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Droog Design's musings on Dutch sobriety and age

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Dutch culture and design gets another shot of publicity with an exhibition at the Architectural Association which showcases the design collections of Droog Design. This firm, which commissions 'young design' - as distinct from 'young designers' - was set up in the early 1990s by art historian Renny Ramakers and jewellery designer Gijs Bakker. The joint lecture at the AA revealed that the hip-sounding name of their outfit really means 'dry', as in 'sober' - a reflection on the suppression of material ostentation characteristic of Dutch culture - but the work seemed to bely the name.

Citing Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches, a study of the concept of mass consumption in relation to seventeenth-century Dutch society, Ramakers and Bakker maintain that the Dutch still stick by the principle that, though it is 'very good to be rich', you must 'never show it'. The Dutch spend the least of all European countries on fashion, because it is 'not good to attract attention', and they refuse to countenance any culture of royalty.

It was unclear, then, whether Droog's tendency to commission such apparently superfluous and attention-seeking design is intended as a deliberate challenge to Dutch culture, or simply represents a strange aberration in that context.

There seemed to be no considered agenda behind its services to affluent, wasteful bourgeois society and its desire to transform the home itself into an expensively designed and fitted-out consumer object. This is not to say that Ramakers and Bakker do not touch on the key issues surrounding the production of goods in twenty-first century postindustrial society. They do - but they seem intent on brushing them to one side in the same breath.

Therefore, on considering the question 'is re-use the main characteristic of Droog Design', they jump to assert that it is 'not a law and not done necessarily for the sake of ecology'. They maintain that one of their pieces, a chest of drawers strapped together, higgledypiggledy, with a leather belt 'raises issues of over-production and overconsumption', but immediately insist on the need to 'escape from 'that terrible green image''.

Ramakers criticises a 'lack of respect for age' in the world of consumer goods in general - pointing to 'babyfaced' products such as the iMac or the Smart car as examples of the trend - but their suggested antidote, to 'design products that already look old', using ready-made marks of wear and tear, seems a very Post-Modern conceit.

Droog's proposal that 'you don't have to possess a product', may seem like a declaration of resistance to consumer culture, but the assertion that 'it's enough just to look', especially in conjunction with the idea that 'functionality is not the guiding principle', is an empty one without exploring the social context in which that process might take place, and the role of objects as vessels of cultural identity.

Renny Ramakers and Gijs Bakker of Droog Design were speaking at the Architectural Association, London, in conjunction with the exhibition, Do Create

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