precisely the right moment, as it had just decided to launch a minimalist collection with organic forms.” A good word from Vincent sufficed. This was also true with Paola Lenti, who was keen to work with Vincent Van Duysen, but first wanted Vincent’s opinion. “Vincent Van Duysen had already built up a certain reputation, but a successful collaboration can only be achieved if there is a genuine click and you can only know it will happen if you know both parties extremely well.”

It was different with Maarten. If Maarten had not met Vincent and not been able to count on his insights and advice, the match would never have come about. “Maarten had indeed set his sights on the right company. He represented the perfect match for Vibia’s DNA, with his profile, vision and methodology. What’s more, Maarten had also designed a product family. And this was extremely important, because companies are never interested in a single product.”

Maarten De Ceulaer

Gradient, Maarten De Ceulaer for Vibia © Teri Romkey

Together with his colleague Stephane de Grisse, a lighting expert at Collective, first and foremost, the collection was fully scrutinised internally, also from a technical perspective. Vincent: “It’s not often that I present designs to companies, but in this case we became increasingly convinced that Maarten’s designs are typical Vibia products: decorative, but also architectural, and that play with the light. With their know-how this product family could undoubtedly be developed to produce a marketable collection. I decided to put them in touch.”

They clicked right away. During Gradient’s development process Maarten was able to contact Vincent to discuss any questions or concerns.

The collaboration worked particularly well. Both parties understood one another and were on the same wavelength. Vincent felt the click between the company and the designer. This process is very time-consuming and required a great deal of patience from Maarten, who regularly travelled to Barcelona, where Vibia is based. Vibia also tested the commercial value of the product several times with Vincent. After all, it also had to be respected.

Maarten De Ceulaer

Gradient, Maarten De Ceulaer for Vibia © Teri Romkey

Maarten De Ceulaer

Euroluce lighting trade fair

The Gradient collection is being introduced at the Euroluce lighting trade fair in Milan.

Maarten can be found at Vibia’s stand, among the leading designers of the day. “It’s something of which he can be very proud”, states Vincent Meurisse. “It’s quite an achievement, which was only made possible thanks to the strategic choices he made, by adopting a smart approach to his designs and opting for the right manufacturer. Maarten is able to design a product family, identify with the world of the manufacturer and also allow the latter to apply its know-how to the design. Maarten is able to jointly steer the process, but also let go, without prejudice to the original design.”

Gradient is not 100% finished from a technical point of view, but this is not a problem for Euroluce, where only prototypes are exhibited. The collection will be critically assessed there, by sales managers and buyers. Maarten is also the first Belgian that Vibia has worked with. Belgian designers have already built up a fine reputation in the lighting sector in recent decades. This is also due to the many Flemish companies that operate internationally.

Naturally, we are hoping for commercial success. In any case, this is a success story for Maarten. Maarten is making his mark on the international scene with his collaboration with Vibia and now for the first time with CC Tapis. “However, the right strategic choices and wise approach to your designs will continue to be decisive in achieving international success”, emphasises Vincent Meurisse.

Maarten De Ceulaer

Feathers Round, Maarten De Ceulaer for CC Tapis

Maarten De Ceulaer’s work for Vibia can be seen in Milan at the Euroluce lighting fair (Rho Fiera) in Hall 11, stand C29 - D16. His work for CC Tapis is also on display there, in Hall 24, stand B10. In association with Atelier Mestdagh, Maarten is also presenting work at Doppia Firma in Porta Venezia (Villa Mozart, Maison Giampiera Bodino, Via Mozart 9).

The locations of other Belgian designers in Milan can be found on the Belgian Design Map.